More “Real” Than Real

We live in a culture that is ultimately material. By that I mean that what is considered most “real” is that which can be experienced with our five physical senses. What we can see, hear, taste, smell and feel is what is real to us. Essentially, that means that what we observe in the natural world and what we have feelings and impulses toward are the only things that exist. Of course those things are real, and yes we experience them in the natural world. But where does that leave us with the question of the supernatural, the order of things not apparent to our physical senses, the truth and reality that is actually happening in the everyday life of the Spirit?

We say that we believe in God and the supernatural world; but unfortunately, many Christians today behave as mere materialists, interpreting their faith and the spiritual life solely within the dimension of the natural, material world. However, there is an ultimate reality — something more real than the reality known to our physical senses — in which we can participate, and I believe that the sacraments of the church are the daily means by which we live in that reality. In fact, the sacraments reveal that ultimate reality to us, as if lifting the veil to expose the full picture of God’s love and redemption story for all of creation.

What reality is revealed?

A sacrament is “the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation,” and the Church’s Catechism explains how God has gifted us with signs observable to our senses that allow us to participate in a reality that exists beyond those physical senses:

“The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a ‘sacrament.'” (CCC 774)

So within a sacrament something is actually happening in the spiritual life. This revelation certainly contributed to me becoming Catholic, and it daily awakens me to what is most real. I will give you a couple of examples of this deeper level of reality, what is actually happening, when we participate in the sacraments. I have been pondering the reality of three sacraments in particular recently: Baptism, Marriage, and the Eucharist.

Baptism — For some people Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation have become merely symbolic “events” worthy of photo shoots and parties afterward. Have we lost sight of what is really happening? Through the anointing oil, prayer of exorcism, and the cleansing holy waters poured on the child, the stain of original sin is being wiped away. This soul is entering into the life of the Church and beginning a pilgrimage in which those witnessing souls are also participating. Remember those Oxi Clean commercials? It’s like spiritual Oxi Clean for the soul! The dirt of original sin is literally removed to reveal a whiter than white fresh soul ready to begin that spiritual journey. But if you are only looking with your eyes you won’t see what is actually taking place right there in that moment in our time.

Marriage — Why is being married in the Church and according to her canon law so important? Because what is actually taking place when it is a sacramental marriage is nothing like a contractual agreement that may at some point in time be dissolved. When the two become one flesh something very real has happened in the spiritual lives of both of those people that impacts completely their physical lives and reality from that point forward. They are suddenly knit together, responsible for helping each other journey to heaven. In fact, the vocation of their marriage is the way God is choosing to sanctify them and make them holy. My husband is not just my companion, my partner in life, my lover — at that altar and in that sacrament he (with all of his flaws and charisms) became the person in this life that will participate in the sanctification of my soul. Mind-blowing. Awesome. Overwhelming.

The Eucharist — Maybe this one is both the most obvious and the hardest to comprehend at the same time. To my physical sense I am eating bread and drinking wine. If I approach that bread and wine as a symbol, I’m not acknowledging that something transformational is taking place. I must realize that I am taking the real presence of Christ into my own body, and that phenomenon radically changes me and spiritually sustains me with graces. That moment of consecration on the altar is not just some ritual; the most ultimate and supernatural reality is taking place before our eyes in every mass! Christ is offering himself for us, to sustain us on our earthly journey. When we enter into that reality — when we get that — we will only be able to participate with total reverence and awe, and our daily living will be sustained like never before.

How do we “sense” this ultimate reality?

If this is the realness that we can live in, then how do we then experience this ultimate reality that is always present with us? As human beings created in the image of God, we have been gifted with a sixth sense — the religious sense.  The Catechism describes this religious sense in several places as the “supernatural sense of faith” (CCC 91-93, 889). Faith is one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope & love). Through the eyes of faith we are able to see our lives, the lives of others, and the world in which we live in a supernatural dimension — we are able to perceive what is most real, the ultimate reality available to us in the spiritual life. We access these eyes of faith, this religious sense, through grace; as with everything in the spiritual life, it is a gift.

But human agency is always a factor. Are we living in a way that opens ourselves up to that gift of faith? Are we taking part in the gift of the sacraments? Have we let patterns of behavior and distractions blur our vision and numb our religious sense? If so, we may find that we are merely living material lives day in and day out. But this will not satisfy. This is not the abundant life that Jesus speaks of in John 10:10. We must foster the religious sense if we want to live in the ultimate reality and be fully alive.


Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey

Wonder & Whimsy: 2 Teresas, sainthood & how to live in this world

A weekly curation of quotations I come across in my reading life (or on random condiment jars) — from the inspirational to the miscellaneous. Perhaps one inspires you or catches your fancy too…

God appoints your “seasons”…

“All is planned for the good of every soul, exactly as the seasons are so arranged that the humblest daisy blossoms at the appointed time.” – St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul

A prayer of surrender…

“Yours I am, O Lord, and born for you. What do you as of me?” – St. Teresa of Avila

Where sainthood begins…

“Good intentions are almost never good enough, but it is difficult to imagine where sainthood would begin if it didn’t begin with the heart. Before anything else, it has to be about falling in love. And love is something that you need to live.” – Tyler Blanski, An Immovable Feast

How to live in this world…

“The great struggle facing you is not to leave the world, to reject your ambitions and aspirations, or to despise money, prestige, or success, but to claim your spiritual truth and to live in the world as someone who doesn’t belong to it.” – Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

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Intentionality Requires Vision

I believe that being intentional is the key to having a thriving domestic church. Creating an authentic atmosphere of faith in our homes or living according to rhythms of the liturgical year don’t happen by accident. We must intend to do such things. But what if we are struggling with a concept of what that looks like in our families? Vision is imperative.

 If we lack vision for our domestic churches, then we will probably struggle to be intentional about building habits and culture in family life.

Scripture gives insight to this phenomenon in Proverbs 29:18:

Without a vision the people lose restraint; but happy is the one who follows instruction.” (NABRE)

The footnote in Bible Gateway reads: “‘Vision’ and ‘instruction’ mean authoritative guidance for the community.” We need authoritative guidance for our domestic churches; we can’t begin being intentional until we know what it is we are going for, what it should look like — both theoretically and practically. Thank goodness we have the Holy Spirit working through Church tradition, the Catechism, and a wealth of encyclicals to inspire vision within us!

But part of constructing a vision involves deconstructing old habits, patterns and norms. And sometimes we need both the Church’s inspirational and prophetic voice to help us in this process. The RSV translation of the above passage reads like this:

“Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint, but happy are those who keep the law.”

We sometimes misunderstand this word “prophecy” to only mean “predicting the future.” While some of the prophets did foretell things in Scripture, that is not the complete purpose of the prophetic. An important role of the prophetic, both in individuals given the gift of prophecy and the Church’s prophetic voice, is to correct us when we lose our way. Continue reading “Intentionality Requires Vision”