The Ties that Bind

LENTEN RETREAT
Day 37

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IF there are “tethers” that we must detach from our hearts, that is, worldly passions and inordinate desires, we most certainly want to be bound by the graces that God Himself has given for our salvation, namely, the Sacraments.

One of the greatest crises of our times is the collapse of belief and understanding in the seven Sacraments, which the Catechism calls “the masterworks of God.” [1] This is evident in parents who desire to have their children baptized, but never attend Mass; in unwed couples who live together, but want to be married in the Church; in children who are confirmed, but never step foot again in their parish. The Sacraments in many places have been reduced to quaint ceremonies or rites of passage, as opposed to what they: the action of the Holy Spirit in the sanctification and salvation of those who participate in them in faith. I mean really, it’s a matter of life and death. There is an ancient saying in the Church: lex orandi, lex credendi; essentially, “the Church believes as she prays.” [2] Indeed, our lack of faith and hope in the Sacraments is due, in part, because we no longer pray from the heart.

In the life of the Christian, the Sacraments are like the ropes that join a tethers2gondola basket to the balloon appartus—they are the bonds of grace that really and truly bind our hearts to the supernatural life of God, enabling us to fly heavenward straight into eternal life. [3]

Baptism is the “frame” from which the heart is suspended. I marvel when I am at a baptism, because it is at that moment that the merits of Christ’s death and resurrection are applied to a soul. It’s what Jesus suffered for: to sanctify and justify another person so as to make them worthy of eternal life through the waters of Baptism. If our eyes could be opened to the spiritual realm, I am certain we would see not only angels bowed in adoration at that moment, but the company of saints praising and glorifying God.

It is from this “frame” of Baptism that the “ropes” of the other Sacraments are tied. And here we come to understand the necessity and gift that the Holy Priesthood is.

The ordained minister is the sacramental bond that ties the liturgical actions to what the apostles said and did and, through them, to the words and actions of Christ, the source and foundation of the Sacraments. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1120

Through the priest, Jesus Christ fastens these sacramental “ropes” to the hearts of individuals. I pray through this Lenten Retreat, that God will grant each of you a new hunger and thirst for the Sacraments, for it is truly through them that we encounter Jesus, that “powers… come forth.” [4] In Reconciliation, He listens to our sorrow, and then absolves us of our sins; in the Eucharist, He literally touches and feeds us; in the Anointing of the Sick, He stretches forth His compassion, and comforts and heals us in our suffering; in Confirmation, He imparts to us His Spirit; and in Holy Orders and Marriage, Jesus configures a man to His own eternal priesthood, and configures a man and woman to the image of the Holy Trinity.

Just as the ropes fastened to a balloon help keep it centered over the basket, so too do the Sacraments keep us centered in God’s will. In fact, the Sacraments are that which strengthen and keep the heart “open” to receive the powerful “flames” of the Holy Spirit, that is, grace

Now, whenever we commit a venial sin, it is as though we sever some of the ropes that keep the heart in communion with God. The heart loses strength and grace is weakened, but not entirely severed. On the other hand, to commit a mortal sin is to cut all ties and tear one’s heart entirely from God’s will, from the “frame” of Baptism, and thus, the “propane burner” of the Holy Spirit. Such a sad soul plummets to the earth as cold and spiritual death enter the heart.

But thanks be to God, we have the Sacrament of Confession, which refastens the heart to God and to the graces of Baptism, binding the soul again to the life of the Spirit. On Day 9, I spoke about the power of this Sacrament and the necessity to frequent it. I pray that you will grow to love this incredible fruit of the Cross that heals, delivers, and refreshes the soul.

I want to conclude today with a few words on the Eucharist, who is Jesus Himself. As Catholics, there is an urgent need to recover our love for Christ in the Holy Eucharist, to strengthen our ties to this indescribable Sacrament. For unlike the other “ropes” that, you could say, run straight from the “basket” to the balloon, the Golden Bonds of the Eucharist wrap themselves around every other rope, thus strengthening every other Sacrament. If you are battling to fulfill your baptismal vows, then increase your love and devotion of the Eucharist. If you are struggling to be faithful to your marital vows or priesthood, then turn to Jesus in the Eucharist. If the fires of Confirmation have died down and the “pilot light” of your zeal is flickering, then run to the Eucharist, which is the Sacred Heart aflame with love for you. Whatever the Sacrament, it will always be strengthened by the Eucharist, for the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord in personi.

But what does it mean to “turn to” the Eucharist? Here, I am not suggesting that you undertake some great and burdensome devotion in order to stoke your love for the Blessed Sacrament. Rather, these seven suggestions are small acts of love that can serve as kindling to stir into flame the fires of your love for Jesus.

I. Whenever you enter your church, as you bless yourself with Holy Water, turn toward the Tabernacle and make a little bow. In this way, the first person you recognize in the sanctuary is the King of kings. And then, when you enter your pew, again, fix your eyes on the Tabernacle, and make a reverent genuflection. Then, when you leave the Church, genuflect, and as you bless yourself one last time, turn and bow again to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Little gestures like these are like turning up the propane valve, helping to expand the heart more and more with love. 

II. During Mass, stir your faith by little prayers: “Jesus, make my heart ready to receive You…. Jesus, I adore you… Thank you Jesus for coming to us…” How many Catholics receive Jesus today, unaware that they are touching God? On receiving Communion with a distracted and divided heart, Jesus said to St. Faustina:

…if there is anyone else in such a heart, I cannot bear it and quickly leave that heart, taking with Me all the gifts and graces I have prepared for the soul. And the soul does not even notice My going. After some time, inner emptiness and dissatisfaction will come to [the soul’s] attention. —Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary of St. Faustina, n. 1638

III. When you go to receive Jesus, make a little bow as you approach the Eucharist, as you would if you approached a royal figure. Also, as a sign of profound respect, you could receive Jesus on the tongue.

IV. Next, rather than join the usual stampede for the exit (often before the recessional hymn is finished), stay in your pew at the end of Mass, sing the last few verses of praise to the Lord, and then spend a few minutes in thanksgiving that Jesus is really and truly physically present in you. Speak to Him from the Heart in your own words, or in a beautiful prayer such as Anima Christi. [5] Beseech Him for graces for the day or week ahead. But most of all, love Him… love and adore Him, present in you… If only you could see the reverence by which your guardian angel adores Jesus in you in those moments. 

V. If possible, take one hour a week, even half an hour, and visit Jesus somewhere in the Tabernacle of a church. You see, if you went outside once a week during lunchtime and sat facing the sun, you’d tan pretty quickly. Likewise, all you need to do is sit and gaze upon the face of the Son of God. As St. John Paul II said,

The Eucharist is a priceless treasure: by not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass, we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Eccelisia de Eucharistia, n. 25; www.vatican.va

VI. When you can’t go to Mass, you can make what’s called a “spiritual communion”. You can read more about that in Jesus is Here!.

VII. Whenever you drive by a Catholic Church, make the Sign of the Cross and say a little prayer like, “Jesus, Bread of Life, I love you,” or whatever is on your heart as you pass by Him—He who remains there as a “prisoner of love” in that little Tabernacle.

These are small but profound ways that will help you to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” the renewal of how you see Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Remember, as a soul on the Narrow Pilgrim Road, the Eucharist is your food for the journey.

Last, if the goal of prayer is to soar into the heavens of union with God, it is actualized through the Holy Eucharist, which is the “source and summit” of our faith.

…unlike any other sacrament, the mystery [of Communion] is so perfect that it brings us to the heights of every good thing: here is the ultimate goal of every human desire, because here we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most perfect union. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 4, www.vatican.va

 

SUMMARY AND SCRIPTURE

The Sacraments of the Church are the holy ties that bind our hearts to the Holy Trinity, purifying, strengthening, and preparing our hearts for Heaven.

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. (John 6:35)

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* Photo of gondola basket by Alexandre Piovani

 

 

 

 

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  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1116[]
  2. CCC, n. 1124[]
  3. cf. CCC, n. 1997[]
  4. cf. CCC, n. 1116[]
  5. The Anima Christi; ewtn.com[]
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