Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Sacraments: Jesus is Always With Us

The Sacraments are at the heart of the Church. Above all there is Jesus Himself really and substantially present in the Eucharist, always with us, giving Himself to us.

It is the same Jesus who acts to bring healing through the sacrament of Reconciliation, where we bring our fractured selves and He floods us with His mercy. In this sacrament He restores the grace of God lost by grave sin; indeed there is no sin that is too great for His mercy.

And there is also strength to be found here for shaping living Christian hearts. There is abundant grace in this sacrament that renews us and draws us beyond the narrowness of soul constrained by all those “venial sins” that hinder (even if they do not break) our relationship with Jesus.

These are the sins that we acknowledge at Mass: "I have greatly sinned...through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." Even venial sins are “great” and “grievous” - though they don’t separate us from God, they fall short of God’s wisdom and glory, and they distract and delay us from becoming our true selves and attaining the happiness for which God created us.

We are indeed afflicted by these "daily sins" - the fact that they are not grave sins does not mean we should ignore them. They damage us, distort us, and render our witness opaque. They wound and cripple us; how can we recover and grow? The sacraments are remedies for our wounds, and through sacramental confession, Christ's grace renders a gradual but effective service to the health of our souls.

We need to let Jesus draw us close to His heart. Confession is not a burden. It is a blessing. Bring your troubled, anxious hearts to the fountain of mercy and healing. Go to Confession! Just go. Make it part of your life!

It's a tremendous thing to realize that we don't have to "do" the work of Christian living alone, all by ourselves. Jesus is here for us. That's what the sacraments mean. We don't have to conjure up an imaginary Jesus in our minds so that we can "feel" His forgiveness and His strength. Jesus is here. He acts. He gets involved with our lives and makes things happen.

I often express my struggles with anxieties, frustration, and sometimes with a loneliness where it is difficult to recognize the hand of God at work. But this is not the central, determining experience of myself. At the center is Jesus, who has taken hold of my life through the Holy Spirit, Jesus who I first encountered in the sacrament of Baptism, and who continues to engage my life continually in my personal vocation and especially through the healing and renewal He offers in the sacraments.

Our parish church before Mass during Christmas
Above all, in the Eucharist I have been given gratitude; I have had a taste of the thanksgiving that is so much more than a polite acknowledgement, the thanksgiving that wells up in the center of life, with the awareness that I exist as a gift, in the image of God. And that Eternal Love is calling me to His embrace through concrete moments and gestures and words. I am not defined by my faults and limits (although, so often, it seems that way). The meaning of my life is this gentle calling, and the grace and mercy it contains.

It is not a one way relationship that I construct. In the Eucharist He gives Himself to me. If I allow Him to work in me, He will open my soul, and create in me the capacity to love Him.

By grace, God enables me to love Him. This is completely, radically, and entirely the work of God. To Him be all the glory. But what makes the saving work of Jesus eminently and clearly divine is that He makes me - as a whole person - a new creation in Himself, a person-in-relationship to Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is my own personal love and my own personal life that Jesus gives to me, sustains in me, and perfects in me as I journey in hope toward the promise of God’s kingdom.

In the sacraments Jesus accompanies us concretely, walks with us, and makes our steps firm and secure.