Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

13 February 2012

One in Christ, Unum in Christo

Yesterday I was privileged to offer Exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament for a gathering of engaged couples at Berks Catholic High School.  They were fulfilling the Retreat component of their diocesan-mandated marriage preparation program.  It's always my hope and prayer that attending couples end up enjoying and profiting from their mandated Pre-Cana "classes," if only somewhere along the line.  (I am reminded of a saying from Virgil's Aeneid that was on a wall in our seminary library, which once had been an auditorium: Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit: "Perhaps at some time it will help/delight to remember these things."  One of those lines that admits of various interpretations, especially when removed from its original context.)

Anyhoo, I was asked to speak about the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist as they relate to Matrimony.  The primary text was One in Christ, the marriage prep course by Fr. Thomas Aschenbrenner that our diocese recently adopted.  And BCHS' motto is Unum in Christo, "One in Christ," hence the title of this post.  May a summary of those reflections benefit the current reader:

  • The Sacraments are tangible manifestations of God's presence for--and interest in--His children.  Jesus is God the Son made flesh.  The sacraments continue the incarnation of God for material beings in material ways--in signs accessible to the senses (e.g. water, oil, bread, words).
  • BAPTISM is the first sacrament one can receive, necessary in order to receive all other sacraments, necessary to enter into a sacramental marriage.  It configures us to Christ, the Anointed One, who was anointed
    • Prophet, to speak the Truth-in-Love authoritatively for God;
    • Priest, to offer Himself as sacrifice to the Father in the Holy Spirit for man's salvation; and
    • King, to guide and direct people to true satisfaction
  • Baptism sets in motion a sacramental life:
    • Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) identify us as members of Christ's Mystical Body, the Church
    • Sacraments of Healing (Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick) repair our moral and physical wounds, demonstrating Christ's power over sin, suffering, and death
    • Sacraments for Communion and Mission (Holy Orders and Matrimony) build up Christ's Body in quantity and quality, fostering one's own holiness by fostering others' holiness
  • MATRIMONY: Uniquely among the sacraments, the marrying couple administers the sacrament of matrimony to each other by their mutual declaration and reception of marital consent.  They are choosing to be:
    • A Total Gift of Self to each other in every respect
    • Faithful and exclusive to each other, admitting no rivals (persons, practices, or substances that effectively occupy the place of honor--take up the time and attention--due to the spouse)
    • Permanent amid every obstacle and inconvenience
    • Open to new life through a generous expression of the One-Flesh (genital) Union
  • Married couples accomplish this precisely in and through their bodies.  In Christ a couple's intercourse (sexual and relational) becomes, like all sacraments, a channel of divine love and life; a sign of God's covenant with Israel and Jesus' covenant with His Bride, the Church
  • Sacraments are not magic.  As a garden is tended, so our sacramental life enables us to be purified from sin and converted to the full realization of Christ's Likeness.  Spouses are privileged to undergo this purification together in their daily sacrifices of love (acts not dependent on feelings)
  • EUCHARIST: The primary sacrifice is Christ's Eucharistic sacrifice.  Our faithful participation in it enables us to find God somewhere, so that we can indeed find Him everywhere.  While once Our Lord's Body was particular and located at one place and time, by virtue of the Resurrection His Body can be found in many places and times.
  • His Mystical Body, the living sign of unity and salvation, offers His Eucharistic Body as one (Head joined to members); as one they partake in the sacrificial banquet, thus being joined to the Body they offer in sacrifice (a la the Old Covenant sacrifices)
  • Mass is the "huddle" in which the team learns the plays they will execute on the field, though not before joining hands and hearts in mutual dedication.  Join in the huddle!  Learn the plays and encourage each other as fellow team members!
  • RECONCILIATION: We don't always carry out the plays as directed; thus the need for sacramental reconciliation with God and with the Church.  Reconciliation is the moment for the forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism.
  • Reconciliation fulfills the human need to be heard and accepted by God and fellows.  It fosters accountability for past and future choices
  • Persons in recovery are suggested to make a "searching and fearless moral inventory" of themselves, and then to "admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."  These actions open the door for change and growth.  They are delayed for only so long as we prefer the discomfort of not doing them.
  • We need not be dismayed about guilt: it is a sign of conscience, the informed and undaunted voice of reason within
  • This sacrament requires
    • Consciousness of one's sins (thoughts, words, actions, and omissions) as gleaned from self-examination against Christ (as known through Scripture and Church teaching, the lamps that shine the Light upon current concerns in life)
    • Intention to turn from sins and toward God
    • Honest and thorough disclosure to the priest (cf. "Show yourself to the priest," from Mk 1:40-45, this weekend's Gospel, depicted in Latin above the confessional in the chapel at Mary Immaculate Center)
    • Prompt fulfillment of the penance prescribed by the priest; this shows our willingness to cooperate in the healing process
  • We are as sick as our secrets.  Negatives develop in a dark room.  (One wonders how many engaged couples will be able to identify with the process of film development, given the proliferation of smartphone cameras. --Ed.)  Positively put, a clean window allows maximum light to shine through
  • If we desire a tool to help us endure each other's faults, to humbly accept our own faults, to become increasingly able to ask for help and do what is suggested, to learn how to stay in a commitment like marriage "for the long haul," Reconciliation is just the tool we need.  
  • Catholics, confess well (imperfectly) and often.  Non-Catholics, find some equivalent to this practice as your faith tradition may provide.  Have friends in your life with whom you are free to be transparent, and be such a friend.
In the near future, I hope to begin developing ideas from a priest-classmate's talk on the Sacraments, specifically Eucharist and Reconciliation.  Until then, be committed or be committed!

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