The sacramental life of a Catholic Christian is so fundamental to our faith that we likely do not notice how it molds and shapes us to become the people of God each and every day. The life we live is simple and profound. As Catholics, we find a rhythm in life through the sacraments, by celebrating these sacred, transitional moments with family members and other special people in our lives. The sacraments are moments of grace that help us to develop our faith tradition and pass on our faith to the next generation.
In this time of uncertainty and confusion in our country and our world, as well as the challenges we are facing in our faith, we may feel we lack the tools to help ourselves and our family members find a sense of normalcy that we yearn for as human beings.
Our mental health requires that we find a place to rest and recover from the difficulties we face. Engaging in the sacramental life of our Church can help us find what resonates deep within ourselves that draws us to the holy.
Catholics mark seven holy, transitional moments in our sacramental journey of life. We begin with infant Baptism, First Reconciliation, First Eucharist, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and the Last Rites. If we have children, the sacraments may be the moment we returned to the Church to learn more about our faith, as we helped them go through sacramental preparation and the sacrament itself. In fact, when we made the sacraments ourselves, we may have been more focused on the party and gifts than on the grace that was bestowed on us.
As parents, we now realize the importance of handing on our faith to the next generation through engaging in the sacrament. We may work with our Church and meet for classes to teach our children about the meaning of the sacrament, perhaps learning about it in a more complete way ourselves for the first time. What we may not realize is that the sacraments help us unite in community because these moments of grace are celebrated with other faithful Catholics.
The sacraments are always celebrated in community, which is also where we will find our mental health. When we isolate ourselves and draw away from others out of fear, we find ourselves moving to a lower level of functioning in life. The grip of fear is so much greater and so much more prevalent when we are in this state of mind. But what can we do when we have been told to stay home, stay safe, and isolate ourselves, especially our children from their friends? For good mental health, isolation is not advised. We were created by God for community—to be His people—in community.
To counteract the negative aspects of isolation, connect with others in any healthy way you can. You may not be able to hug others, out of fear you will contract COVID-19, but you can send a virtual hug – and receive one! Send cards, send funny emojis to family and friends. Send texts, emails, and post kind words on any venue you have online and extend virtual hugs to everyone you know. The way we throw the ball out is the way we will get it back. If we spread kindness and cheer—even if we are not able to gather together—we will receive kindness and cheer in return.
Choose to be someone today who sees the bright side of everything in life and be a sacrament of grace to everyone you meet. Choosing to be happy releases the brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. We have all heard that it takes more muscles in the face to frown than to smile. Make the active choice today to be a person of peace and happiness today. When you do, you will receive the grace of the sacrament you extend to others.
As sacramental people, we come to God as a people, not as individuals, which is why the sacraments, according to Fr. Richard P. McBrien, Catholic theologian and priest, are corporate and communal. He states that the sacraments are God’s way of reaching humanity in our limited nature and that “there is no finite instrument that God cannot put to use.” Yet, we humans, have only a finite means of reaching God. McBrien contends “the point at which this ‘divine commerce’ occurs is the point of sacramental encounter.”
Following Baptism, we participate in the sacrament of Reconciliation, which demonstrates our ability to understand right from wrong and that we are guided by a well-formed conscience. We recognize when we have done something that breaks the heavenly and human law of love and respect for God, others, and ourselves. If we look to the Cross, we see the vertical beam represents the relationship we have with God and the horizontal beam represents the relationship we have our fellow human beings. The Ten Commandments align with the Cross, because the first three Commandments direct us to have right relationship with God and the next seven Commandments direct us to have right relationship with our fellow human beings.
Following the sacrament of Reconciliation, we have Holy Eucharist, which is the first time we receive the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass. In Greek, the word eucharist means “thanksgiving,” and this sacrament unites us in our common expression of gratitude to Christ for His obedience to embrace the Cross and release His self-giving love through His sacrifice. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we become His Real Presence in the world. Partaking of the Eucharist changes us, just as the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Galatians 2:20 states, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Following the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we profess our faith in God’s infinite love and mercy, expressing our willingness to become “a soldier for Christ,” through the sacrament of Confirmation. This is our opportunity to be the Real Presence of Christ, in all the experiences we have and in every encounter of our lives. Typically, adolescents participate in a year or two of catechesis to learn about what it means to live their faith in the everyday moments: at school, in time spent with their friends, during practices and games for their sports’ teams, when they are at work, or in any other situation in which they find themselves. They learn that their Catholic faith must be lived out intentionally each day, in all the various experiences they face that may challenge the core of who they are as members of this faith. Confirmation is the affirming moment in a Catholic’s life, which states that ours is much more than a religion. For Catholics, ours is a way of life.
In adulthood, Catholics make a life decision to remain single, enter into a marriage with a lifelong spouse, or become a Sister, Brother, or Priest. The adult sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders are designed to give grace to assist these persons to remain faithful to their commitment to live a holy life in Christ. The longest and most difficult period of humanity is adulthood, and the need for God’s grace to assist us to remain faithful to our committed path is needed each and every day. As the prayer, The Our Father states, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We must ask God to give us the grace each day to honor our commitments to fulfill our chosen life path.
The final sacrament is the Last Rights, which are given to us at a time of grave illness have all sins removed so that we may become a “a pure offering” (Mal. 1:11) to God. At this time, we are likely surrounded by family and friends who have loved us and supported us on our journey of life, and who now pray for our recovery or assist us in our final journey to heaven.
The sacramental life of a Catholic Christian provides a rhythm to life, as we enter into the holiness of becoming a fully human person, through the blessings of our faith. This faith molds us and shapes us and the way we think, the way we approach God and one another, as well as the way we apply the principles of our faith to the decisions we make each day. The Catholic Christian always espouses life and the precious gift given to us by God. We live out this faith in a communal, corporate way as His People. As Catholic Christians, ours is a sacramental life, which helps us understand more fully what is asked and expected of us.
Choose to be a sacrament of God’s grace today and extend happiness, optimism, and hope for the future to everyone you meet today. Have sacramental encounters with whomever it is you meet on your path of life and you will be greeted by either relief and a happy response, or you may receive negativity because someone else is suffering. If that happens, to what Jesus told His disciples to do in Mark’s Gospel if the people of a village did not welcome them: shake the dust off your feet. What He meant was to not take the negativity with them, to not take on their disappointment and discouragement. Be a person of hope today. Be at peace and extend happiness to others wherever you go. Be a sacrament of God’s grace today.