Pastor's Column

Clergy Column

 

 

November 9-10, 2019

 Sacraments Re-Align Us with Our Source

 

Last Sunday I preached about how, amazingly, a person who avails himself of the Sacrament of
Reconciliatition can actually know and be certain, that once the priest delivers absolution, his sins have been
forgiven. Only within this Catholic sacrament can one attain this certainty.
 
Sadly, misconceptions arise, even within the Catholic faithful, about the nature and efficacy of our
sacramental system. I would like to call to mind the richness of our sacramental system by simply unpacking
what it is we Catholics believe a sacrament is, and what it does
.
The most fundamental way to describe “sacrament” as the Church understands it is to use the language of
sign and symbol. A sacrament is both. It is a sign because it directs you to another reality, much like a traffic
sign would direct you to the Belt Parkway.
 
The Sign of the Cross, for instance, is a motion one makes by touching their right hand to their forehead
and chest. But as a sign, it also points to something far beyond the physical motion. It points to the
redemption, or salvation, that God offers humanity. God the Father offers salvation and eternal life through
the Son and Holy Spirit. When one makes the Sign of the Cross, they make a physical motion, but also point
to a sublime, supernatural reality -- the means by which salvation is accomplished.
 
But a sacrament is also a symbol in that it raises consciousness and moves a person beyond the reality of a
sign. A wedding band, for instance, is a symbol of the unity, oneness and commitment a husband and wife
make to one another.
 
Within Baptism, the water used is both sign and symbol. Water is a sign of washing and cleansing, and the
water in Baptism is a symbol that the recipient is being cleansed of the supernatural reality of original sin.
 Every sacrament has sanctifying grace, which is what God uses to the benefit of His people in their
reaching salvation -- eternal life with Him, free of the earthly confines and restraints we know in this level of
existence. Receiving a sacrament actualizes for the recipient in that present moment the grace of God that
ulƟmately enables them to reach eternal life. What Jesus Christ did on the Cross two millennia ago is
actualized for the recipient in the moment they receive the sacrament. The Holy Spirit actualizes the
sanctifying grace.
 
Finally, the activity of a sacrament is to re-align a person with God. Just as a deep pothole throws one’s
car tires out of alignment, sin basically renders a person out of alignment with God. Just as the tires need to
be realigned to get to where they should be and were designed to be, so a person needs the work of God.
 Returning to Baptism, this sacrament refers the recipient back to its original source and creator, Almighty
God. He is elevated to the existence God desires for him -- in right relationship with God, free of original sin,
and as a member of the faithful family of God.
 
In short, every sacrament is the expression of all God has done for us, continues to do for us, and
illustrates His magnanimity toward us. – Father Michael Panicali