Let's talk for a minute about the sacraments and this class. On the surface, what we're doing here is very simple: it's your job to learn about the sacraments of the Catholic Church, and it's my job to teach about them.
But I'm bothered by a question. It comes back to me again and again. I don't have the answer yet, and I don't want to search for it alone. The question is something like this. How, or When, or Why does a person come to love the sacraments?
What do I mean by "love the sacraments"?
Take a few minutes in class to discuss this. What images come to mind when you think of someone who loves the sacraments? What about someone who doesn't? Are there stereotypes of both of these? Name some good and bad qualities.
You know you love the sacraments when you stop receiving them because somebody else wants you to, and you go because you want to. You know, when you stop thinking about whether skipping Sunday Mass is a sin, and you start wondering why anybody would want to. You know, when life without the sacraments looks infinitely more dull and pointless--hardly a life at all--than life with them.
I know that many people do come to love the sacraments. Not everybody, but a lot. It happens to some in high school. For many more, it happens as adults. But I do believe that, for everybody, it is possible.
Take a few minutes in class to discuss this. Do you agree with me that it's possible for everybody to, someday, come to love the sacraments? What about factors of personality, taste, culture, and background? What has to be true about the sacraments for me to say that everybody has the possibility of loving them?
I am not asking: how can I make someone love the sacraments? I can't. To love the sacraments is, first of all, a gift. We have no control over it, except that we can accept or reject this gift when it comes. However, loving the sacraments is also a skill. Like loving art, or loving music, or loving a person, it is impossible to love the sacraments without learning about them, and doing the work of experiencing them.
We can't be satisfied to know only what's on the surface. We can't be content to memorize a list of symbols and what they mean. We must look beneath the surface. We must dig deeper into the heart of Christianity.
Take a few minutes in class to discuss this. Colleges often have courses in "music appreciation," which teach primarily the skill of loving music according to its own history, meaning, and value. In what way is this class similar? Different?
Consider the fact that the word "taste" (as in "her taste in movies" or "his taste in clothes") was originally not about somebody's opinion, but was rather the skill of recognizing quality and genius present in works of art. So, what is "sacramental" taste?
It is often said that the heart of Christianity is love. But it's time to leave behind "love" as just a warm feeling between friends and family, or "love" as just being nice to everyone we meet. These are children's toys. The heart of Christianity is Love: Love that gives infinitely; Love that gives even when there is nothing left to give; Love that gives, even when it is not deserved; Love that gives itself to us, to be given away again. This Love is not fleeting, but permanent; not choosy, but universal; older than the earth, larger than the universe, more fundamental than atoms, but more intimate than a wife of 60 years; closer than friend who would die for you.
Nothing in Christianity--not morality, not social justice, not ministry, not preaching, not teaching, not even reading the Bible--nothing compares to the sacraments and liturgy for connecting us to this Love. All the other things come from them; and all the other things point to them, because they are nothing less than Heaven on Earth, as best as we can have in this life.