In other words, there is more, much more to being a disciple of Jesus Christ than simply trying to imitate him. How dull is that?
Instead we’re talking about becoming Jesus Christ alive in the world today. He wants to do more, much more than we can ask or imagine, and he does so through the sacramental economy.
Catholics have an understanding of the Christian life that is stranger and deeper and more mysterious than any other. This is because we have the gift of the seven sacraments.
A sacrament is not simply “an outward sign of an inward grace” that’s an Anglican definition. It is not simply a symbol or a reminder. That’s a Protestant definition. The Catholic understanding is that “a sacrament effects what it signifies.”
It DOES something, and what it does is it configures us to Christ. That is to say, through the mystery of the sacrament we are bonded with Christ and Christ is bonded with us, and this is a reality, not just a theory. It is there in the gospel where Jesus says, “Abide in me and I will abide in you. I am the vine you are the branches.”
Each of the seven sacraments configures us to Christ in a way that is unique to that sacrament, and also unique to each individual. So in baptism we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. We participate fully. This doesn’t just mean we join in with the prayers and songs as much as we can and everybody gets to carry a candle. No. It is more, much more than that. In baptism we are plunged into Christ. We are immersed into him and he is immersed into us. There is a union, a transaction and a transformation.
The sacramental economy is vital because just as the bread, wine, water and oil are transformed through the grace and action of God, so each on of the baptized are transformed. If the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ so you and I are to become the body and blood of Christ alive in the world.
This is what a saint is: a person who has been transformed into a unique icon of Christ through the sacramental action of God in the world.
The main problem with Catholicism today is that this vital, supernatural and absolutely vital aspect to the faith is missing. We have forgotten or neglected or never knew the fact that the faith works. It does something. It is meant to transform us from the inside out.
Too many Catholics consider their faith as a religious duty for one hour a week. They turn up and punch the clock, arrive late and leave early–never once imagining that their faith is supposed to be doing anything in their lives. They never once imagine that the sacraments work. They never once even have the glimmer of the idea that God wants to actively transform their lives and step by painful step transform them into their eternal destiny which is to “grow up into the full humanity of Christ”–what the Eastern Orthodox call “theosis”.
Instead they come along and do their Sunday duty without thought, without attention and without intention. This is not Christianity. It’s fire insurance.
This is why immediately after the Nativity and Epiphany of the Lord we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord–because in his baptism he inaugurates the sacramental economy.
Through baptism he starts the whole operation running–an operation that will continue to the end of time through the sacrament of his body on earth which is the church.
Our celebration of the Baptism of the Lord is our participation in this process. It is a process that is just as sure and certain as God himself. It is through this process that he is working his way in the world like yeast in dough, like a tiny seed planted in the ground, like a family started with one child and like one little light that eventually banishes the dark.
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