Understanding the purpose of living a Sacramental life.
“Ais a remembrance of the past (Christ’s Passion), a proof of the present (grace), and a promise of the future (eternal life).” St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica)
How many of you remember the Baltimore Catechism definition of a? C’mon now, many couldn’t wait to belt out that beautiful line,
“Ais an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace!”
This particular definition does not stray far from what a child or parent probably learned in their parish or catholic school catechetical program. It echoes a stark reality that while the content of the definition is true, time and time again it appears to be misunderstood or flatly ignored. Case in point:
- The of initiation allow a child to graduate from Catholicism.
- They are automatically saved from the pains of Hell.
- All you need is to receive them but not practice them e.g. going to Mass on the Lord’s Day, frequent confession.
- Confirmation has nothing to do with an increase in grace to faithfully receive the Holy ; it is a sign of physical and psychological maturity (can we say restored order of Confirmation please!)
These actual examples, though few, do highlight a consistent formational problem that still exists in our religious education environment. The notion of “give me the” runs against the basic teaching of the Church that the are: stages in the moral, spiritual, and doctrinal development of God’s children ( 1210). And there lies the key word; “Development.” Just because you’ve received the , doesn’t mean it’s over. It’s a journey, a walk with Christ to unite ourselves with Him and the hope of being in eternal rest with our Lord in Heaven.
A Parental Epiphany
On a recent parent workshop on theof initiation, the parish DRE asked me to help the parents know, understand, and value the importance of “actively participating in the .” I asked her bluntly: “do you realize what you’re asking.” She bluntly said “yes,” or, in other words, “can you take the sacramental heat for me.” Feeling somewhat ambushed, but undeterred, I went ahead with the class.
All was well with the workshop until the inevitable appeared on my notes. What I had written was the following: “don’t forget to ask the Confession question!” As I turned the corner on my catechetical lesson this question could not be ignored. It had to be asked. The following sequence took place:
“Parents, you know that I am going to have to ask you the inevitable question when it comes to the. Having just received the Church’s teaching on the nature and beauty of the and what they stand for, you know what’s coming so you can’t plead ignorance. All I ask of you is to give me a five second running start before you throw a blunt foreign object at me.” (Laugh ensues).
When was the last time you went to confession? (At this point, dead silence.) After a brief pause which seemed forever, and with the DRE panting in the back where no one could see her, a brave Father spoke up;
He slammed his fist on the table and said; “how can I expect my son to understand theof confession, let alone what sin is if I don’t teach him? What type of parent am I?”
He proceeded to tell me that he hasn’t been to confession in two years. At this point, I could sense the sacramental dam breaking and others within the group wanting to share their thoughts. Another parent raised her hand and said seven years, then another ten years, then another fifteen years; since her Confirmation!. In all I had over thirty parents “confess” so to speak the last time they went to confession. One couple was having trouble deciding who would speak up first with the wife nudging the husband to own up to the question. They were trying to be somewhat quiet but I assured them that everyone could hear their conversation. Eventually the husband relented and said “twenty years!”
Everyone was relieved to have this weight lifted off their chests. However, I reminded them that they still needed to go to confession to their Pastor. I explained all they had done up to this point is exercise an examination of conscience. At that moment you could sense an epiphany in the room and the realization that if they want their children to receive thethen they need to actively receive them as well. One parent admitted that her son would ask why they did not attend Mass on Sunday. The point had been made.
United in the Body of Christ
One of the joys of being a catechist is seeing a conversion of heart take place. The parent’s session was definitely a night for a mass conversion. What these parents came to realize through this experience is the gift Christ offers us every day in the sacramental life of the Church. It’s there for the taking and our children desire this relationship as well.
St. Paul (Eph 4:1-7) stressed the need to be united with Christ and the gift of grace that comes from this unity. We do not graduate from Christ; we are initiated into the Kingdom of God by His grace through His Son Jesus Christ. Case in point, another brave parent spoke during the lesson and in front of the group expressed her regret for taking thefor granted. She lamented that her catechetical formation was at best “lukewarm with no emphasis on forming a relationship with Jesus Christ.” More value, she said was placed on “finishing her ” and going to the “reception” than embracing Christ in her life. She capped her testimony with these words; “I do not want this for my son. I want him to fall in love with Jesus and the Church.”
This mother’s testimony was a fitting reminder that Christ instituted thenot for the purpose of graduating from them but for actively living them in His name. In other words she desires the gift of grace for her son. And in desiring grace she desires Christ in her son’s life.