'Lost and Found' by Greg Olsen. Used with Permission.
“Lost and Found” by Greg Olsen. Used with Permission.

November 20, 2022

Road to Damascus Women’s Retreat
November 2022

I have been invited to speak to you about the Sacraments.

I an effort to be completely honest – I am Catholic and will be speaking from a decidedly Catholic viewpoint. It isn’t in an effort to convert or to persuade – it is just who I am and, in an effort, to inform this is going to be very Catholic.

First question – how many sacraments are there?

Seven. Very good.

Now, according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, how many sacraments can we have? . . .  anyone? Buehler? Buehler?

Okay, let’s look at the definition really quick.

The Church defines a sacrament as “an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give Grace.” In other words, a sacrament is something we can observe; see with our eyes, touch with our bodies, feel with our hands. Oils, water, bread, wine, rings – all physical. The sacrament was established by Christ while he was among us. It is there to deliver Grace. The “seen” delivers the “unseen” because Christ established it for us.

What are the maximum sacraments we can have – according to the Church?

What is the fewest number we can have – according to the Church?

The key phrase here is “instituted by Christ.”

Christ isn’t here to add or take away from our seven.

Therefore, we can only ever have seven sacraments – no more and no less.

We need to recognize there are different forms of Grace. Grace being that “unearned gift of God’s love.”

The women serving this weekend offer a Grace that is affirming. They have worked hard to get you to the point you are today. That is love that you haven’t technically earned yet here they are.

When we talk about the definition of sacraments there are two types of Grace. First, it is that gift of God’s love – Sanctifying Grace. It is Sanctifying Grace that changes us and those elements we use in our rites of the church.

Imagine you have a hose filled with water – under pressure – looking for a way out. There is a plug at the end of the hose. All that Grace is bottled up with no place to go to – to deliver that love of God.

That’s where our first sacrament comes in to play.

Baptism is our first sacrament. Without Baptism we cannot experience the other sacraments. Without that Sanctifying Grace received in Baptism we cannot be changed and made more.

In the Catholic Church we do infant baptisms where the whole community comes together to support parents who choose to have their children brought up in church community. We want that Sanctifying Grace for them as soon as possible. We want them made more from the very beginning.

We announce “a new child of God” as they are presented after the baptism.

It is the baptism which unplugs that hose and allows the Sanctifying Grace to pour onto us and change us – infant or adult. We are then changed and become a new creation.

Still, we are human and are subject to our brokenness from our first parents when they chose the world over God. We are attracted to things of this world and will inevitably fall. It is who we are.

That’s when another Grace comes into effect. Sacramental Grace.

Sacramental Grace continues to build upon the Sanctifying Grace.

Imagine, you have a home. It is well built and comfortable. It is a safe place. But does it always keep you safe? If it is damaged, do you just leave the damage? I think most of us would continue to repair and to make it stronger.

That is what Sacramental Grace does. Through the sacraments we continue to build on that Sanctifying Grace.

When we fall, and we all fall, we go to reconcile ourselves with God to get back that purity of the sanctified. As Catholics, we go to reconciliation or confession. It is in confessing our sins we are reconciled with God.

In the Gospel of Matthew, on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus asks the Apostles, “Who do the People say that I am?” The Apostles answer that some believe him to be John the Baptist, others Elijah and still others lesser prophets. He then asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Christ. The son of the living God.” Jesus then tells him that he is giving Peter the keys to the Kingdom. Whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in Heaven. Whatever he holds bound on earth will be held bound in Heaven.

Our priests are, Catholics believe, a direct line from the Apostles so that what they absolve here is absolved in Heaven. We receive a strengthening from that absolution, and we are once again reconciled with God. We have made our house stronger.

I am going to save the Eucharist for later because everything we do as Catholics revolves around the Holy Eucharist.

As I said, as a community we say we want our children raised in the Faith. We choose that. We say the words and we celebrate the rite.

At some point, as Catholics that is normally their Junior Year of High School, the child gets to speak those words. They say whether they choose to continue in the Faith or they can defer – for a while or forever. It is their chance to speak up for themselves. Many Catholic parents believe they must make their children go through confirmation. If, you tell a child this is how you WILL worship, is it really THEIR Faith?

I love my Catholic Faith, but it was I who chose it. My parents didn’t demand I choose it, but God led me to choose it. Confirmation has strengthened my Faith. It has made my house stronger.

Marriage and holy orders aren’t too different. One, you choose to love and join yourself to another individual. The other, you choose to join yourself to Jesus.

I have so much respect for young people who choose holy orders. It is the ultimate sacrifice in this life. You choose a life of service to others. To love all as Christ loves all. You set aside all your dreams to live a life of servitude out of love.

Marriage on the other hand isn’t quite so straight forward. Too often we choose our spouse without knowing “them” at all.

I can say this – well, because I am a man – Ladies, choose wisely. Some of us are just jackasses. We don’t show our true colors in the beginning, and you are fooled by this faux image because – you want to be fooled. You need us to be what you want us to be and too often ignore the warning signs. By that point you are married, and you realize – some of us are jackasses. God wants every marriage to work out and we should do all we can to fix the problems but understand the problems aren’t God’s fault but our own.

To be fair, some of you ladies are a piece of work yourselves. Know yourself and work on yourselves because we can only change ourselves. Marriage is sacred. It is meant to be sacramental and deliver that Sacramental Grace to each partner. You don’t just throw marriage aside but not every marriage is sacramental and not every marriage is even a marriage. Know yourself and let the sacrament of marriage strengthen your house.

The anointing of the sick is a very special sacrament which strengthens us as we prepare to die. I have seen many times those who are dying hold on for hours and sometimes days awaiting the sacrament of the sick. The priest will anoint the dying with oils, give them Eucharist and bless them with Holy Water.

Three “outward signs, instituted by Christ to give Grace” for their journey.

The oil is for healing, the Eucharist is for sustenance and the water is for cleansing.

Our last of the seven sacraments is the Eucharist. I held it because there are more questions in reference to the Eucharist than any other thing we believe.

So many people don’t truly understand what the Eucharist is. They believe it represents the Body and Blood of Christ. That it is just bread and wine.

But it is so much more.

I had a very dear friend and mentor. He grew up in the fifties and sixties and chose to join the Navy, become a Navy Corpsman and serve in Viet Nam. It was a brutal jungle war and many of our young men died there.

My friend, like many corpsmen, was attached to the Marine Corps and served with the Marines in a company which fought in the jungles. He would put his life on the line any time one of his marines was injured. He would go out into the bullets to tend to his marine(s).

These were all young men – teenagers and early twenty somethings. They each knew they might die but they signed up for that. When they were back at the base, they lived hard and partied very hard. That was the life my friend lived.

When I met him, he was Deacon Fred Dinges. He was no longer that young man who thought he would be dying each trip out and thus living a very disparate life. He looked the same. He felt the same. He sounded the same.

He had become something so much more. The form was the same, but he had allowed God’s Sanctifying Grace to transform him. He was MORE.

When we celebrate the Mass, we are in fact celebrating the Last Supper with the Priest in Persona Christie – the Person of Christ. When he holds his hands out over the gifts of bread and wine – the epiclesis – the Holy Spirit comes, and the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus. The form remains the same, but it is now something so much MORE. Jesus said “This is my Body. This is my Blood.” Not, this is like, or this appears as – THIS IS.

Last night as Quince and I were walking around in the cold night I had an epiphany. This weekend you are here because you were called to be here.

When you leave here Sunday, your form will be the same. If you allow it, God’s Sanctifying Grace will transform you.

You will leave here something so much MORE.



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