We cannot do it alone: Without the Church and Her sacraments, we hinder, even prohibit the effects of God's prodigious gifts in our lives, His beloved creatures. Recent experience with two families I know well, one Hispanic Christian Catholic, the other, unchurched but claiming to be Christian, has reinforced my understanding of this fact.
"So, I told them that we are all fine without church." My good friend smiled indulgently about the appeal of three friends to return to church.
We had spent the day together, lunch, movie and conversation which revealed my friend's profound love for Christ, an unusually extensive knowledge of scripture and private prayer. My friend had disclosed a conversation which evidently still lingered in her mind. During a recent weekend with her three Christian friends, the three women had advised, ' Go to church.'
I agree with her friends. And have used that exact same phrase with other unchurched friends during conversations about their kids and the challenges of parenting.
Like so many, my friend has many reasons to stay away from church: A complicated childhood with rigid evangelical parents and disappointing recent experiences with local ministers rank high in the list.
And I understand. Many years of my life were lived in the absence of church for some of the same reasons as hers. But that's not a good enough reason. We know the lie of the statement, each of us does when we claim not to need church.
Is it a panacea? Can regular attendence guarantee that our lives will be free of suffering? That our kids will make the right choices? That when we finally make the decision to go, we will like the priest or the minister?
We know the answer to those questions is no but ponder for a moment just what we deny ourselves and our family when we stay away from Church and the "signs imbued with the presence of Christ", the sacraments.
My husband and I were asked by sixteen-year old twin boys to be their sponsors at their confirmation Mass this last June. On the way to the Mass, John asked me what I remembered about my confirmation. Very little, I replied, because upon my entry into the Catholic Church, I received four of the seven sacraments of the Church: reconciliation, conditional Baptism, confirmation and the Holy Eucharist in two successive days. Mostly it was a blur. Evidently he felt the same way because his confirmation had taken place so many years ago.
Therefore, the invitation by our teen-aged friends felt like honor, exactly like a privilege. We were delighted to stand beside these two young men during the public conformation of their faith.
"I seal you with the Holy Spirit," intoned the Bishop as he dipped his hand into the holy oil and made the sign of the cross on the forehead of the young man standing beside me. Those words echo in mind still, I seal you with the Holy Spirit.
The supernatural virtues infused into my young friend and those of all the other young people being confirmed on that June evening were tangible: Faith, Hope and Charity. The air in the Church was suffused with the Spirit. I thought of the words the priest had intoned when making the sign of the cross on my forehead, on another evening, many years ago during my conditional Baptism: I claim you for Christ.
How is it that we think that our intellect and education and private prayer can come close to the infused grace and power of these sacraments? Go To Church.