On Sunday, November 4, I couldn’t help but smile as I opened my hymnal for the opening procession. “Here in this place new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away.” The lyrics came so easily from my heart, words that I had sung as a little girl in the pew and now as a young woman working as a catechist for a parish community. From my first days settling into the rhythm of work in a parish office and transitioning from life as a student, I’ve made some new and unexpected friendships that have reflected this new light.
These unexpected friendships are those of the saints. Peter Kreeft writes, “A saint is a little Christ. Not only do we see Christ through His saints, as we see a light through a stained glass window, but we also understand the saints only through Christ...” At this stage in life, a state of transition, I have yearned for Christ in a new way. How do you become who you are in faith and Christ? That burning question has led me to the lives of extraordinary people who acknowledged their own light and sinfulness and transformed it in the light of Christ. I’ve grown to know Christ better through the face of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Therese of Lisieux, and Bernard of Clairvaux. I see him in Francis of Assisi, Francis de Sales and Elizabeth Ann Seton. These are only a handful of people who reflect what we call a communion of saints.
The Catechism states, “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church” (CCC 962). The saints come together in union as the Body of Christ, each bringing their own sinfulness, challenges, joys and earthly life to the table. How amazing it is to know that there is a whole family in heaven feasting and praying for us on our own journeys! Their personalities and similarities to our own experiences remind us that we too are unique lights, finding our true selves in Christ. “For me to be a saint means to be myself,” writes Thomas Merton. And the message is echoed again in the song, “Gather us in...and we shall arise at the sound of our name.” Communion and sainthood begins with listening to Christ say our name and becoming more who we are meant to be in Him.
Pope Benedict noted in his address on this past All Saints Day, “…being united to Christ in the Church does not negate one’s personality, but opens it, transforms it with the power of love and confers on it, already here on earth, an eternal dimension.” Saints are intimately bound to both heaven and earth, in their love and actions. I had to remember in my own transition how the journey of holiness is one set a part. None of these people were sinless, they struggled just like me, but the way that they rooted themselves in faith made all the difference. They lived a dynamic life, a faithful life with intensity as Pope Benedict remarked. The saints gathered, lived as “little Christs,” and beacons of light, because they knew of their final dwelling place in heaven.
Live in the moment, because life is a constant transition. Trust that God carries you through that moment, and submit to his will in faith. Be fully alive, be fully yourself. We ask God to gather us in communion and holiness with these messages, remembering our friends, the saints.
Sophie Jacobucci serves as an Echo Apprentice in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire.
“To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wildflower/ hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” During my junior year at Chaminade High School, Bro. Stephen Balleta, S.M. drilled these hallowed words of William Blake deep into the recesses of my brain. I’ve kept that stanza from The Auguries of Innocence neatly tucked away, perhaps in the same aisle of my mind as the such and such causes for World War I, the date of the Battle of Hastings and when to use affect as opposed to effect. Trivial though it may have seemed at the time, some six years later these words have finally manifested their power. William Blake, in that short, un-rhyming and jumbled stanza has captured what it means to see the world sacramentally.
The infinite world captured in a grain of sand, the boundless beauty expressed in a wildflower, the gift of holding infinity in the palm of our hand and the paradox of fitting eternity into one hour all capture (to the extent that human speech and thought are able to communicate and conceptualize) – the essence of sacramental nature. A sacramental worldview is less like viewing the world through rose colored glasses and more like journeying through space and time in Dr. Who’s TARDIS; the inside is exponentially larger than its external appearance implies.
Somewhere alongside my knowledge of the Battle of Hastings and World War I is also a (working) definition of sacrament: a tangible sign of the invisible grace of God (cf. CCC 1131). Each of our seven sacraments has a clear and tangible sign (e.g. the bread and wine brought for consecration and the water and oil used in baptism) that manifests that salvific grace which is otherwise beyond the grasp of our senses. A sacramental worldview, however, should extend beyond the liturgical function of our seven sacraments; rather, it should extend the sacraments themselves.
Living a sacramental worldview means, quite simply, viewing the world as sacrament. A redundant definition it might be, but often times the simplest explanations are the best. If we do truly believe that the Sacraments are moments in time where the invisible grace of God is made visible and tangible then seeing this same grace working constantly in and through our daily lives would only beg that we see the sacramental nature of daily life. This is not to say that every blade of grass is truly the transubstantiated body of Christ, but it does substantiate St. Ignatius’s charge to see God in all things. Furthermore, viewing the world through “sacramentally-tinted glasses” would mean seeing the very world itself as sacramental; it would mean recognizing our lives and everything that they contain as the gift that they are. Indeed, it would mean seeing this world, our fallen world, for what it truly is: a tangible sign of the invisible and salvific grace of God. That being said, the question is not so much what it means to live with a sacramental worldview, but rather how this worldview will change the way we act.
Every grain of sand is a window to the self-giving and creative essence of our God, every wildflower a taste of His beauty; we hold infinity in the palm of our hands before the reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament and eternity in an hour with each liturgy. Perhaps the Brothers at Chaminade knew what they were doing after all.
Patrick J Sullivan is working on his MA in theology at the University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program and is currently serving in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.