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Brookline Carmel Bulletin †††††††††††††††††††††††

April 30, 1961

 

Cogitatio Sancta

(Holy Meditation)

 

The Sacraments and Spiritual Development

 

 

The concept of Liturgy as the redeeming and sanctifying work of Jesus Christ in the world, a work He carries on in collaboration with His Immaculate Bride, the Church, forces us to concede that the administration of the Sacraments belongs pre-eminently to the category of Liturgical Actions.Through them are dispensed the treasures of Divine Grace amassed by Our Lord in His life, suffering and death.They are the means He uses to bring us to Spiritual perfection.

 

Let it be noted that there are two ways of advancing in Holiness.One is by an increase in the intensity of our participation in the life of the Godhead.The other is by an advance in the degree of that participation.The distinction is exemplified by comparing a healthy infant with a sickly grown-up.The baby has an intense hold on life, while the adult, notwithstanding his precarious hold on life, possesses it in a more perfect degree.

 

It lies within our power to increase the intensity of our hold on Supernatural Life.We do so by a practice of asceticism aided by the ordinary Grace of God.But we cannot, of ourselves, cause our advancement in degree of participation.We can only remove obstacles.The Sacraments, however, cause us to advance in both ways.Those that we are able to receive frequently bring about a more profound participation in Godís Nature.Those that are received only once lift one to a higher level of participation in Divine Life.It should help us, then, to see the Sacramental System in its proper perspectives.

 

Theologians have always insisted that the Sanctifying Grace bestowed by one Sacrament is in some way different from that bestowed by every other, even though all Sanctifying Grace is essentially the same.If there were no such thing as advancing in degree of participation in Godís life, then two sacraments would suffice, one to impart it to those who donít possess it, and one to impart a more intense participation in those who do.But as it is, there are seven.

 

The specific role of each Sacrament is best seen against the following background.Consider (1) a pre-adolescent girl, (2) a 22-year old single girl, and (3) a married woman, a mother.Let us idealize the situation by supposing that each of them is completely normal physically, intellectually and morally.Now all of them possess human life.Each is, essentially, as much a human being as the other two.Clearly, though, differences do exist among them in reference to the perfection of human life each enjoys.What distinguishes the little girl from the other two is that she is both physically and psychologically incapable of bearing and rearing children.Again, there is a difference between the adult single girl and the mother.In the latter the entire physical and psychological mechanism ordained to the reproduction of human life in all its perfection has already been set in motion and is in operation.In the former, this is not so.At this point we may consider the role of food and medicine in the lives of these three.The same food will nourish the life of all three, each in her specific level of human perfection.Of itself, it does not cause the transition from one level to another.The same medicine also restores health to each.It restores the original firm grasp each enjoyed upon her specific degree of life.

 

From this we can understand the specific role of each of the various sacraments.Baptism is the Sacrament of supernatural birth.It gives a man an elementary degree of participation in Divine Life and makes him a member of the race of Godís Children.A person who has received only Baptism enjoys the same supernatural life, essentially, as one who has received all seven.

 

Confirmation is the Sacrament of spiritual maturity.It adds a very important refinement to the elementary degree of Divine Life.It makes one capable of bearing supernatural fruit, and gives him besides an orientation and inclination toward a state in which he will actually be supernaturally fruitful.There are two sacraments, which put a man in that state:Matrimony and Holy Orders.Matrimony causes one to produce children, supernaturally speaking, indirectly.Holy Orders causes one to do so directly.

 

Hence we can see the Sacrament of Penance as the panacea that either restores Divine Life altogether, or at least restores a firm grasp upon it, no matter what the level of perfection (in degree) in the one who receives it.The Eucharist, then, is the food that nourishes, repairs, recreates and strengthens the supernatural life of the soul.It does not, of its very purpose, cause a transition from one level of participation to another, but it profoundly influences it.

 

Finally, Extreme Unction bestows such an intense grasp on Divine Life that it is not jeopardized by very weakened conditions of body and mind at the point of death, and guarantees the victory over the enemies of the soul in the last and most important struggle.

 

Let us take a minute, now to refute briefly the argument of those who say:Matrimony, being a Sacrament, is better than the Vows of Religion, which are not Sacraments.True, Matrimony renders a person supernaturally fruitful, but not by its very nature.It does so only in virtue of the positive Will of Jesus Christ, Who made it a Sacrament by an act of His omnipotence.But Divine Love, by its very nature is fruitful, for it is Ďdiffusivum suií, diffusive of itself.To be able to take the vows of Religion presupposes an eminent Love of God and merits a substantial increase.In fact, no one can do so unless the Holy Spirit comes and takes possession of him or her in a special way, and even takes the initiative.Thus, by the sheer force of Divine love, and not because of an extraordinary dispensation, a Religious becomes supernaturally fruitful.Mary, for example, was so filled with Divine Grace that without a man and without a Sacrament she attained the very summit of supernatural fruitfulness:she became the mother of the Son of God.

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