Editor’s note: This is the fifth of a series of columns Father Jeff Kirby is writing for Lent.
Fifth truth: The sacramental workings of Christ.
Many of us know people who leave the Catholic Church for one of the newer Protestant megachurches. When asked why, the explanation is often that God never seemed real to him or her in the parish. These people say they never felt a personal relationship with God, and thought all the ceremonies and formalities of the Catholic Church just got in the way with direct contact to God.
Sadly, these individuals see sacraments as cold rituals that were empty of any meaning. To them the sacraments are useless, and failed to help the person come to know and love Jesus Christ.
Is this a proper view of the sacraments? What is their place in the life of the disciple and of the church? Can they help us to know and love Jesus Christ?
A sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace, instituted by Christ, entrusted to the church and brought about by the power of the Holy Spirit. The seven sacraments begin and sustain the life of the believer in Jesus Christ.
Disciples are called to have faith and to nurture lives of hope and love. We are called to recognize that God knows, loves and serves us, and that he calls us into a relationship with him. This relationship encourages us to make an effort to know, love and serve God in return, and to surrender our lives and desires to him.
The sacraments, rather than empty ceremonials, are actually radical encounters with the Lord Jesus and intense dispensations of grace. They follow the natural order of creation. They truly establish, renew, fortify and carry us throughout our lives.
Our relationship with the Lord Jesus is begun at baptism, when we are cleansed of sin, adopted by God the Father and made a member of Christ’s body. The sacraments of penance and the Eucharist make Christ radically present to us in our journey of faith.
Confirmation strengthens us and endows us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Holy matrimony and holy orders bless us with the grace necessary to live our life’s vocation in a manner worthy of Christ’s presence. The anointing of the sick heals us in Christ and prepares our souls for departure from this life and judgment in the afterlife.
Throughout our lives, the sacraments make Jesus present to us. Rather than a barrier, they serve as a means to help us come to know the Lord Jesus. They make him real, tangible and approachable.
The sacraments are Christ’s arms and legs; his eyes and ears. They are his heart and his embrace to us in this life. They slowly sanctify us and transform us more into the likeness of God.
As life’s struggles, failures and successes come and go, God’s sanctifying grace, flowing through the sacraments, artfully shapes us and molds us.
The sacraments make us fit to be with Christ forever in his heavenly kingdom.
Father Kirby is the parochial vicar at St. Mary Help of Christians parish in Aiken. Visit www.jeffrey-kirby.com.