When I was finally confirmed in the Holy Catholic Church at the age of 35 our RCIA (Rite of Catholic Initiation of Adults) instructor gave us his final recommendation "practice your faith" he said.
This led me to find a way to practice the faith. Of course prayer, bible reading, getting involved in parish life in different endeavors, but as the years progressed many of these activities ran their course. After several years together my small community disintegrated, the result of people moving to other cities, others getting occupied in their lives, still others went into other groups and areas to serve the Church. Other activities like that of lector (reading the biblical passages that are part of the mass), catechist, evangelization, etc., they all ran their course. In a lapse of almost fifteen years I have moved from my original city.
Another way I looked for a constant refreshment of my faith and commitment to the Church was through reading. And reading I did, dozens, hundreds, thousands of books that accumulated into a rather large collection for a private home. Finally my 6,000 book collection lost about half of its volumes when I moved again from South Texas to Massachusetts. You don't really want to know how much it costs to move boxes loaded with books.
Other friends and Catholic acquaintances have suggested serving in food lines. Give alms to the poor, volunteer in other activities. All of these are worthwhile and necessary ways to live your Christian life, but in the end these also can become stale, routine and with time all things pass. In fact many committed Catholics have found that they can be involved in so many activities that they end by over committing, neglecting their families and jobs.
But then I remembered something I read while preparing to teach pre-baptismal instruction to parents. In one of those old mimeographed copies of a typed manual for baptismal class instructors there was a whole lesson on "Sacramental Living".
The Sacraments provide the true way of living a Catholic life providing the roadmap for a lifetime relationship with Christ and His Church. Rooted in the ministry of Christ and instituted by Him, these are the means to partake of God's grace and guide us in our pilgrimage in life, from birth to death. By exercising our duty and privilege in partaking of these gifts of grace we can always maintain a close relationship with God, Christ and His Church. Even in times when prayer is dry and our faith seems small and God may seem far, the Sacraments are always available, always active in giving us a lighted pathway in what can be the darkness of life.
There are, of course, seven Sacraments instituted by Christ and ministered by the Church. These seven Sacraments are the road markers that show the way of a Christian's life and are intimately related to our life cycle. From the moment of our spiritual birth at baptism to the end of earthly life the sacraments are always present and available to give God's gifts to His people. And the greatest thing is that we do not have to engage in any extraordinary activity. The sacraments provide a constant source of transformation, conversion, repentance and rebirth.
What is a Sacrament? The Church magisterium has said in the past that a Sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace. God uses those things that our senses can see, feel, perceive to indicate that He is always present and lovingly giving us His free gift of fellowship. He uses water, fire, oil, salt and words to indicate that His awesome transforming power is working within us to make us into what He wants. Through the road of our lives the Sacraments are the map if you will, the charting course to unite us with God, to make us his sons and daughters, to purify, to cleanse, to strengthen, to consecrate us into our vocations in life.
This is the way to practice the faith. Each day we can partake of God's Sacraments, and even those that are only given once in a lifetime (Marriage, Holy Orders, Confirmation, and Baptism) provide the character of our vocation as persons and point to the direction of our lives. The Catholic can find a route marked by God and given by His Son to lead a holy life. The Sacraments provide this route and help us to enter into holiness by way of conversion and transformation. We do not have to reinvent the wheel in order to have a relationship with Christ, the Sacraments point to the way and gives us the necessary grace.
Baptism, Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick (also known as Extreme Unction) are the seven signs of God's grace. In further blogs I will touch on each one as the wonderful markers of the life of faith, the fount of holiness and the way to a close relationship with the Triune God. If we partake of these we will live a Christian life.