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Sacraments: gifts that ‘matter’

By Brian Pizzalato

 

Have you ever wondered where your body came from? The answer comes after asking another question: Where did all matter come from?

 

In Genesis we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

 

Then we read: “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life...The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man…” (Genesis 2:7, 22).

 

God made our bodies from the material world. Should it be so hard to believe that he would redeem us through the instrumentality of matter? Because that is what he has done, wants to do and does at the Easter Vigil through the sacraments.

 

Man is unique in the entire material world by virtue of the reception of God’s breath of life. In this creative act God communicates to man both natural (body and soul) and supernatural life (Trinitarian life).

 

Many have said that matter is evil and the spirit is good. The fact is, “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good” (Genesis 1:31). The sad fact is that Adam and Eve lost the gift of supernatural life they were created with by committing the original sin. After this, all of humanity is born without the gift of divine life. Each person is created at the moment of conception with a body and an immortal soul, but void of grace.

 

However, God promised us a redeemer (cf. Genesis 3:15). He also promises to put his Spirit back into us. Ezekiel prophesies, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities…I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you…” (36:25-26a).

 

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…so that we might receive adoption…God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6). John’s gospel says, “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (1:14). God the Son became a man, flesh and blood, body and soul, so that the sons of men might once again become sons of God. By becoming man he took on a human intellect, a human will, a human soul, and, yes, a human body.

 

God has thus decided, irrevocably, to save us through the instrumentality of matter. The Second Person of the Trinity from the moment of the Incarnation has a body, and it is through his body that he saves us. It is a body that he would keep after the Resurrection. Jesus says to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side…” (John 20:27). For all eternity, Christ reigns on the throne of glory with the body he assumed at the Incarnation.

 

During his life, Jesus made it possible for us to be saved. He did so taking into account how he made us. Some Christians say that the sacraments are not necessary for salvation, because they involve matter (e.g. water, oil, laying on of hands, other human persons) and God is just worried about saving our souls. However, God is not worried about saving souls: he is worried about saving human persons, and human persons are, by virtue of God’s creative act, a unity of soul and body.

 

God created us through spirit and matter; it is not a stretch to believe he has redeemed us through both. To lend support to this, we must recognize that Christ, during his earthly life used matter to communicate the spiritual. Consider the woman who touched the hem of his garment, the blind man who was healed through spit, and the laying on of hands. Another man who was blind was cured through spit mixed with dirt, and then only after he washed his eyes with water could he see. He healed lepers by touching them. He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead by taking her hand and speaking to her. We even see the disciples doing similar things. Jesus sends them out two-by-two and they cast out demons and heal the sick through anointing with oil.

 

God seeks to heal and redeem us through spirit and matter. Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5). Jesus commands the apostles to go therefore and baptize (cf. Matthew 28:19). The apostles also give the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands to those who have already been baptized, thus administering the sacrament of confirmation (cf. Acts 8:14-17).

 

On another occasion, Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53). In is also no coincidence that he says, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me” (Matthew 22:19). At this very moment he gives us his flesh to eat and ordains the apostles as priests of the new and everlasting covenant.

 

The sacraments are the means by which Christ, in his glorified, resurrected body, seeks to communicate the gift of divine life to humanity, to make us part of his mystical body, the church. They are the fruit of his passion, death, resurrection and ascension. They were instituted by Christ, so if we reject any of them, we reject him.

 

There are many each year who prepare to receive the gift of divine life through the sacraments. They are preparing and anxiously anticipating this great gift. May they be a reminder to all Catholics not to neglect these gifts of love from the Father. Let us all rejoice when the Father and Son pour forth into their bodies and souls the Holy Spirit, and give them nothing less than his own glorified body and blood.

 

Printed with permission from the Northern Cross, Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota.

 

Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate for the Diocese of Duluth. He is also a faculty member of the Theology and Philosophy departments of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England. He writes a monthly catechetical article for The Northern Cross, of the Diocese of Duluth, and is a contributing author to the Association for Catechumenal Ministry's R.C.I.A. Participants Book. Brian is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute and is also in the process of writing the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition program at the Maryvale Institute.

 

Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

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April 24, 2014

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