The Sacraments of the Church are not hoops to jump through. They are deep encounters with Jesus and a celebration of our relationship with Jesus who wants to be the biggest part of our lives. Unfortunately, this is not always how it happens.
Let’s look at two different lives…
First we have Joe, who was baptized when he was 2 months old. While his family did go to Mass every Sunday, they didn’t pray during the week except before dinner. Joe’s Mom and Dad didn’t really ever talk about God. When he was in first grade they sent him to Sunday School. It was for an hour on Sunday morning, 17 times a year. They would say the Our Father or Hail Mary before class, but Joe didn’t know how to say them. When Joe was in second grade he made his First Confession. The next year in third grade he made his First Communion. There was a big party afterwards and he received lots of money. He liked getting all the money and he liked being able to go to Communion with everyone else at Mass, but it was all no big deal. Mass was boring and if it was up to Joe he would rather not go.
When Joe as in 9th grade he began to prepare for Confirmation. He had to do all these volunteer hours and go to a retreat. Joe didn’t have much of an opinion on the whole thing. It was OK, but he didn’t care much about it and he only wanted to do it because many of his friends were also doing it. His parents said he had to be Confirmed, but they never explained why. Before Joe was confirmed his class went to Confession. He had only gone twice since his First confession, when his Sunday School class all went together, so he had to try and remember how to do it.
When Joe went to college he met the love of his life. He kept going to Mass, but not every week. After college graduation, he was married in the church where his new wife was from. She was Catholic too. They joined that parish and went to Mass every weekend but never prayed or talked about God at home. After their first child was born, a boy, they named him Joe, Jr. and they had him baptized.
Second, we have Paul, who was baptized when he was 2 months old. His family went to Mass every weekend. His Dad was a Lector and his Mom was an Extra Ordinary Minister of the Eucharist. They prayed with Paul every night before bed teaching him his prayers and how much Jesus loved him. They explained that Jesus lived in Paul’s heart. He learned from them that Jesus died on the cross so He could give us very special gifts called Sacraments. The Sacrament Paul had already was Baptism. Paul learned from his parents that Jesus was always with him. He learned that he could talk to Jesus about anything and that he should take quiet time to listen to what Jesus wanted to say to him. Paul became very close to Jesus and loved Jesus very much.
When Paul did something bad his Mom or Dad talked to him about it. They explained sin and how important it was to try hard not to sin. Most importantly, they explained that Jesus would always forgive Him no matter how many times he sinned or how bad the sin was, if he was sorry. Paul learned that he should always go to Jesus when he sinned and ask for forgiveness.
When Paul was in Sunday School, and prepared for his First confession he was so excited he was going to receive another one of the special gifts Jesus died for. He also was happy because he knew Jesus would be there in a very special way when he went to Confession.
First Communion was one of Paul’s happiest days. His best friend Jesus was going to come to him in the most important of the special gifts He died to give us.
Paul’s relationship with Jesus grew stronger now that he was going to Communion every week and to Confession every month with his family. Paul loved going to Mass because it as a celebration of his best friend Jesus. His Mom and Dad would talk to him about the readings on the way home. Paul would spend a little time each night reading his Children’s Bible and saying his prayers.
When Paul was in 9th grade, he really put himself into the volunteer work and retreat preparation for Confirmation. He wanted to show Jesus how much he wanted this Sacrament. Paul spent time with his sponsor and his Dad talking about how important this sacrament would be for Paul.
In college Paul joined a young adult Catholic Group and met the love of his life. They would talk about Jesus with each other and how they wanted to be married and raise their children to love Jesus. After graduation, they were married in her home parish. They both knew that they had received each other that day and Paul was very happy to be able to receive another one of the special gifts Jesus died for. This time it was full of the graces he needed to live his vocation. Paul had learned that his path to heaven was through loving his new wife, and through doing that he was loving his best friend Jesus as well.
When they had their first child, Paul, Jr., they had him baptized. As soon as he was able to talk they taught him about Jesus and prayed with him every night.
In the two stories above we have two boys who both went to Sunday School and both received all their sacraments. However, one of the boys was shown how to have a real relationship with Jesus. Because of this, the Sacraments became a source of strengthening that relationship and celebrating it. For the other boy, the sacraments were rather empty and not really understood.
Most of us are somewhere between Joe and Paul. That’s OK. What Jesus wants us to do next is take another step toward him. Go to Jesus, in church or another quiet place and say to Him, “Here I am Lord, what’s next?”