Sunday, May 28, 2017

Do You Believe Now?

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Paul then said, "John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. Acts 19:4-6

Jesus answered them, "Do you believe now? Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone. But I am not alone because the Father is with me. John 16:31-32

Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. (“All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum)

We have some very sacramental readings today.  Maybe now is a good time to bring up that classic Catholic question: What is a Sacrament?

Do you know the Catholic version of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?”  I think it is the Baltimore Catechism. Volunteer teachers drummed these lessons into my second-grade brain on Saturday mornings in the classrooms around Mother Euphemia Nash Hall. Our CCD classes for public school students occupied the desks that were used by the Catholic elementary school students on weekdays.

Question 136 of the Baltimore Catechism (sources remind me that it is found in Lesson Eleventh of the First Communion Edition and Lesson Thirteenth of the Confirmation Edition), frames the question and answer this way:

Question: What is a Sacrament?
Answer: A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.

Outward sign. We homo cursillistas sapiens are beings of both body and soul. We rely on our senses (primarily) to understand the world. But how can we “sense” grace?”  Actual Grace is a spiritual gift rather than a physical one. We cannot see it, smell it, touch it, taste it, or hear it. How do we know it’s there?  That is where the "outward sign" of each sacrament comes in.

Water. Bread and wine. Oil. Fire-bearing candles. Rings.  

Instituted by Christ. God (in all three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit) was at work through Paul in our first reading.  We see it first in the distinction between baptism by John and baptism by Jesus. John knew there was a difference and so did the Gospel writers. John put it this way: “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Mark 3:11)

John lumps baptism and confirmation together.  Luke takes it a step further. He distinguishes two sacraments of initiation:  a) baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus and b) confirmation or the reception of the Spirit.

Throughout the book of Acts, the Spirit is conferred through members of the Twelve (Peter and John) or their representative (Paul). This may be Luke’s way to teach us about the role of the church in bestowing the Spirit. These days, the local bishop or his representative confers the Spirit. Sometimes, the Spirit just barges in whether there is a bishop around or not.

To give grace.  The sacraments are important right now because we are in a period that is particularly lonely…those days between the Ascension of Christ and the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost. The grace of those outward signs instituted by Christ will carry us through.

Be aware of the sacrament of the present moment this week. How will you see, smell, touch, taste, and hear it? Be aware of the wonders of your life. The Holy Spirit is not a one-time visitation the day when you were confirmed. The Spirit returns again and again. Sure, there is a first time like when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples when Paul touched them. The Spirit comes back. How will the Spirit touch you this week?

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