As believers, we can be weary of being marginalised in modern life. As a faith community, we can feel archived, shelved and confined to the quaint boundaries of a heritage movement. Of course, the oft reported lessening of faith amongst the general population and the de-Christianisation of European public life can trace its origins back to the time of the French Revolution, if not before. One would be forgiven for concluding that secularisation and the priorities of modern life have smothered receptivity to the Gospel. Are we truly deaf and blind to the blessings of Christianity?
Yet, Jesus told us to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. This is the radical story of ‘us’. Christianity is less concerned with I, he, she, them or theirs than we, us and ours. It is a spirituality of universal communion.
When we place excessive emphasis on the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, the priests, the religious or the laity, we risk fragmenting the whole. We risk losing our communal identity as the mystical body of Christ. This also occurs when we place an excessive emphasis on what others are doing in society. Let us not constantly fall into the trap of vain piety by pointing out the slivers in other people’s eyes. Instead, let us constantly seek to help others find us.
When we object too much or too often, we may well come to perceive our faith as irrelevant to the common good of all. When we constantly operate within an us and them mentality, we can no longer call ourselves Christian. Jesus Christ is relevant for all time in all places. He broke down barriers. The hardest barriers often reside in our own hearts. Jesus spoke to people from the heart, opened their minds and awakened their deepest selves to a wonderful message. God loves us.
We are a community and it is only when we all learn to speak for our community that the message becomes coherently unified. Our story is ancient and holy and has stood the test of time for millennia. It is an epic story grounded in sacred scripture, enduring tradition and the faithful teachings of the Church. Yet, many of us feel connected to only a shadow of our full story.
We often connect with a wonderful parable but not with a specific teaching. At times, we even attempt to reframe the Christian message to suit our own circumstances rather than stepping back in humility to perceive the full sweep of Christian truth. Is this the fault of secularisation or is it due to something much deeper that lies within our own souls?
We no longer connect ourselves, our world or the entire universe to their sacred origins. When our prayers and way of life lack this basic connection, we become isolated from reality. But, when we take the time to consider our complete story, what kind of account might we give? What kind of truth could we live?
As Christians, we are constantly welcomed to experience a profound reality that is so much greater than ourselves, a reality that pertains to the whole of creation itself and not just to human affairs on earth in today’s world.
We are invited to appreciate our place in the unfolding story of creation by voluntarily including ourselves in a deep wisdom tradition. For Catholics, this story began with God and the origin of the universe itself, was partially revealed to the very first humans on earth, wove through early Jewish civilisation, led to the revelation and promise of Jesus Christ and was carried faithfully through two millennia to today’s believers like you and me. This is a very ancient and truthful account of reality. Quite simply, it is about the sacramentality of ‘us’.
In this epic account, we humble ourselves before God. When we cry out to Heaven, we pray that we are shaping our own identity in the image of Christ, the Son of God. In a very real sense, we can think of our individual faith as contributing to an earth-wide community of purpose aided by the Holy Spirit. This is the sacred account of ‘us’. We are the people of God.
Our faith has survived since Jesus walked upon the hallowed earth of the Holy Land. The good news spread throughout the entire world. Everywhere we go, we harbour our deepest values within us. We remember our ancestors, our prophets and our saints and share our sense of community with all people. We cherish hope, compassion and joy even in times of immense difficulty.
Throughout the ages, we constantly advocate for life and for love. We also look beyond ourselves to bring education and care to all people especially those on the margins of society. When we made mistakes, we seek forgiveness and reconciliation. We do not hopelessly wallow in despair. Instead, we carry our wounds with us and seek to radically transform them into something better. As people of the Resurrection, we pick ourselves up again and again to rediscover the message of Jesus Christ. We do not turn away from the light. This is how we learn to embrace the past, present and future.
We persevere even in the face of torture, misfortune and death. Because we always remember that the truth of God’s love is so much larger than we are. Even when we fail, we can rely on a neighbour to help us. This is what it means to be Christian. I with God with neighbour. Our story is about ‘us’.
The sacramentality of ‘us’ has the power to open our hearts to the presence of God. Like a ray of sunshine keeping the darkness at bay, the sacramentality of ‘us’ elevates the sacramentality of the created world. It is this sacred understanding that erodes our selfish preoccupations and constantly reinforces for us that God is eternally beautiful, creative and good.
Our faith shows us that our world is holy, that everything provides the soil for sacrament. The created universe is a manifestation of God’s glory and we are made in God’s image. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The food we grow is sacramental as is our work conserving and regenerating the goodness of the natural world and the society we are blessed to live in.
As a child, I was sent out to joyfully sprinkle blessed salt upon the fields. This was not mere symbolism. Knowing my family valued this simple ritual, I visited each field and recited some short prayers. Freed from the constraints of work or even personal leisure, I began to see the land in a new light. The blessing of each field elevated our work with the land to its proper place in God’s plan. Because, our work is so much more than effective planning, hard graft and monitoring outcomes. It is more than just planting and harvesting.
A non-sacramental way of life can quickly become dreary and barren. In all aspects of our lives and work, we are co-creators with God. This is a source of great joy that is manifested in our sacramental celebrations and grounded in our sacred origins.
A favourite prayer of mine captures the sacramentality of ‘us’. I learned it from the character Tiny Tim, one of Bob Cratchit’s sons from the story ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. It is this: ‘May God bless us, every one!’