The Sacraments, it’s not how, but why.

Sacraments

I received my call to the priesthood early in life, I was 6, then again at 10, then again at 15. The problem with having a call that early, while being protestant, is that nobody, including yourself, has any idea what to do with it. But that story is for another post, this one is for the sacraments. Finally, at age 30, I would answer God’s call. I thought I was an old man, too old to enter seminary. Stephanie thought I was too shy, and could not have any hope of speaking in public. (but somehow we both knew the call was of God) Just after I went to seminary, I was asked to preach on Sunday, a kind of farewell to the parish of St. John Fort Worth combined with a hello from the ministry to come. I will never forget, as I was staying at my grandmother’s home, a home I now own, sitting on the steps too the second floor, reading over my sermon just before church. I had the sermon finished, all I needed now is to get familiar with it. Stephanie came and stood in front of me, asking how the sermon prep was going. I could tell she was not at ease, I assured her that the sermon was a piece of cake (most of it was a story that I simply had to read, maybe a paragraph of actual preaching) She confided that she was nervous that I would freeze, or make a fool of myself, as I simply was not a good public speaker. As I went to the pulpit that day, looking over the congregation, I caught Stephanie’s eye, and could see that she was much more nervous than I was. I gave a good sermon that day, not because of my own talent, but because God had already begun the sacramental work within me.

I changed, and continued to do so, in preparation for the sacrament of ordination.

How does this happen? How do the sacraments affect a change? The word sacrament is “sacramenta” in Latin, or, translated into English, mystery. Mystery better explains that there is no explanation to how the sacraments work; all we do know, is the sacraments were given to the apostles.

1 Corinthians 4:1 1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Co 4:1–2). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

These mysteries happen on a spiritual level. So let us resolve that we will not know the “how”, but maybe we can solve another riddle; why? Why would God create such a practice, one that is done in mysterious ways. The answer is through a question, why are we here? We exist because God wanted to share His love. He wanted to share creation and His love with others, with as many as possible! But there was a problem, we broke creation. There was also the problem that we continue to sin. Something had to change, and it wasn’t going to be God.

Change is difficult for us, I know that the best of Christians have difficulty changing. We all know as we sit here today, if we are to be honest, we need to change, to fix what we know is wrong with our lives, but we can’t see the path to that change. We don’t have the strength for that change, we can’t understand how this change will take place. This unknown future will usually imprison us in the past.

Lets make certain we know how important our changing is. What happens to the church that does not change with God’s will? What happens to the person that does not change towards God’s will? We cannot afford to stay stagnant, we must always change, and change in the right way, this is where God stands ready to help, this is the sacramental life.

This change will be a mystery to you on how it happened, but you will see a very real and visible result in your life if you choose to change and give yourself to the sacramental life. Where to start?

God knew that we were broken, but He wanted us to share His love. He had to fix us, replace what was lost. Through the saving works of Christ, His Son, God gave us baptism, our first mystery.

Matthew 3:6-17 5 Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mt 3:5–6). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Jesus participates in baptism, showing us the way. Baptism includes water and the Holy Spirit

So what is the change?? Adoption by God.

John 3:1-61 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Jn 3:1–6). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Jesus tells us that what is born of flesh is flesh, but what is born of the Spirit is the Spirit. Many call this forgiveness of original sin, replacing what was lost. What was lost, humankind, is now back in God’s family. Why did God make us? To share His love with us, that we might be loved and love God in return. Most of us have this change when we were too young to understand. So our first mysterious change is often one that goes under the radar, we have an inward mysterious change but no outward and visible sign.

God knew this, so He planned the sacrament of confirmation.

Acts 8:14-25 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; 16 for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Ac 8:14–17). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

The apostles laid hands on those who had already been baptized. What was the change? They were filled with the Spirit and began to evangelize. Confirmation fills us with the Holy Spirit and gives us the power we need to fulfill God’s mission which was chosen for us individually. For some of us this is a great change. When I was a child, my priest told me I would be a priest, but when I became a teenager, I thought it would be better to earn money, so I ran from my calling. These years were alright, but they were not why God put me here, so though they were alright, they were unfulfilling. What is God telling you? What has He told you to do? We should realize that submission to God’s will is the only answer that will allow us to live life abundantly.

So we have been adopted into God’s family, and given a job to do and the Spirit to do this work! Unfortunately this is a job that many avoid at all cost. The old joke about the pastor with squirrels in his bell tower is based on reality. This pastor had troubles with squirrels eating the electrical wiring in his bell tower. The pastor called several rodent specialists, only to pay them for a remedy that never seemed to work. Finally an older cleric, after hearing the pastor complaining vociferously about his rodent problem, suggested confirming them. Confused, the pastor asked the elder priest what he was talking about. The older man replied “everybody knows when you confirm members of your congregation that they immediately leave and are never seen again!” If all of us did what the Lord intended, we would have to have a reservation system for mass! We have been given the Spirit, a Godly mystery, which has occurred within us, but we don’t act, why?

CHANGE! God asks us to change our lives, our calendars, and we don’t like that kind of meddling at all! Are there times I wouldn’t rather be in Architecture? Sure, but God has called me elsewhere in life; and it is His life, not mine. This is difficult, because we all have a strong draw to the comforts of this world, the devil has made the road to hell quite exquisite, full of wonderful treats that side line us from God’s will. Just as an aside, if the secular life is so good, why are so many on anti-depressants?

But it’s tough, and God knows this, so He has given us mysteries so that we might be strengthened for our ministry. First and foremost, we need a helper!!

Genesis 2:18-24 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; 22 and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Ge 2:18–23). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

God made man a helper, and yes the reverse is true, woman’s helper is man. This life is hard, don’t try this alone! Of course you might bring up clergy, but they are married to the church, their family, a parish full of brothers and sisters that should support them as if they were their own flesh and blood.

So, what is the change? The two become one. God knew that life is difficult, and the first thing we all want to do is leave when the going gets tough, so God made a permanent bond between the two, so that at the end of the day when things get tough we know someone has our back, and is there to comfort us.

Ephesians 5:22-33 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church; 33 however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Eph 5:22–33). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Care about each other, this is the only way! Because the hard part is the change God is bringing about in you! So we are strengthened for the change with our spouse, but God gave us more.

Again as we know the love of our spouse is a great foundation and comfort, the love of God is all the more a strength and comfort. He wishes to be with us daily, in a very real way, the Eucharist.

Mark 14:22-24 22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mk 14:22–25). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Jesus celebrated Passover, but it was so much more.

1 Corinthians 11:20-29 20 When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Co 11:20–30). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

This is not just a meal…

John 6:48-58 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Jn 6:48–58). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Jesus, even while losing disciples, still held to His teaching. So what is the change? Bread and wine turned to the body and blood. A mystery! Why did God make us? To be with us, to love us. The Eucharist is nothing if not God with us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Change is tough, but Christ is with us, through the Blessed sacrament of the Eucharist. We partake in the Eucharist, the two become one, for strength in our callings. We can also visit the Blessed Sacrament for strength and clarity. So to help in our Change towards God, we are strengthened by God Himself, and helped by our spouse.

But sadly we do still fail, we fall into sin frequently, but God is ready with the sacrament of reconciliation.

James 5:16 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Jas 5:15–16). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Confess your sins! Speak them! Why is this so important? If we don’t speak to another we rationalize our sins; another good Christian, especially a priest will not let us play those games. We are also held accountable, by the other, for what we have done.

But why a priest??

John 20:19-23 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Jn 20:19–23). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Because Jesus knew that we would not (but also could not) forgive ourselves, we needed an outward sign of the mystery going on within. The priest is a very real conduit to God Himself, and he, through Christ, has been given the authority to forgive.

Failure comes in all forms though, and all too often our broken bodies fail us—we need healing. This can come through unction.

James 5:14-16 13 Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Jas 5:13–15). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

As we change and as we minister, we find that it is hard work! Long hours do break the body. Unction brings the Spirit within you for the purpose of healing you so you can continue your ministry.

So God wants us to change, towards Him. He brings us into his family through Baptism. He gives us our marching orders and strengthens us to do His will through confirmation. He gives us a helper through marriage. He then makes certain that He is with us through the Eucharist. He helps us with our earthly struggles through Reconciliation and Unction.

But we are still missing one. Those He has chosen to safeguard these mysteries. Those in Holy Orders.

Mark 3:13-19 13 And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons: 16 Simon whom he surnamed Peter; 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Bo-anerges, that is, sons of thunder; 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Mk 3:13–19). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Why would He appoint? Why not just teach? Jesus knew the day was coming all too quickly when He would no longer be walking the earth, His sacrifice would come. Who then would keep the faith? The sacrament of ordination would do this by imparting the Holy Spirit and giving men the spiritual power they needed to perform the mysteries of the Church; but also to be Jesus’ hands and feet, so that God could yet in another real way be with His people. But why the priesthood? What about Apostolic Succession?

Acts 6:1-7 1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them.
Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Ac 6:1–6). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

The apostles clearly ordain more clergy. Though clerics are called to a very serious ministry, they are no better and no different than anyone else. Priests simply have a different job than most. This ministry does come with a call from God to a higher standard; priests are to be shining examples of a godly life.

1 Timothy 3:1-13 1 The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. 2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; 5 for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; 7 moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
8 Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain; 9 they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons. 11 The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well; 13 for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (1 Ti 3:1–13). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

Priests do fail. They are human. Be assured the sins of the priest have no bearing on the validity of the sacraments they confect. All priests are not alike, nor are they all called to the same ministries.

God is calling us all to change, towards Him. But He does not expect to do this on our own. He has left us the mysteries of the Church, the Sacraments, to be our guides, our companions, our very real connection to the Father, and our strength.

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