Sacraments! We Don't Need These Stinkin'* Sacraments!
The Old Testament reading in Mass on March 16th during the third week of Lent was the story of Naaman the Leper and his healing. During the reading of the Scripture, this line jumped out at me where Naaman protests the instructions for how he should receive his healing from the prophet Elisha.
"I thought that he would surely come out and stand there to invoke the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy."
In other words: "Why couldn't God just come down and heal me?"
Instead he was instructed by Elisha to go into a river in Israel, not his own "local" river. He was peeved that the rivers of Damascus were not good enough! "Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?"
This all sounded so familiar to me. Naaman's complaints struck me as reminiscent of what I call the spirit of de-sacramentalism. Which in a nutshell basically says: "Sacraments? We don't need no stinkin' sacraments!" Why can't God do His thing here and now with a wave of a hand or a prayer? Why do I need to submit to some embarrassing "man-made" ritual? Besides, I would have to go to your Church to receive these sacraments. Isn't my church good enough? Why should only a priest be allowed to consecrate the host? ( Even some confused Catholics ask this one) Here's a few other common ones I hear.
- Why do you need to be baptized in water to be saved? You just ask Jesus into your heart?
- Why do you think you need to receive Jesus in a piece of bread? He is with you anyway through his holy spirit?
- Why do you need to confess your sins to a man? God hears you just fine without a priest.
- Why do you have to receive oil for anointing for healing? Just claim the healing, it's yours right where you are!
Since ancient times, God worked through the material things of His creation. See my previous post about this here. He uses material means not just as a sign of his grace but to effectively convey that grace as well. When Jesus ratified the New Covenant with his blood, the paradigm for the sacraments was already foreshadowed in the Old Covenant. He didn't "invent" a new paradigm. But the difference is that Jesus became the archetype, so to speak, of all the sacraments. God becoming incarnate, using flesh to bring us grace and salvation. He didn't have to die on the cross. He could have just said "poof- your sins are forgiven!" But He didn't, instead he used his flesh and blood and the stuff of earth, bread and wine etc. This has since become the normative way for Him to convey His grace to us.
So yes, just like Naaman, we need to humble ourselves, tail between the legs and go to Israel(The Church) and wash in the Jordan (receive the sacraments) to be healed.
I do need these stinkin' sacraments. Tried it without them for a long time. Works better with them.
* cf The Treasure of Sierra Madre.