Lawn Chair Catechism: More than Words — A Sensual Faith

Welcome to this week’s Lawn Chair Catechism discussion, hosted by CatholicMom.com. For a little more information on this Summer’s book, as well as my previous posts on the series, go to the dedicated page I’ve set up. As always, using the study guide helps you if you don’t have the book. (So don’t let that stop you from joining in the conversation!)

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This week, we’re talking about sacramentals, or things we use to help further our faith and deepen our prayer lives.

Why would we use such physical things in our faith life? Shouldn’t we be good with just using words?

Well, not really.

Our faith is filled with what we call Mysteries, which we cannot fully understand, but we can still believe and grasp on some level. For instance, we know from Scripture that when a priest speaks the words of Consecration, the simple bread and wine on the altar becomes the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. Christ Himself told us this would be so, and He passed on this power to change bread and wine to His Body and Blood to His Apostles (who then passed it on to those their ordained to the priesthood). But when we look at the host, when we peer into the chalice, we don’t see Jesus. It’s a mystery how this happens, but we trust that it happens because God told us that it would be so.

Likewise, our Sacraments have tangible parts to them — form and matter — that help convey the spiritual reality that is happening in our souls, which we can’t see. The water used in Baptism symbolizes the reality that our souls are washed clean from sin through the Sacrament. The bread and wine that become the Eucharist symbolize the fact that our souls are fed and nourished through this Sacrament.

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Much of Catholicism has a sensual side to it — a way of engaging our five senses in our worship and prayer. From the smell of incense to the taste of the Host at Communion to the feel of our Rosary beads to the postures we take during Mass (standing, kneeling, sitting, genuflecting), the Catholic faith is about the entire person: body and soul. We aren’t souls trapped in bodies, or bodies that are inhabited by souls. We are both, and both parts of us will be present in Heaven at the end of time if we follow Christ.

God has always spoken to Man using the physical creation around us. He spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He spoke to Elijah in the quiet wind, He came as a Man to touch people physically and heal them body and soul. We shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed of the physical trappings of our Catholic faith — they are there to help us and lead us closer to the God Who created them! The pictures, holy cards, and statues of saints remind us of the very real people who lead very real lives in pursuit of holiness. Just as we keep photographs of our family around long after they’ve died, we keep pictures and statues of our family of saints to help us to remember the kind of lives we ought to be living.

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Next time you’re in a Catholic church, look around at the windows and statues and think about how blessed we are to have a faith that recognizes the good present in the physical world and makes use of it to deepen our faith!

Let’s have a look at the questions for this week’s chapter:

• What are some of your favorite mystery novels, movies, or TV shows?

• What does it mean that we can know a mystery but not fully understand it?

• When was a time in your life when you encountered mystery? What does it mean to say that Catholicism is a sacramental faith?

• What does it mean to call Jesus the “Sacrament of God”?

I’d like to focus solely on the last question, to help drive home the idea that the sensuality of the Catholic Faith is not only okay, but the best way to foster a deeper faith and trust in God.

Jesus is a “Sacrament of God” because He came to us, physically, to bring graces to us. Sacraments (outward signs instituted by God to give grace) make use of physical things, helping us to understand the spiritual work that is being done. Jesus is the ultimate physical Sign from God, for He is God Incarnate. As such physical beings, we have difficulty understanding the spiritual realm, including God Himself. To better help us grow closer to Him, God condescended — stooped down to our level, like a parent does for a small child — and showed us the perfect way to live.

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In this way, God the Son — the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity — helped connect us to the spiritual world by using the physical world around us. And so we keep that tradition going, using statues, pictures, stained glass windows, Rosary beads, bread, wine, oil, and more … all to give us a tangible connection to God’s Mystery. We enter into the Mystery, take part in it, though we can’t fully understand it on this side of Heaven. We make use of all of our senses in our worship and prayer, uniting our bodies and souls in praising God.

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