As Christmas approaches, we prepare for the coming of Emmanuel which means God is with us. How could the joining of the physical and the spiritual happen more profoundly than God incarnate? Catholics believe that the physical world is good, although flawed, and that God becoming man somehow elevates it to a new level; for not only had God created it, He also dwelled in it.
Stop and think about Catholicism and the use of physical things from incense for smell, art for the eyes, music for the ears, motion for the body (kneeling, genuflecting, crossing ourselves, etc.). Sacraments take this even further with the required use of corporal things like bread, wine, water, oil, touch, garments, physical speech. Catholics understand how the physical relates to the spiritual and vise versa, and how reality encompasses both. This is mirrored perfectly in the sacraments and can even be expressed as a kind of map that parallels our earthly life. God is truly “with us” all the year and all our life through the sanctifying grace of the sacraments.
Just as we are born into physical life we are born again into the spiritual life of Christ in baptism. By the way, if you are a baptized Catholic and someone were to ask you “Are you born again?” The answer is unequivocally “Yes”. Although we can sin afterwards, Catholics are “born again” at baptism. This is the reality.
At some point in our physical life we are considered an adult by the rest of society. In the United States we are legal adults at age 18. This happens regardless of how we feel about it or how mature we may think we are. With Confirmation we are considered adults in the Church with the same basic mission to go forth and preach the good news, whether we like it or not or whether we think we are mature enough or not.
Sacraments of Vocation (Marriage, Holy Orders):
As we grow and mature we discern some duty within society; some type of job/career or perhaps raising a family. In the spiritual life there are vocations and certain sacraments to help us advance the Kingdom of God.
As we live, we continuously need physical sustenance (food/water) for our physical journey. Jesus gave himself as our spiritual food; our daily bread (body/blood) for our spiritual journey.
As we go through life we experience sickness and injury which require healing. Many never experience serious injury or disease, but no one gets through life without the slightest sniffle, cough, bruise or cut. With no healing it gets worse and worse to the point of death. What these things do to the body, sin does to the soul, thus the need for spiritual healing.
After all, we can injure our own flesh whenever we want, but to heal it we look for a doctor who has skill, training & medical authority. In the same way we are perfectly able to sin and injure our soul, but to heal it we seek the help of “another”, a spiritual doctor.
Anointing of the sick:
Our physical life eventually comes to an end, and so there is a sacrament for this as well. Although the anointing of the sick is not always administered just before death, it should be received at some point before we die.
This sketchy outline of the sacraments is very simple (almost pathetic). But like so much in this blog, what is here is only a beginning; we have the rest of our lives to draw out Truth from an inexhaustible well.