Have you ever noticed that every Sacrament involves a touch? One of the signs that a person is even alive is the ability to feel something — to respond to an aural or visual stimulus, for example. People in a comatose or unconscious state are alive, but hardly living, in the normal sense of the term. “Living, or partly living,” as poet T.S. Eliot often mused to describe the human condition of a biological existence not fully present to the “dearest freshness deep down things,” as another poet, Gerard Manly Hopkins, puts it (“God’s Grandeur”).

Yes, that is what the Sacraments are all about: God’s life-giving touch. Think of the beautiful image of the creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s fresco depicts God the Father reaching out to touch the limp hand of the first man awakening to life. This is a sign of what God does, again and again, as he stirs us into full life.

It’s only a symbol! How often have we heard this mocking reduction of a Sacrament into something less than reality, when it is the Sacraments that put us in touch with Real Life, the Author of Life Itself. The term “hocus pocus,” used to describe magical rituals, is a derisive reduction of the Latin words of the Consecration, “Hoc est enim Corpus Meum” (“This is my Body”). But the Sacrament means what it says: this really IS the Body of Christ given up for us and to be consumed so that we might have eternal life from the One who is eternal.

Nothing is more real than the Sacraments. When the priest imposes his hand on the head of the confessing penitent and says “I absolve you from all your sins,” it means ALL your sins, even the ones that he or she may have forgotten or not even be aware of. Of course, a penance is appropriately imparted, if only to give us some way of saying “thank you” for the gift, but there is nothing the forgiven one can do to earn or merit the pardon. That is God’s work alone.

Mother Teresa reflected on the importance of accepting this forgiveness as real and complete. Anything less — including subsequent, self-imposed penances — can put one at risk of doubting the reality of God’s sovereignty and the total effectiveness of Christ’s redeeming love. THAT is the reality. It is we who are tempted to live in the false world of our own fear and the myths the hungry ego spins about defining and saving ourselves.

We could reflect on how the touch of all the Sacraments confronts us with life’s deepest realities, and how they are steeped in mystery: birth, death, illness, hunger, mission, and the vocation to love. But there is more to the sacramental reality of life than even the liturgical celebrations that bring God’s touch home to our hearts. Every life experience, even nature and science itself, pulls us deeper into the God of the universe who is also the God of our most intimate life.

The incomprehensible vastness of the universe itself is a revelation — albeit just a touch — of God’s infinity. Consider the great Orion Nebula. If you have no access to a telescope, look it up on Wikipedia or have your kids or grandkids show you. The crazy thing is everything you see in the Nebula happened in the year 676 A.D. The Nebula is 1344 light years away. You are literally looking at the past. Is what you are seeing then “real”? Who says the past does not matter or does not have some bearing on the present? If nothing else, it continues to give us light — and reminds us that what happened once might happen again: a parable in the skies!

Our galaxy, “The Milky Way,” is about 60,000 light years across. The closest galaxy is Andromeda and it is 2.5 million light years away and there are BILLIONS of galaxies. Now speaking of real life being sacramental, what I am saying is what we often call “reality” — what we see, or think we see with our senses, even if aided by technology, does not even begin to grasp the layers upon layers of the depth and breadth of what the universe of reality contains.

And what is said of “outer space” can be said of the nano universe of “inner space,” the atomic and subatomic worlds within our bodies and the most intricate networks of our nerve and brain cells.

If your head is already spinning, consider that we have only just been talking of the geophysical world and have not even begun to look at the complexity and meaning of human relationships. My only purpose in going down this path has been to propose that life itself is full of layers of “reality” that are much vaster and deeper than what we perceive and measure. When God shows us, and Jesus, the Word of God, tells us, something is more than what we see on the surface — like “This IS my Body…this IS my blood” or “Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them…” — we might begin to believe that he is on to something. Especially if that “something” is exactly what we deeply hunger for: love, intimacy, forgiveness, spiritual connection and healing – and, yes, touching the transcendent, the “beyond” what is merely mortal: eternity itself.

The beauty of the call of God, his hand reaching out to a fallen humanity, is that God has been on our case before we even realized we had one to be looked after. We complain sometimes that we cannot “find” God. Of course, we can’t, when we are living in the dark of our own sins and our very myopic “view” of what is real. God reaches out to us in sacrament, the divine touch that often uses signs and symbols, but has its own reality, which these instruments of God’s grace but open our minds and hearts to.

Even the natural world itself, accessible to some extent through the “eyes” of science and technology, can raise questions about the meaning of reality, of time and space itself and, at the very least, spark wonder and awe. But yet another voice speaks from within and calls out to us by name to let us be touched by the hand of his loving grace. The sacramentality of creation itself, and life in particular, can, with the gift of faith, open our hearts to hear that voice, so passionate to establish a deeper and richer connection.

As we search the galaxies seeking to learn if there is “anyone out there” like us, it can be comforting to learn that the One “out there” before anyone or anything out there was, is Himself seeking to dwell within us. He comes in word and sacrament and will touch us through every Sacrament we celebrate, and stay with us, and comfort our restless hearts. Perhaps we will find it in our hearts to return the favor with our love. It is, after all, Love itself that is seeking our love — seeking us.

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