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The sacraments and life

The sacraments and life

Have you ever noticed how the 7 sacraments are tied to elements that are part of the universal human experience?

  • Baptism parallels the universal experience of being born.
  • Eucharist parallels the universal experience of being nourished, both physically and through a mutual communion of love.
  • Reconciliation is drawn the universal experience of sin and the need for forgiveness that comes from that.
  • Marriage is a universal cultural phenomenon.
  • Anointing of the Sick evokes the experience of being cared during illness, and the preparation for the universal experience of death.
  • Confirmation reminds us that we are social animals that by nature need to be part of a definite community.
  • Orders parallels the reality that all societies have some form of authoritative leadership.

There are probably many other parallels, of course. I thought of these while chatting with a couple considering getting married. We were discussing how their family spirituality and their "going to church" connect. My thesis was that the sacraments are not just rituals "tacked on" to life, they are a way God takes universal elements of our particular experience and build them into a way that His family (the Church) lives in the world. Each sacrament then points back to a part of family spirituality:

  • A family living the "baptismal element" of their family spirituality would enthusiastically celebrate birthdays. The couple themselves would practice family planning methods that remain open to the reality of conception (i.e. use natural family planning methods, never sterilization or artificial contraception).
  • A family living the "Eucharistic element" of their family spirituality would make meals an important time of mutual communion, and would spend time together building that communion in love.
  • A family living the "reconciliation element" of their family spirituality would have a strong set of values regarding right and wrong (i.e. a strong "family conscience"). It would be a family where people say "sorry" easily, and don't hold grudges.
  • A family living the "marriage element" of their family spirituality would enthusiastically celebrate the anniversary of the marriage that founded the family unit. The married couple would take "couple time," and would often privately renew their marriage vows. They would work at growing into an ever-greater emotional communion with each other. On the physical side, they would make love frequently and with generous hearts, because part of the symbolism of this act is the renewal of their marriage covenant.
  • A family living the "anointing element" of their family spirituality would show special tenderness and compassion when someone was sick. Such a family would not be afraid to talk about death and, more importantly, about eternal life. Parents would prepare their wills and keep their affairs in order, without any morbid sense or vague superstitious fears.
  • A family living the "confirmation element" of their family spirituality would be involved in their community, not as a group of individuals but as a family.
  • A family living the "order element" of their family spirituality would have parents who are not afraid to exercise the spiritual authority that comes being parents. This leadership would always be exercised following the example of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve.

Not a bad picture, isn't it? According to Catholic teaching the family is a "domestic church," so I don't see it as such a leap to propose that it can have it's own "mini-sacraments" — ways to take the spirituality of the 7 Sacraments and bring them into everyday life. Which brings us back to why families should "go to church" (i.e. live a sacramental life). It is a way for the "domestic churches" to experience being part of God's Family, with the rituals that this Family life involves. They can then tap into the power that comes from these 7 sacraments and put them into practice in the day-to-day life of their "domestic church".

The sacraments are not something "tacked on" to life. They define it, elevate it, and enrich it. They *are* our life, taken to a new level, and when we find ourselves back in the mundane, they remind us how sacred the seemingly mundane can really be.