Contemplating today’s Gospel reading I couldn’t help but notice Jesus’ miracle healing of the deaf and mute man. Jesus took him aside and touched the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue and cured him.
Jesus cured many people of many maladies. He cured some by simply declaring it so, as when the centurion who doesn’t believe he is worthy to have Jesus under his roof asks him to cure his homebound servant living some distance away (Matt 8:5-10). He does indeed cure the servant from a distance as he does Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:38). But He also cured others through a physical intermediary. Elsewhere Jesus cured a blind man by spitting in dirt and applying the mud to the man’s eyes (John 9:6), as well as cured the bleeding woman when she simply touched His garment (Matt 9:20-22).
We know that Jesus can cure without any kind of physical contact so why bother touching the man’s ears or even spitting in his hands to then touch the man’s tongue? Why bother curing the woman by her touching his clothes or Jesus using mud?
After thinking about it for a little while I couldn’t help but notice how our own sacraments have this aspect of having a physical dimension to them. Water in baptism, oils in confirmation and extreme unction, the words of absolution in confession and the words of commitment in marriage as well as the bread that becomes the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
In fact, we could rightly define a sacrament to be an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies.” (CCC 1127)
But why an outward sign? Because we need it for our own benefit. You see, God knows that we humans need physical connections to make real what is simply in one’s mind. For example, why do we have graduation ceremonies? Couldn’t the school simply send the diplomas to the graduating students via mail? We organize these ceremonies so that we may see, hear and experience the graduation event. The same applies to the sacraments. God can confer graces to anyone He wishes but He has promised us those graces when we perform those rituals in faith making the reception of His grace more concrete in our minds.
God did indeed promise us that we would be children of God through baptism (ie through water and with the words ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit) even when He can make us adopted children of God without the physical aspect through our faith and desire. God is not bound by the sacraments but we know we receive the graces offered in these seven sacraments because of His promise to do so.
God knows our nature; He knows that we need this physical aspect for our own peace of mind, to make it real for us. What a Great God we have. Let us not neglect these great gifts of God that we have in the Sacraments.
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Prepared by a St.Denis parishioner