Thursday, August 25, 2011

Incarnation, Sacraments, and the Power for a Changed Life

At the moment my heart is overflowing with the one theme the Lord has been immersing me into for at least the last 20 years of my life -- the Incarnation.

Directly tied to the reality of the Incarnation (which, for clarity's sake, means the fact that the Eternal, the Almighty God, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us in the conception of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary) is the reality of sacramentality. Sacramentality means that God uses created things for supernatural ends.

This is as clear as day to me right now, but there was a time in my Christian journey when I thought I was defending truth, right and good by rejecting the very concept of a sacrament. Of course I didn't understand what a sacrament was, and I was correct in rejecting what I thought it was: a "magic ticket" that excused people from needing to personally encounter Jesus. For there are many people who have received sacraments who do not live them out in faith. What am I saying, I am one of those who do not fully live out the sacraments I have received. But the sacraments are not a blockage; they are a door into the divine. I still need the understanding, the formation, and the virtue to move through the door. Jesus leads, nurtures and feeds but He won't force me through.

I am speaking here of the seven sacraments of the Church. But all of what God has fashioned is now imbued with this sacramental reality. That, I think, is the meaning of Christ's redemption not just of souls for heaven (thanks be to God for that alone!) but of all of creation. Scripture speaks of this repeatedly. The psalms are filled with exhortations to creation to praise God. The earth has no voice, but those who are in Christ and who see with sacramental vision begin to see the purpose of God in creation when we experience it calling us to contemplate Christ, to contemplate Truth, Beauty and Goodness.

For so long I was afraid that "the world" was going to pollute me, destroy my spiritual good, and pull me away from God. That term in the Bible can be confusing. It cannot mean that which God created. Yes, sin has entered the world and creation itself is affected by human sin. But when Jesus came into the world, He touched the lepers, the unclean, the hemorrhaging woman, the dead. Instead of becoming ritually unclean as the Law stipulated, He brought healing and restoration. We who are in Christ are as Christ in this world. We do not become unclean by living in this world -- we are part of restoring all things in Christ. Music, art, sports, environment, even (gasp) politics... we make our way through the things of this world and we are called to restore, not retreat from. I sin, you sin, they sin: it's true. Defilement comes not from things into us, but out of our hearts (Mt. 15:10-20). It is our hearts that need to be purified, and not only in the initial moment when we are united with Christ by faith in baptism, but again and again by constant conversion and awareness of Christ with us. Daily. Hourly. Every Moment.

And so we are back at the sacramental reality, because we need for everything to remind us to turn again to Our Lord. Humility tells us that though we possess everything, we have nothing. Our nature is neediness: complete dependence upon God and interdependence with one another. Yet we are united with Him who is Almighty and Providence itself, so we have no need for fear or insecurity in the face of anything. We are rich in Him in every way.

Our model for this kind of Christian life is none other than the Blessed Virgin Mary. I was struck this last Monday while celebrating the feast of the Queenship of Mary to be reminded that the Scripture reading at Mass is exactly the same as the Midnight Mass of Christmas. The Incarnation made Mary who she is. She is completely insignificant except for the monumental fact of her unique vocation as the mother of God Himself. We each are completely insignificant, except for our vocation to respond to the fact of the Incarnation by uniting ourselves in faith to Love who calls us to belong to Him forever, and to live our lives announcing that call to our fellow sojourners and to all of creation by everything we are, everything we do, by our very existence and our every breath.

Our Lady of the Incarnation, pray for us. It's all about Jesus coming into this world.

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