Jesus speaks of how we must be salt for the earth and light for the world—but in fact, many of us as Catholics often fall short in living out and sharing our faith. If all members of the Church took their faith seriously, this world would be a much holier and happier place. The Lord wants each of us to make a real difference in the world—and I think an essential starting point is having a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Church’s seven Sacraments. Therefore, I want to say something about each of them. Sacraments are traditionally defined as “outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace”; we might also describe them as deep, personal experiences of God’s love for us. They can be divided into three groups: Sacraments of Initiation, of Vocation, and of Healing.
SACRAMENTS OF INITIATION
The Sacraments of Initiation are Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation. They initiate us, or make us members of the Church. Most Catholics understand that Baptism washes away original sin, unites us with Christ in His saving death and resurrection, and makes us members of God’s family. What we often forget is that Baptism also gives us a share in the Church’s mission; because we’ve been baptized, we’re expected to put our faith into practice and bear witness to Jesus in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Baptism is supposed to be just the first step in a lifelong journey of faith. The angels marvel at how beautiful and pure our souls are the moment we’ve been baptized—but if we don’t live out our faith, this spiritual beauty will quickly fade away. Most Catholics make their First Communion around the age of seven or eight. Baptism makes it possible for us to receive the Eucharist, which is the greatest and most miraculous of all the Sacraments, for in Holy Communion we receive Jesus Himself. There’s no symbolism involved; we actually receive the Body and Blood of Christ—a sacred gift available only to Catholics and to members of the Orthodox Church. However, we must receive worthily. Jesus is truly repulsed and offended at having to enter into a soul blackened by an unrepented mortal sin; that’s why the Church emphasizes the need to be in a state of grace, and why I suggest persons who haven’t yet gone to Confession for forgiveness of their serious sins come forward with folded arms for a blessing instead. Jesus is also disappointed when people receive Him in a distracted manner, or fail to praise and thank Him after receiving Communion. We must have a deep appreciation for the Mass, for it’s the closest we can come to Heaven while we’re still here on earth. The third Sacrament of Initiation is Confirmation, which Catholics usually receive in 8th or 9th grade. The sad thing is that many of them and their parents treat the Sacrament as a “graduation” from religion; once they’re confirmed, they rarely come to church. I try to emphasize to our young people that Confirmation means the Church now expects more from them, not less. Being sealed with the Holy Spirit means we’re called to use the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to bear witness to Christ and live out our faith in a mature, adult manner. All three of these Sacraments are supposed to permanently change us—and, through us, help change the world. We have to ask ourselves whether or not this happening, remembering that one day we will be judged on how we’ve used the graces entrusted to us through these Sacraments.
SACRAMENTS OF VOCATION
The Sacraments of Vocation are Matrimony and Holy Orders. Most Catholics receive Matrimony, but perhaps without realizing that they themselves are the ones who perform the Sacrament by promising, in their wedding vows, to be faithful to each other for life. The priest or deacon is there merely as the Church’s official witness; the couple performs the Sacrament the moment they say “I do” (probably the only time they’ll ever perform a Sacrament). Marriage is intended “for the mutual sanctification of the spouses”; that means a husband’s and wife’s greatest spiritual duty is to help each other reach Heaven— and later, as parents, help their children achieve this, too. The Sacrament gives spouses grace and strength to face the challenges of married life—but if it isn’t nourished through prayer and the Eucharist, this grace will fade away. Those of you who are married have a beautiful and important responsibility; you and your families are supposed to be living reminders of God’s love for His people and of Christ’s love for the Church. The Sacrament of Holy Orders, of course, is how a man becomes first a deacon, later a priest, and still later, in a few cases, a bishop. We who are ordained have our own graces, challenges, and duties—but each of you are just as much a part of the Church as we are.
SACRAMENTS OF HEALING
The Sacraments of Healing are Reconciliation and Anointing. As you probably already suspect, most Catholics do not come to Confession often enough. If someone commits a serious or mortal sin, he or she should come as soon as possible; otherwise, Catholics should come at least once or twice a year. We might say that Confession—also called Penance or Reconciliation—is like a “spiritual check-up” or a “car wash for our souls,” cleansing, healing, and renewing them, and none of can say we wouldn’t benefit from such a thing. Anointing is no longer intended only for those who are dying; it’s the Sacrament of the Sick, and meant for anyone in poor health due to old age, serious illness—whether of a physical, spiritual, or emotional nature—or anyone facing serious surgery. When in doubt, the rule of thumb should always be erring on the side of caution by receiving the Sacrament. It can easily be arranged—simply by asking a priest for it after Mass, or by calling him to schedule a visit to a homebound loved one in need of it.
In addition to the Seven Sacraments, the Church has sources of blessings called sacramentals. Sacraments give grace in and of themselves, and work even if our faith is weak; sacramentals work only if we have faith that God’s grace is present through them. Examples of sacramentals included holy water, the Sign of the Cross, blessed salt and oil, blessed scapulars and religious medals, Bibles, and religious pictures. Every Catholic should have a blessed crucifix, Bible, and holy pictures in his or her home, and wear or carry a blessed scapular, crucifix, or medal—for, if used with faith, these can be a great source of spiritual reassurance and protection in today’s morally dangerous world.
If one the teams playing in today’s Super Bowl didn’t really prepare, or merely went through the motions in practicing, it would have no chance of winning. In the same way, if we as Catholics don’t truly live out the grace of the Sacraments, or fail to make use of the many other spiritual resources the Church offers, we will probably be overwhelmed and swept away by the attacks of the devil and the pressures of this world. Jesus wants us to take all these things quite seriously—for our salvation may very well depend on how we use and live out these Sacraments. Jesus gave us the Sacraments for a reason, and as Catholics, we must make good use of them, and in this way truly be salt for the earth and light for the world.