September 13, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Sacraments are necessary for the health of our souls

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The Eucharist is the single most important reason for staying in the Church.” (Bishop Robert E. Barron, Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis)

For the past several weeks, we have been discussing the six reasons for staying in the Church proposed by Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron in his book Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis.

The bishop’s arguments are addressed to Catholics “who feel, understandably, demoralized, scandalized, angry beyond words, and ready to quit.” But all Catholics—regardless of their response to the crimes of sexual abuse and cover-up committed by some Church leaders—can benefit from Bishop Barron’s prayerful reflection on the reasons for staying.

Fidelity to the faith of our fathers and mothers is essential to our identity and mission as disciples of Jesus Christ. By virtue of our baptism, we are members of his mystical body and missionaries sent to proclaim the Good News to all nations and peoples throughout the world.

Bishop Barron’s fifth reason for remaining faithful, or “staying in the Church,” is the sacraments. “The Christ-life that we have been describing comes into us, the Church teaches, through the sacraments,” the bishop writes. “Baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist initiate us into the life; marriage and holy orders give that life missionary direction; confession and the anointing of the sick restore the life when it has been lost. As necessary as food and drink are to the body, so are sacraments for the health of the soul.”

To quit the Church—either by drifting away or by deliberately refusing to participate any longer—means cutting ourselves off from the nourishment (sanctifying grace) that only the sacraments can provide. The health of our souls requires that we remain open to this grace, especially to the special graces we receive through frequent celebration of the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist.

Frequent confession helps us acknowledge that we are sinners—both in what we do and what we fail to do. More importantly, it places us in a position to repent of our sins and to receive the divine forgiveness that can only come from our merciful God.

If we abandon the Church, we lose access to this powerful source of God’s grace. Think of the graces we will forfeit and the opportunities for renewal that we neglect when we no longer take advantage of this great sacrament of God’s love and forgiveness.

All the sacraments contain the power of Jesus, Bishop Barron writes, but “only the Eucharist contains Jesus himself. When we consume the Eucharist, we are taking the whole Christ—body, blood, soul and divinity—into ourselves, becoming thereby conformed to him in the most literal sense.”

Communion with Jesus in the Eucharist is the most intimate form of participation in the life of the Church. It is a sacramental sign—which causes what it signifies—of the oneness with Christ that is the meaning of our lives. “Through this great sacrament,” Bishop Barron says, “we are Christified, eternalized, deified, made ready for life on high with God.”

Imagine turning our backs and walking away from the outstretched arms of Jesus! If we truly appreciate the gifts we are given each time we attend Mass and receive the holy Eucharist, leaving the Church is unthinkable. That’s why Bishop Barron tells us that The Eucharist is the single most important reason for staying in the Church. When all else fails, even when we are betrayed by those (including priests and bishops) who have promised to be Christ’s ambassadors here on Earth, the Lord himself is with us, uniting us with himself under the form of bread and wine absorbed into our bodies and becoming one with us.

This mystery, the grace we receive when we unite ourselves with Christ, and with all his brothers and sisters, is absolutely unique and irreplaceable. “You can’t find it anywhere else,” Bishop Barron reminds us, “and no wickedness on the part of priests or bishops can affect it.”

As we reflect on the beauty and power of the seven sacraments—baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, marriage, holy orders, reconciliation and anointing of the sick—let’s thank God for all his gifts. And let’s pray for the strength to remain faithful especially in times of doubt and adversity.

Remain with us, Lord, and keep us close to you. We want to be faithful members of your Church. Strengthen us in our weakness and revitalize us by the power of your love. †

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