May 13, 2018

When I speak with Catholics who are returning to the Church, or with those who are in RCIA and preparing to become Catholics, the reasons for their return or attraction to the Church are often related to the sacraments.

This season is a good time to remind ourselves of the central place sacraments have in the life of the Church, and in the lives of individual believers. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes sacraments as “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (CCC, #1131).

During these fifty days of the Easter season, we place a special focus on celebrating initiation sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. At the Easter Vigil, at Sunday Mass, and at special celebrations, we encounter the Risen Christ in the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. For adults, adolescents and children, the sacramental encounter with the living Christ plunges us into the life of God in a way that unites us in a mission far greater than our individual selves.

“I Baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” “Take this all of  you and eat of it.” These words from Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are powerful and effective. They actually accomplish what they say. That’s what the Catechism means by “efficacious sign.” These saving, sealing, nourishing words bear fruit and call us to a deeper reality.

This reality isn’t above our current reality, but plunges us into the depth of that reality. For God has come among us in flesh and blood in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God is encountered in the very earthiness of our lives. It is here, in our personal and shared history that God comes and calls us to the new creation. In the sacraments, God calls us to participate in the sacramental transformation of the world. We are given our own personal vocation in light of this fundamental call.

The Catechism describes this connection between the personal and the communal nature of the sacraments: “The fruit of sacramental life is both personal and ecclesial. For every one of the faithful on the one hand, this fruit is life for God in Christ Jesus; for the Church, on the other, it is an increase in charity and in her mission of witness” (CCC, #1134).

Much of what we hear in our modern day life can lead us to believe that everything is just about me. Catholics can be touched by this cultural temptation and focus almost exclusively on the personal fruit of the sacraments. Pope Benedict, writing before he became pope, said once that “the concept of sacraments as the means of grace that I receive like a supernatural medicine in order, as it were, to ensure only my own private eternal health is the supreme misunderstanding of what a sacrament truly is.” 

When we are baptized, we are plunged into the life of God and into a community that is transformed by this divine life. In and through the community of faith, the Church, we are called to participate in God’s transformation of the world. As important as our own individual spiritual journeys are, they find their complete meaning in our participation in the bigger picture of God’s transforming work in the world.

We thank God for all those who have been plunged into the saving love of God in the initiation sacraments this Easter. We give thanks for the opportunity we all have as Catholics to share regularly in the sacramental life of the Church. May this sharing draw us ever deeper into “life for God in Christ Jesus,” and empower us to participate in God’s transformation of the world.

God Bless,
Fr. Gary Lazzeroni