Sacrament: Love made visible

Prayer

Our Loving God who has been with us since the very beginning. You are our ever faithful friend and companion in the journey. Many times, you have shown to us in concrete ways what love can do.

Because of so much love, you created us in your image and likeness. When we first sinned against you, though the paradise has been closed for us, yet, you walked with us. When we were made slaves in Egypt, you rescued us. When we grew hungry in the dessert, you provided manna for us. When we felt that our enemies made blows in every corner, you sent saviors to tell us that we are never alone.

When, we felt that you were too far from us, you have become like us except sin. You were born as an infant and grew up into a man. You walked with us, ate with us, taught us and even cried with us. You have brought hope and life in us even to the point of offering your life for us. Though you never sinned, but because of us you suffered. We were the ones who crucified you, yet, you forgave us. We were the ones who put you to death, yet, you resurrected for us – to tell us that we are never beyond redemption, that there is always hope in us, there is more in our sinfulness and weakness. You see love in us.

Indeed, you are a God who have showed us concretely what love is, now expressed through the sacraments of the Church. And so grant us Lord, the spirit to understand and embrace fully the grace that flows from the sacraments of your love, so that each of us will also become the very sacrament of your presence, of your faithfulness and love to people around us. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Have you been in love? I am sure that you have been in love too. The first time I realized that I was in love, it made me restless until I could have a glimpse of her. I realized that my attitude towards her had changed. I suddenly became more caring and thoughtful towards her. Though that puppy love did not last as it was based on emotional and physical attraction only, but that gave me a bit of understanding how love can change a person’s behavior.

With that, how would we define love? Can we really define it? According to my Tita, Miss Meriam-Webster, she gave 9 different definitions of love. Yet, I am not personally satisfied with her definitions since most are descriptions of love. Well, she said that love is a strong affection towards another, or attraction based on sexual desire, or based on admiration, or devotion, or an assurance of affection or a concern for another, etc.

Moreover, our Christian understanding of Love is much deeper than that. It is beyond romantic love, beyond physical attraction or emotional attachment. It is more concrete than those. If you have been listening to the prayer earlier, what we have prayed described “who love is.” Notice, I did not say, “what love is,” but “who love is.” Meaning, love is a person who concretely showed to the beloved that love. Yes, love is a person, God’s self-revelation is love and made visible through Jesus. What I prayed and shared with you in that opening prayer is the story of love being revealed to us, in our human history. It’s love that creates, that liberates, gives life and gives hope.

This is what sacrament is. This is what I want to share with yo, to always remember that the sacraments in our Church are concrete expressions of Love, expressions where the grace of love, of loving and of being loved made visible. Thus, Sacraments are expressions of love made visible.

You may have some knowledge about the Sacraments already, and it would be too long to share in details the theology and historical development of each sacrament. So, just let me share with you in short its background and how each sacrament is an expression of love made visible.

What are the seven sacraments?

The seven sacraments are baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance/ reconciliation, anointing of the sick, marriage and holy orders. They are divided into three categories: sacraments of initiation, sacraments of healing and sacraments of service.

What is a sacrament?

Before we get into the details of each sacrament, I want to reiterate one of the most important things about the sacraments — that they are means which God uses to show His grace and help us achieve salvation. The word sacrament means “a sign of the sacred,” which is fitting as they are all outwards signs from God to us.

Not only are they signs, they’re also celebrations of a continued journey and relationship with God, teachings to help live out His word and ceremonies to show devotion to Him. This means that our participation in the sacrament is our response of love to the one who loves us.

Take for example, a parent who does everything to send his/her child to school, provide basic needs and give a good life and ensuring that the parent’s presence also provides comfort and assurance to the child, and a child who out of gratitude to the parent maximizes everything given to him/her succeeds in life and makes the parent proud – is an image of sacrament.

Where did the sacraments originate? (origin?)

In the Bible, Christ gives his followers instructions on how to administer and receive each of the sacraments. This is seen through his work with the Apostles, in healing the sick, in the parables, feeding the multitude and giving his body and blood for the salvation of all and in forgiving sinners. The Church now administers these holy sacraments as instructed, in order for all to worship God and receive God’s gift of salvation.

This means that all the sacraments have a biblical origin. Though each of them have developed and has its own vast history over centuries until its present form. Hence, there might be some changes in performing the rituals, changes in languages, differences in doing it that varies from one culture and rite to another, but the very essence of each sacrament remains the same, it is the grace of LOVE MADE VISIBLE.

The Sacraments of Initiation

The three sacraments of initiation are baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.

Each is meant to strengthen our faith and forge a deeper relationship with God. Baptism frees us from original sin and making us children of God. Confirmation strengthens our faith and gives us fully the Holy Spirit. And Eucharist allows us to taste the body and blood of eternal life, be reminded of Christ’s love and sacrifice, and becoming one with the whole Church.

Sacrament of Baptism

In particular, baptism is the first sacrament where we become united with Christ and with the Church – no other sacrament can be received without it. Matthew 28:19 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

A priest performs this rite through the use of water, which is the matter, by immersion or by pouring, and while using the formula, “I baptize you in the name of the Father….”

This is the first step in our relationship with God. This is the only sacrament also that can be administered by anybody as long as he has the right intention and using the matter and the formula, but only in case of emergency.

Remember also that it is in baptism that God claims us as His children. The name of God is imprinted in us. That is why, baptism gives us an “indelible mark.” Meaning, once we are baptized, the grace can never and will never be taken away from us, because we have been claimed and marked as God’s beloved.

Hence, baptism is indeed love made visible because we are being assured of God’s faithful presence in our life, as a parent, as a friend and a companion in our journey. That is why, just as we remember our birthday every year, it is also good to become aware of the day of our baptism and celebrate it, because on that day we were formally received in the Church and had been claimed as God’s child.

Sacrament of Confirmation

Peace be with you! Receive the Holy Spirit. – This is the greeting of the Risen Christ to the terrified Apostles. At Pentecost, each of the disciples of both men and women received the Holy Spirit with an image of fire resting on their head. And filled with the Holy Spirit, they begin to speak though in different languages but understood each other and by the people around them.

with Most Rev. Edwin dela Peña, MSP, DD, Prelate of the Prelature of Marawi

Indeed, this is the sacrament where the candidate receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and continues their journey with Christ. During Confirmation, the candidate is anointed on the forehead with holy chrism (oil made of olive oil mixed with some perfume or aromatic oil) by a bishop or by a priest delegated by the bishop and saying the formula, “be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Since baptism typically happens when we were babies, confirmation allows an older child to acknowledge that he or she still wants to continue the journey with God and grow in relationship with Him. Like the baptism, confirmation also leaves an “indelible sign” in us, meaning, it is something that cannot be repeated and will never be taken away from us.

Remember, it was the promise of Christ given to the apostles that as he was going back to the Father, he assured them that He will be sending an ADVOCATE also called as PARACLETE – the comforter, consoler or helper. In this way, the sacrament of confirmation is indeed love made visible because it is a testament that God comes to comfort us, to console us and help us. And since we have received it, be assured, be confident because the Holy Spirit is with you to give comfort, consolation and help especially when you need it the most. Thus, as a response also, be a helper to others, be the sacrament of God that gives comfort and consolation to those who are in pain, confused and suffering.

Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist

Eucharist means thanksgiving. This is when Christ’s body and blood are offered and then received by us in the form of bread and wine. Matthew 26:26-28 says, “While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”

Now the priest, through the words of consecration, blesses and administers the Holy Communion during every mass to remind followers that they are one with Christ. Food and drink nourishes our bodies ‒- Christ’s blood and body being shared to us nourishes us.

Moreover, this sacrament  reminds us of this wonder of being grateful and of sharing. This tells us that when we become grateful of the gifts that we have no matter how small that could be, we also become generous. Thus, the bread and wine turning into true body and blood of Jesus is not done out of “magic.” This happens really, because of the act of thanksgiving of Jesus and his willingness to share his very self to us. Jesus is grateful of the love of the Father and so he gives himself to us as his concrete action of loving us. And the Lord does it every time we celebrate the Mass. Indeed, this is love made visible.

The eucharist that we celebrate and receive calls us now towards sharing. And to be able to share the body and blood of Jesus means that we become one with him or that we actually become him, becoming the Jesus of today!

That’s why, during the consecration, before raising the chalice, the priest remembers what Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me!” I find this very powerful because this is also the only sacrament that Jesus said explicitly, do this to remember me. Every time we celebrate the eucharist, it is not just a thing of remembering a distant past, but making the memory of Jesus alive again today.

Thus, “To remember Jesus means to become part of Jesus.” To know that Jesus is with us and within each of us is to be able to find peace and serenity, satisfaction and contentment despite the troubles, problems, concerns and hungers, wants and other desires that we have. When we become more conscious of the meaning of being one with Jesus and having Jesus in us, we also become, hopefully, Jesus for others.

This is the implication when we participate in the memory of the Eucharist because the Eucharist is not supposed to stay only inside the church building. When we go out from Church, it also means that we carry in us the Eucharist, we carry in us Jesus. The Eucharist continues when we step out from the Church and go back to our homes or to your workplaces and meet people.

This is the call of the sacrament of the eucharist, “to be the Jesus today! Consciously, with gratefulness in our hearts and with generosity bring Jesus with us because he is truly in us!” express the Jesus in you, through your words and deeds as you meet people today and tomorrow, as you talk and dine with your friends and family, and as you encounter strangers and the needy on the street and in the places where you go. In this way, we also become the sacrament of God’s love made visible.

The Sacraments of Healing

The two sacraments of healing are penance/reconciliation and anointing the sick. Penance allows for spiritual healing and absolution for people who have distanced themselves from God through sin. Anointing the sick allows for both physical and spiritual healing. When one falls seriously ill, a minister anoints them and prays over them, calling on Christ for strength and the gift of healing.

The Sacrament of Penance or Confession or Reconciliation

Personally, I actually like its other name, “RECONCILIATION.” Penance focuses of the punishment of sin while reconciliation focuses on the grace received in this sacrament.

During the sacrament of reconciliation, a person confesses his/her sins to God through me (as the priest). I forgive the confessed sins through God’s mercy, and I order the penitent to live a more faithful life through the gift of absolution.

Confession is essential in cultivating and fruitfully living out the word of God. We are not perfect people, even if we try to be. Many times we fail and commit sin and that’s why it is good that we are always conscious of our sinful nature in order to counter healthily those tendencies. By acknowledging our sins, we also acknowledge our need of God. This helps us have a stronger relationship with God and better awareness of ourselves and of our needs and desires.

As a priest, I find this sacrament really powerful because as it brings healing to a soul wounded by sin, this sacrament also heals a heart wounded and bruised by painful, shameful and traumatic experiences of the past. Despite being young in the ministry, I have heard confessions that brought shocks and terrifying chills. I have heard sins confessed that I thought only in movies could happen, yet, those happened and to be able to console a penitent through God’s gift of mercy and peace, that gave me the joy of being a priest. It is not easy to sit down and listen to the sins of the people. Being in the confessional for two hours is physically and emotional draining. However, the joy and peace that I always see and feel in the person after the granting of absolution would always paint a smile on my face.

Hence, this powerful sacrament of reconciliation is indeed love made visible because God reminds us always that His mercy and gift of peace is never far from us. God through this sacrament tells us that God is always willing and waiting to embrace us. Hopefully, each of us too, who received such embrace of forgiveness becomes a witness of God to others by being compassionate to sinners like us, by forgiving those who have hurt us and embracing those who feel unworthy like us.

The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick

This sacrament is the most misunderstood and even taken for granted by many. Before, this was called as the “Extreme Unction” meaning the “Final Anointing.” This sacrament was usually administered to those who are about to die. That’s why, even until now, people think that this sacrament of anointing of the sick is only for those who are at point of death. People refuse to receive this sacrament because of the fear of dying.

Anyhow, this sacrament now is bestowed upon those who are ill or suffering, which then are united with Christ’s passion. Anointing the forehead and hands of the person with “oil for the infirm” or “oil for the sick” while a priest is saying the words or the formula of the sacrament. (on the forehead: Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy, help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen; the hands: May the Lord who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up. Amen.)

This special blessing is a way to make the sick receive the strength in his body and spirit and be more connected with God in both mind and body.

In the letter of James 5:14, it says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

And since, people only asked for it when most of them are dying, this is the sacrament also that as a priest, I would always hold myself not to cry. Though there were times that I was not able to hold my tears and administered it with broken words in between my silent sobbing. Indeed, it is just painful and terrifying as well to witness a person who struggles for his/her last breath on earth while those who love him/her gathering around. Despite the pain, but I always feel blessed to have been part of those moments where the reality of death is being embraced.

Moreover, many times also I have witnessed how those were sick recovered after receiving the sacrament. It is a joy for me to witness that wonder and miracle of simple healing stories. Indeed, this sacrament of the anointing of the sick is love made visible because God continues to touch us to bring healing to our tired, wounded and sick body as well as our spirit. Thus, with this sacrament, this calls us too to become God’s healing touch to others. Yes, touch others to bring healing and comfort. Touch them with your presence of assurance and friendship especially those who are ill at the moment. Let them know that you remember them, that you are praying with them and for them. In this way, we too become the sacrament of love made visible.

The Sacraments of Service

Through marriage and the holy orders also called Ordination, couples and the clergy promise to serve and build up the church community.

The Sacrament of Marriage

Marriage is a very important sacrament. Just think, without it, no one will come for baptism and confirmation. Nobody will gather to celebrate the Eucharist. And since no one is there, nobody will get sick and ask for the anointing. And most of all, no one will be ordained to the priesthood to celebrate the sacraments. 🙂

My parents during their wedding.

The commitment, love and union of husband and wife extends and bears fruit. This is how a wife and a husband enrich the church, and that is through procreation. The openness of the couple to God’s grace of children, makes the church more alive. Without their commitment and openness to the grace of having children, there will be no people, no community at all.

Of course, we also know that there are many couples who were not gifted with children because of some physical difficulty, yet, this does not stop them from becoming fruitful in the community. All couples are called to build up the church in ways they can.

Thus, through marriage, a couple promises to help build each other up, in faith, serve each other and the church and be faithful to each other until death. Through this lifelong commitment, this also mirrors God’s faithfulness in us. Remember, our covenant with God is always in the image of marriage. As God makes a covenant with us (I AM your God and you are my people), God expresses concretely His faithful and abiding love for us.

For those who are called to this life, prepare yourself and always make yourself welcoming to God’s invitation. Faithfulness is a key element in this life. For those who are not called for this life, let those married couples around you like your parents especially as well as your friends, be your inspiration in your other relationships. They may not be perfect but let them know also that you pray for them and supportive for their lifelong commitment.

Thus, this sacrament, indeed, is love made visible in many ways. God reminds us of his faithfulness in our covenant through this sacrament. The couple mirrors the love of Christ with the Church and the Church’s response of love to Christ. Hopefully, each of us too will become sacrament of love made visible by being faithful and committed to our relationships, with our friends, families and communities.

The Sacrament of Holy Orders/Ordination

This sacrament is for those who choose and called to become a priest, bishop or deacon. This is the composition of the clergy. Through ordination, they are able to perform sacred duties and serve the church community. This is a sacrament that everyone cannot partake in, rather it is reserved to those who are called by God chosen among God’s people.

Yet, this does not mean that this kind of life is higher than being married. As married couples have their own mission and call in the Church, we priests, deacons and bishops also have our own calling and mission in the Church.

Like the baptism and confirmation, ordination also leaves an “indelible mark.” As there are three different categories among us clergy, there are also different rites for ordination for deacons, priests and bishops.

Without going deeper into these three categories, all three share a common ground and that is the gift of ordination is received through the imposition of hands and the words of the consecratory prayer that also differs from one another.

Moreover, we priests and the bishops, receive the mission and the capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, while the deacons are empowered to serve the people of God in the ministries of the liturgy, in preaching and in charity.

Thus, through this sacrament, God reminds us too of His continuing presence in the world, in our communities and in our hearts through the gift of person whom God has called and chosen to be his image in the Church. This indeed, is a sacrament of love made visible.

For all of you who do not share in this vocation, I would like to ask you humbly to pray for me, to pray for us clergy. Pray not just for our perseverance, not just for our good health; pray that we may always be faithful as God is faithful to us, pray that our commitment is for the church and not for our personal comfort and enrichment, pray that we always find joy in this life because there are many of us who are sad and lonely.

Hopefully, you have found this empowering and life-giving.

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