So when Fr. Jon Seda shared the following analogy with us this weekend, it just clicked: "God is like a donut. The sacraments are like the frosting and we are the sprinkles. We need the Church in order to stay on the donut."
Everything has come full circle in my life. All puns intended.
"He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father."
Before I dive into the sacraments, it's important to understand two key terms: paschal mystery and grace.
Grace, as I've said before, is God's unmerited favor. His free gift of love. It is offered to us whether we want it or not. It is an invitation. Grace is what gives us the power to do things we couldn't do on our own. Every figure in scripture that I can think of encounters God's grace, or God Himself, and is left changed. Can you think of a time in scripture where someone did something on their own, without God's help? I can't. Grace is God's power. It's our faith that makes His healing possible.
The story of the Prodigal Son is the way I came to understand grace. We remember the story of how he asked for his inheritance early, left his father and squandered his money. Then - suddenly - he becomes aware of what he's done. He "came to his senses." He remembered who he was. Grace hits us like a hurricane in a pig sty. This is the pivotal point of the Sacrament and how God moves but notice - it is not the end, nor is it the most moving.
Grace reached him in a way that it couldn't before, but it took an open heart in order for him to receive it. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we let grace do its holy work - conversion.
Paschal is a Latinized version of the word pasach, Hebrew for Passover. When we think of mystery in the light of God, it is essentially synonymous with "plan." Maybe it's a confusing plan, but it's not a puzzle to be solved - it's a mystery to be lived. Mystery means wait. Come and see. Trust.
In the Book of Exodus, the Passover was when the blood of the lamb protected Israelite children from the angel of death (12:23). The blood of the lamb was protection and life, in the face of what should have been instant death.
In summary, paschal mystery is new birth instead of death. It's miracle, salvation and astonishment. Paschal mystery specifically refers to the life, death, passion and resurrection of Jesus. Confusing - yes. The way of God and not the way of us, of course. In paschal mystery we suffer and are cleansed. We die, and are anointed. We rise again, and we are sent.
Suffered - Died - Risen
This is the pattern for all of us, over and over again, a cycle of paschal mystery after paschal mystery, death and resurrection, despair and hope. It happens with Moses in the book of Exodus, it happens with Jonah and it happens with my best friend, Peter.
With Moses, he is banished for killing an Egyptian. Years later God visits him in the Burning Bush and asks him to die once again - leaving his family with Zipporah to head back to Pharoah. He is cleansed by his suffering and this cleansing gives him conviction to do what he is called to do. He is anointed into leadership and as the angel passes over, as the people learn to trust him, as he leads him to the desert and through the Red Sea, he is risen and sent. (Ex 1-15)
With Jonah, he suffers in receiving God's call to save the Ninevites. He runs away from God, and is cleansed as he is thrown from the boat, sees "death" in the belly of a whale and is spat back on the shore in order to fulfill his mission. (Jonah 1-4)
Finally, Peter suffers along with the Lord, especially after he has denied him. Sin is why we need the paschal mystery - it is the death that should have happened. Peter is cleansed and sent in John 21 as he repents, and is given his mission.
Through dying to their sin, these men are called - Cleansed, Anointed and Sent. By definition, paschal mystery is the life, death, passion and resurrection of Jesus through which we are saved. By uniting in his death, we will rise with him in his Resurrection. This is the Christian mystery; the paschal mystery. (2 Tim 11, Romans 6:4, 8)
Baptism is a lot like drowning. In scripture, you'll find a lot of examples of people who fail to drown - Peter, Moses and Jonah, in particular. The only people in the Bible who God allows to drown, as far as I know, are demons he sends into some pigs.
In Baptism, we drown out death. It's like our Crucifixion. And we arise New, just like the empty tomb. We're clothed in White as the Resurrection. We receive the Light of the World in our candle.
How are Catholics saved? Through Baptism. Sacraments are visible signs of invisible grace. For example, the invisible grace of marriage is the love between the two people. God is truly encountered there. The grace of baptism is that the parents feel called to raise their child in the faith. The grace is in the dedication. It's already there. The visible sign is the sacrament, the ritual, but equally important is the invisible grace - the commitment to the each other, the commitment to Christ.
Just like the Prodigal Son, sacraments are Memory. A rich sacramental life helps us gather communally and encounter him personally. God cannot be explained, He can only be experienced.
Is it possible to have salvation without Baptism? Yes. So why do parents baptize their child within 2 days of birth? I'm pretty sure it's just because they think it's that important and they don't want to risk it. They want their child to have that 'super power' of grace available to them.
So how are Catholics saved? Just like everyone else. Through conversion to Jesus Christ, celebrated visibly in sacraments, and invisibly in our hearts, followed up with commitment in our lives. Through Baptism.
Confirmation is the sequel to Baptism, a kick off into a new chapter of faith which is evangelization. Imagine that we are like a glass of milk with chocolate syrup just resting at the bottom. We receive that syrup, or Holy Spirit, at Baptism and it is activated in Confirmation. When they say that God equips the called, you've probably heard me say He's talking specifically about this sacrament. Baptismal vows are renewed (cleansing), the candidates are anointed with Chrism and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are received to be shared as the confirmand is sent.
Sent | Eucharist
"In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven." Hebrews 1:1-3
The sacrifice of Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover, the new death. Jesus is the new unblemished lamb, the blood of whom saves us from death and the flesh the Egyptians ate. He asks us to remember Him by it. Jesus, himself, is the ultimate Sacrament. Through weekly reception of the Eucharist, we are strengthened, nourished and become like Him. Jesus' paschal mystery is lived every mass, every Eucharist. The incarnation is the sacrament in which we do not climb a ladder to reach God in heaven, but He comes down to us. And brings us back with Him.
When you think that this is the God, the same grace, that told the story of the prodigal son it's a lot to take. I've suffered through cleansing, been anointed through death of dreams and risen again somehow deserving of a white garment only through His merit, and His grace. Like Dorothy uprooted from the farm and landing feet first in Munchkinland, this tornado of His touch has left me now not at the end - but at the beginning of a yellow brick road. The Sacraments are journey, after journey. They are our entire life in one moment. They are transformation, conversion, His story collided with our hearts.
Jesus is THE Sacrament. He is the visible King, touchable reign. He was as tangible as the water that washed your forehead, the oil that christened you for great purpose, as touchable as the white seamless garment. Jesus' skin was as warm as yours as you sit in your pew, His pain ached the same way yours does in the middle of the afternoon. This sacrament - His body, His blood - nourishes you so you'll never be alone (John 10:10).
"[I]n the mystery of the Word made flesh a new light of your glory has shone upon the eyes of our mind, so that, as we recognize in him God made visible, we may be caught up through him in love of things invisible” (Preface I of the Nativity of the Lord)
The Sacraments are how Christ saves.
The Sacraments are how we remember him. The Sacraments make us one. They can be emotional, they can be totally emotionless and seem superficial to an untrained eye. Sacraments are a visible sign of an invisible world, the touching of heaven to earth, with the communion of saints - all who have ever lived and died - all around us, praying with us as we recognize in the Eucharist prayer, the height of all Sacraments.
"Father in heaven, it is right that we should give you thanks and glory: you are the one God, living and true. Through all eternity you live in unapproachable light. Source of life and goodness, you have created all things, to fill your creatures with every blessing and lead all men to the joyful vision of your light. Countless hosts of angels stand before you to do your will; they look upon your splendor and praise you, night and day. United with them, and in the name of every creature under heaven, we too praise your glory as we say: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosannah in the highest."