By Shannan McQuade
It seems that the most common religious affiliation anymore is the “I’m spiritual but not religious” type or the religious “nones” (those who have no religious affiliation). Perhaps there is a draw to the meditative and contemplative aspect of spirituality that gives people a reason to step away from the world for a while, but, at the same time, they don’t want to be tied to what appears to be rigidity in organized religion.
However, if one was to merely rely on the spiritual encounters created by themselves, they would severely lack in the concreteness brought by the tangibility of the sacraments.
In Julian Carron’s book “Rediscovering Beauty,” he says that so often man is given “partial answers to reduced questions.” When we look at the world today, we can clearly see how so many of the questions man has about his very existence are pushed to the side and given partial answers, if out of necessity. This is seen in terms of morality, societal norms, and especially the question of his relationship with his Creator.
Society heavily favors relativism and the physical world in which people are often encouraged to do what best fits their desires, and the very concept of true happiness, and indeed truth, is distorted. We as humans have an innate desire for something beyond the physical, and our hearts long for something that is not of this world.
Father Brian Eckrich, pastor of the parishes in Milbank, Clear Lake, Big Stone City and Revillo, says that the human heart longs for the physical world but also more than just the physical world: whether we know it or not, we long for a physical Church and tangible encounters with grace.
Why a church?
Father Eckrich says very simply that we need a church “because we are physical beings.” Human beings are a body and soul composite, but the physicality of humans requires that we have a physical encounter and relationship with our Creator. Further, Father Eckrich said, “We, as human beings, have to do things at a particular time and place in order to accomplish things.” Therefore, the structure and habits that a physical church and the sacraments provide are necessary to establish and foster a relationship with Jesus Christ.
A physical church provides a specific time and space for us to encounter other people and establish relationships with others. Father Eckrich reminds us, “We are inherently social beings. We were not created for isolation or loneliness.” Alongside the desire to know something beyond ourselves and this world, we also desire for connection with others.
There is an important aspect of community that comes with being part of the Church. We are given companions to journey with us through the ups and downs of life and to guide us in our relationship with our Creator.
The tangibility of the sacraments
In his book “The Scent of Lemons,” Father Jonah Lynch discusses the ways in which social media and the internet have impacted how man forms and carries out relationships with other people. In the preface, he writes, “Three of the five senses cannot be transmitted through technology. Three-fifths of reality, 60 percent.” In a world that appears to be as connected as we’ve ever been, we so often miss out on three-fifths of reality. Thus, when we look at the cultivation of our souls, the tangibility of the sacraments plays a few different roles.
First, that tangibility leans into the innate human need to have a specific time and place to accomplish things. Second, the sacraments are a gift of profound love in which man has a tangible experience with God’s grace.
There is great importance in taking time for personal prayer in which we foster our own deeply personal relationship with the Lord, but the Lord loves us more than to leave us to our own devices. He gives us the sacraments that we might encounter him tangibly every day.
“The sacraments are the concrete way in which we receive sanctifying grace. Through the sacraments, we have certainty of God’s grace,” Father Eckrich said.
Offering an example, he said we can ask the Lord for forgiveness of our sins and pray a perfect prayer of contrition all on our own, but in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we have the audible prayer of absolution that ensures us of the forgiveness of our sins.
The sacraments are what sets the Church apart. These are gifts we have been given to encounter the Lord through our senses. It’s a physical way in which our physical beings can encounter the Divine that is beyond ourselves.
If we’ve already encountered the beauty of the sacraments, then what can we do to share that beauty with those who have yet to have this encounter?
We are first called to be a witness to Christ. Then, Father Eckrich encourages us to extend an invitation. In Evangelii Nuntiandi, an apostolic exhortation on evangelizing to the modern world, Pope St. Paul VI writes, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Christ demonstrated in the Gospels from the very first invitation to the first disciples to “come and see” (Jn 1:39) that the most effective way to gain disciples is to witness to the goodness and joy of knowing Christ. So first and foremost, we are called to witness to the beauty of the Church and her sacraments.
Secondly and more concretely, Father Eckrich encourages us to invite others to the sacraments. “Practically, just invite them. It has to be an experience they have themselves.”
We must share our own personal experience of encountering Jesus in the sacraments, but also invite them to experience the beauty of the sacraments themselves. As part of our witness to the Church, we must invite them to experience what it is that we experience.
“If we live in a world of openness and tolerance, what about an openness to the one true God?” Father Eckrich said.
There may be someone who is willing to be open to encountering Christ and his Church but simply needs to be asked. Pope St. Paul VI begins Evangelii Nuntiandi by saying, “The presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved.”
If we know of and have encountered Christ through the gift of the tangible sacraments, then it is our duty to share those concrete encounters of God’s grace with others.