By Deacon John De Gano
St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside
“What is a sacrament?”
That was the question from the 1963 Baltimore Catechism (BC) that our catechism teacher posed when she wanted the response, “an outward sign, instituted by Christ to give grace.”
While I can still repeat the answer today, I doubt that, at the time, I fully realized the magnitude of the answer or, for that matter, what this thing we call ‘grace’ was really all about.
I just knew that by memorizing all the answers to the questions and not asking too many questions I wouldn’t get in trouble with the pastor.
Looking back, that was the wrong approach. At least it was for me. And I would assume for others, as there would soon be a change in emphasis from strict memorization (‘head knowledge’) to a more gradual experiential (‘heart knowledge’) that came out of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
After all, having all the answers just didn’t prepare us for the onslaught of the evangelical Christians and later, the Jehovah Witnesses and Latter Day Saints, who ‘farmed’ the same soil and converted many Catholics to their way of thinking.
And they did this by using ‘used to be’ Catholics. When they spoke about God with such conviction, we knew they were somehow different. They seemed happier, too!
As a result, I spent a year attending church with classmates from a ‘non-denominational’ tradition. I learned a lot of scripture. And, in time, that they really were a denomination, in sheep’s clothing. However, like a chameleon, they kept changing traditions whenever they hired or fired a pastor. I left when the church overnight ‘turned’ Calvinist, complete with a pastor who preached predestinational theology and ‘turn or burn’ guilt.
I had learned enough about Jesus to know that this wasn’t the God I had come to know and love. My God was a God of love. A God who is forgiving and merciful. A God who gives himself to us in the consecrated bread and the wine and asks us to do and be the same for others.
I went where they taught and believed this. I went to the Roman Catholic Church, who, by then, was moving away from strict obedience to everything ‘Father says’ to a personal responsibility to form your own conscience. No longer were we to be spoon fed. We were expected to mature and stand on our own feet.
And as we struggled with the changes (and implementation) of the Second Vatican Council, the way we catechized also changed. Faith formation became the norm and the process was enhanced by the reinstitution of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), which encouraged the participants to ask the questions that we, as Pre-Vat Kids, were not allowed to ask.
Of course, the process can only do so much. De-Evangelizers will still ferret out some of the sheep but we can become stronger in our faith if we accept the responsibility for our own faith formation.
When we do that, our relationship with Jesus will improve, we will become more active in ministry and we will receive the grace – God’s power – to be an outward sign for our brothers and sisters.
We will become sacrament.