As we spend this year reflecting on the seven sacraments and their role in our faith, it may be helpful to look into why we have sacraments at all. One reason we have the seven sacraments in our church is because God is the source of all life. God created the entire universe out of nothing, and the dimensions of our universe are truly mind-blowing! However, the pinnacle of God’s creation is not massive stars and galaxies, but life here on earth. Specifically, men and women are the pinnacle of God’s creation because we are made in his image and likeness and share in the life of the Holy Trinity. This life that God shares with us is called grace. And this is the reason sacraments exist! The seven sacraments are the primary way that God desires to share his life with us when we live on earth. (Of course, God can and does give grace outside of the seven sacraments.) This sharing in divine life begins at baptism when Original Sin is washed away and the fire of God’s love is lit in the soul of the newly baptized baby. This is symbolized by the baptismal candle being lit from the Easter candle.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life” (1996-1997). Grace is both the help that God gives us and a sharing in the divine life of God. The sacraments are an effective visible sign of an invisible grace which God has given us to become more united with him and to share more fully in his love.
It is possible to fall away from baptismal grace through serious sin, which is called a mortal sin. It is called “mortal” because it kills the life of grace within our souls. The Church teaches that if somebody dies in the state of unrepented mortal sin, their eternal life will be spent apart from God. This may seem harsh, but it is really a free choice of each individual to accept the free gift of God’s grace or reject it and live in sin. The Sacrament of Reconciliation restores the life of grace if we do fall into serious sin after baptism. The other sacraments all work to increase the life of grace within us.
In the past century, there has been a great amount of study into genetics and how all life on earth is connected biologically through DNA. Specifically, our bodies are made of the same building blocks as other animals. However, I think we can say that we are more closely related to angels than we are to other primates. Human beings and angels are the two groups of beings that share in God’s divine life. In eternal life in heaven, we will look more like the angels than we do like other animals! On September 29, we celebrated the feast day of three archangels: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. On October 2, we celebrated the memorial of the holy guardian angels. We honor the angels that God created because they play such an important role in the history of our salvation and even in the current practice of our faith. May God increase our desire to share in his sanctifying grace – his own life within us!