Our Sacred Stories ~ Sacraments: Signs of God with us, among us and imbedded in Creation
Perhaps one of the most significant and at the same time, the aspect most taken for granted in our Catholic Christian faith is our sacraments. We use them so often, that we pay little attention to why they are significant for us. They define who we are, yet they often are so routine that we hardly think about them. The sacraments that are part of our Catholic Christian tradition are a proclamation, calling us, in the ordinary elements of our lives and declaring that God is with us and ever active among us.
Our faith tradition as Christians holds that God has a dream. The dream is to share God’s love outward beyond God’s own self. Our faith tells us that God may well be beyond us, but at the same time there is a closeness of our God which touches all of creation. One of the ways in which we speak of this closeness of God to us is by way of sacrament. It is basic to the Christian understanding of our relationship with God. In our Catholic tradition sacrament acknowledges that God is ever close to us, reaching out into the life of creation, all of creation.
Theologian, Thomas Groome of Boston College, points out that central to our Catholic faith is the principle of sacramentality. As he puts it: “The sacramental principle means that God is present to humanity and we respond to God’s grace through the ordinary and everyday of life in the world” (Groome. What Makes Us Catholic, New York HarperCollins, 2002 84).
This broad sacramentality allows us to see that God is experienced in the “stuff” of our human lives and in creation all around us. In fact, we human beings can only experience God as ``embodied``. Think of a time when you sensed the presence of God. It was probably a moment when some place, or some experience so moved you that you became aware that there was something beyond, some divine presence that you were encountering. What happened was that you were sensing God in the midst of our human and created reality. To embody is to allow God to be recognized in such a human, created experience.
In the Christian tradition, there are three principal expressions of this embodiment of God among us. We use the idea of sacrament to speak of these expressions of God`s presence. The fundamental sacrament or expression of God`s presence is the person of Jesus. In the Incarnation, Jesus becomes that tangible and visible presence of God with us. In himself he reveals the loving and liberating God and shows forth God’s dream for all creation.
This Jesus who is the first and fundamental sacrament of God, shared this role with his friends and disciples. In the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ, his disciples were drawn into this role of sacrament. The followers of Jesus are members of the Body of Christ, called to be, themselves the embodiment of the presence of God in the world. In short, the church, the followers of Jesus, is the second level of sacrament, in our Christian tradition. We embody the presence of God, when we like Jesus, live the love and freedom to which we are called as images of God. When we live as that community of disciples, with a love open to all, then we are the sacrament we are called to be.
The sacraments such as Eucharist which this community of disciples shares are the third level of sacrament in our tradition. They are an expression of a community of disciples who live for God and others. Sacraments as we celebrate them with the ordinary elements of creation and life (water, bread, oil, wine) are celebrations of the presence of God active among. They express the love of God for all.