Simone Martini – Crucifixtion – Orsini Altarpiece 1333
“This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood. The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth. So there are three that testify, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are of one accord.” 1 John 5:6-8
This piece was written by Susan Skinner and Ashley Blackburn.
As I, Susan, spoke to the Protestant Minister the other day about purgatory, it became abundantly clear to me that there is a gaping hole in the lives of some Christians because of the lack of belief in the full Sacramental Life. This is not to say that each individual person is fully culpable in this lack of knowledge, but there is a sadness that comes over me from this hole that it left. In our effort to eradicate suffering, we have ignored how we can cooperate with what Christ has done for us. It’s a glossing over of the Cross, and jumping straight to Resurrection. But you cannot have Resurrection without the Cross.
Let me try to explain further. The Kingdom of God has three Cardinal virtues. They are Faith, Hope and Love. When we look at the Sacraments of the Catholic Church we can see these virtues in action, particularly in the three Initiation Sacraments. Though all three Sacraments require Faith, Hope and Love, each has a Cardinal Virtue that stands out the most. It is through these Sacraments that the kingdom of God is sustained and is how we should interpret living in the Kingdom of God.
First, the very first of the Initiation Sacraments is Baptism. At Baptism we are infused with the Most Holy Trinity and sanctifying grace floods our soul breaking the bond of original sin and any personal sin we have. We become transformed from death into life and into the supernatural world of God’s Kingdom. Faith hope and love are flooded into our souls through Baptism but I want to focus on the fact that this Sacrament is grounded in HOPE, expressed through cleansing water, and marked by the Holy Spirit. This is the Sacrament where you actually become a part of God’s Kingdom and are freed from the darkness of the Pagan world. You are indelibly marked. Almost all Christians believe in this Sacrament. Though in more recent years, I would argue the devil is even trying to stop that by saying it isn’t necessary. That’s a dangerous game to play, because it is the mark of Baptism that enters you in covenant with God and frees you from original sin. This is also why the Catholic Church baptizes infants. There is a recognition that this is the most important thing a parent can do for a child. They bring their child into covenant with God. The Jews understood this so well, that’s why circumcision was at 8 days. We make all kinds of decisions for our children, telling them what to eat and what to wear. Freeing them from death into life, flooding them with sanctifying grace and marking them in God’s greatest covenant through Jesus Christ is the most imperative decision of their life and they should not be left out of God’s kingdom. This Sacrament requires Hope because it is the hope that there is something greater than ourselves and that heaven is real. It is with great hope that almost all Christians accept this Sacrament, and it is here that we find unity. For this reason it is actually also a Sacrament of Mercy. When we are marked with God’s kingdom, we have been accepted into the covenant, we are sanctified into the supernatural world. God will do everything in His power to bring us to Salvation. What a mercy that is.
The second Initiation Sacrament is Confirmation. Confirmation is the Sacrament where Faith, grounded in the Truth of the Holy Spirit, stands out. Many denominations do not believe this to be a separate Sacrament from Baptism. After Jesus’ Ascension the Apostles were afraid. They were hiding in the upper room. It wasn’t until the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them that their faith was boosted and they were able to go out and proclaim the truth to all nations. They were not only given the courage to testify to the Truth, but they were also given the words and the understanding of what to say. These words and their profound understanding of the truth was something they did not have prior to being filled with the Spirit. When we see a Catholic take their confirmation seriously, we see a future Saint. How many of us are hiding, for fear of offending another? How many of us do not want to “rock the boat” and say nothing of our love for Christ to the world? How many of us do not feel it important to deepen our faith, both in understanding and in relationship with Jesus through prayer and the reading of Holy Scripture? It is through the Sacrament of Confirmation that we are given the courage and the understanding to put our faith into action, but only when we are open to cooperating with the gifts of the Sacrament. The apostles were not given the gift of the Holy Spirit without their free consent and their desire to receive the gift. We see them praying for 9 days in the upper room. Evidence of their desire to receive the gift God was wanting to give them. The Sacrament of Confirmation is the gift of complete confidence and realization of what we were marked with at our Baptism. We see this so clearly in the Apostles after Pentecost.
Finally, the third Initiation Sacrament is Eucharist. This is where the Sacrament of Love stands out. The greatest of all the Cardinal virtues. True Love requires the blood sacrifice and the sacrifice Christ made on the Cross is the ultimate witness to Love. During his public ministry, Jesus taught us how to Love our neighbor, but then he led us deeper by showing us how to participate in self-sacrificial love. When we receive Him in the Eucharist, we receive the eternal sacrifice of Christ’s love for us that was demonstrated on the cross. While speaking to the apostles, immediately after Jesus foretells what will happen to him at Calvary, scripture tells us Jesus said;
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24
Here we see Jesus teaching the apostles, as well as us, that in order to truly follow him, we must DO something. He could have left this part out and only foretold His death. But we see him take his self-sacrificial act of his passion and death and give us a participation in it. We are not only saved by Jesus’s one act of Love over 2000 years ago, but we are also saved by how we participate in that act. We have to be willing to sacrifice ourselves. This is something that is truly lacking in our society today. Sacrifice of yourself requires thinking of the other. It requires forgiveness of the other. It requires examining how we sin. This is also the reason the Sacrament of Confession is so important. We see true love when we see one sacrifice for another. A mother sacrifices for her child. A father sacrifices for his family. A soldier sacrifices for his fellow men. Somewhere along the way, in our effort to eradicate our suffering because of our limited understanding, we started to believe that Jesus did it for us and we have no participation in it. We stopped sacrificing for one another. It became, save ME at all costs, no matter the effect on the other. But Jesus urged the apostles to “deny themselves and take up their cross” in order to follow Him. This implies not only that we must be sacrificial Christians through the act of denying ourselves, but also that we will have crosses in our lives and these crosses are to be accepted as we follow Jesus. True Love’s sacrifice actually brings Thanksgiving, which is what Eucharist means. When we don’t accept sacrifice, we become bitter and angry at our fellow man. Our society is missing true love. The Eucharistic Sacrifice.
In order to live the Sacramental life, we must fully understand what these three Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are, as well as what they are for us through our full participation in them. The Kingdom of God is sustained and kept alive by Christians who are living the Sacramental life. The three Cardinal virtues, Faith, Hope and Love, are given to us through Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, and the Church has given us these Sacraments in order to help us live these virtues more fully. This makes us co-redeemers in the Kingdom of God.
In the end of my conversation with the Protestant Minister, she proclaimed that it didn’t matter what church you belong to, you just have to have faith. But it does matter. There is one fullness of truth. It lies in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church where the Sacramental life is proclaimed and should be lived. If society doesn’t accept this and start living this life, the Kingdom of God begins to crumble, because we have not accepted the fullness of truth. We have not proclaimed the Kingdom of God at hand. So it may take an act of God, like a Triumph of the Immaculate Heart, to reclaim the Kingdom of God.