The Healing Spirit
To understand our humanity, what it is to be human, we need to look at Jesus
Christ. Jesus was truly God; He was the Son who lived among us as a fully human
person. He was exactly the same as us in all things. He ate like us, He laughed
and cried like us, He loved like us. His body was vulnerable and could suffer
and be destroyed as ours can.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
The only difference between Jesus' humanity and ours was that sin played no
part in His life. He did not sin. And the reason He did not Sin was because He
was truly human. He was fully human exactly as God had intended every man and
woman to be. He is a pattern for humanity. Jesus shows us what it is to be a
true and complete human being.
Sin enters our lives when we are less than human. Every time we think, say or
do something which is not a reflection of Jesus' humanity, we are less than
human; we sin. But sin doesn't stop there because so much of what we do or fail
to do affects other people. The knock-on effect of damaging relationships,
isolation, breakdowns in communication, all serve to cut us off from others and
so distort and damage people. We even say in extreme cases, "He/she's like an
animal!" What we're saying when we say that is in a sense true - that person is
less than fully human, but then so are those who caused that distortion or
damage, that isolation. It's easy to see that sin damages not only individuals
but also whole communities.
Throughout His life, Jesus worked and preached endlessly among all sorts of
people to bring down the barriers which divided them. He emphasized over and
over again that we are all God's children; we are His family, His Chosen
Following His resurrection, Jesus' followers gathered together and became a
community. They were united in that they were listening to the words of Jesus
and experiencing His active love in the work of His Spirit in their lives. They
knew what it was to be fully human but they were also still very weak and
Even in the first accounts of the early Church, we can read about tensions,
disagreements and rejection within this community of believers. Clearly, in
spite of all that they had experienced, they remained fragile and many of them
carried within them the damage caused by sin (by being less than human) from
No one becomes fully human overnight or even in a year or two. It takes time.
And while we are growing towards full humanity, we need to experience the
healing, reconciling action of the Holy Spirit. The Church celebrates that
action in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Through this sacrament, we are renewed and recommitted to being open to the
action of the Spirit in our lives in helping us to become more fully human and
so be effective in reflecting Christ and His words of life and love to others.
In this way, we strengthen Christ's Body on earth, His community, which in turn
can continue the healing, saving, loving work of Jesus Christ. (St. Luke
God Working in and Through Us
What is really behind so much of the debate and questioning about the sacrament of
reconciliation is that too many people find it either a burden or a waste of
time. That's a pity because both those reservations and many of the ways in
which we approach this sacrament have absolutely nothing to do with the reality
of what is taking place.
When we take part in the celebration of any of the sacraments, we are making a
statement. We are saying that we believe in God and in His all embracing and
redeeming love for us. We are publicly acknowledging this and we are saying to
ourselves and to others that God is real in our lives, that the power and
influence of the Holy Spirit is working within us, transforming us,
strengthening us, enabling us to become more and more Christ like. That doesn't
mean we are changing our personality; God has made each of us unique and
special. Rather, He is perfecting, completing what has begun in our responses
to His invitations as we move through life.
As one writer put it, the sacraments are not simply a "holy lift" to the
"heavenly floor." They are a genuine sign of what we are: people of faith and
love, caught up in commitment to our heavenly Father.
God is Realistic
In the sacrament of reconciliation, God is being realistic, too, about what we
are. We are weak. We are easily given to blindness and selfishness, to
ourselves and others. We need help with these damaging traits, otherwise, we will
be overcome by them and be destroyed, lost in our own vanity, self-worship and
all-consuming blindness. We trail off along our own by-ways, leaving the Gospel
and the love of God on the verge of our life. We begin to destroy ourselves, we
begin to destroy others, we begin to destroy the kingdom of God which Jesus
came to bring to all men and women.
The Sharing Spirit
The Sacrament of Marriage
The Touch of Love
There is an old eastern proverb which says, "One look is worth a dozen words
and one touch is worth a dozen looks." It's true. Even the lightest touch
speaks volumes. It can lift us into another world - the world of love. And it's
interesting that the majority of couples who live together end up either
marrying or separating. For even living together in the closest intimacy still
leaves something lacking in the hunger of the human heart.
A desire to marry is a sign that each partner has been "touched" by another in
an extra special way. They have opened their hearts to one another and finally
found the courage in their love to want to offer and to receive total
commitment for life. There is a risk here for they are offering their whole
life to another human being in complete trust. But love, the kind of authentic
love which reflects the love of God, does just that; it is willing to give
everything, even life itself, for the beloved.
Such a magnificent reflection of God's love is almost too much for us to
understand. People often say that they don't understand what a couple see in
one another. But love makes it possible for us to see what no one else sees
except God, that the one who is loved is uniquely precious, irreplaceable and
infinitely loveable. It is natural that those who experience such love want to
tell the world and want their love to continue forever.
That is what is at the heart of Christian marriage; that is what is announced
to the world on the wedding day. In that announcement, each partner touches the
other in a special way; at the heart of the ceremony, the couple take one
another's hand and exchange rings as a sign that their love is for life. From
that moment on, as they touch one another in their lovemaking, they will
re-create their own lives.
The wedding day completes one period of a relationship and begins another. The
love which has been acknowledged and publicly announced, now begins to grow and
nurture each partner. This takes place in a variety of ways because every
marriage is unique. If we look at our hands, the hands which exchange one of
the first signs of "touch," we can see how each finger bears its own
print - unrepeated on anyone else, ever, at any time.
It's been said that, "like fingerprints, all marriages are different." Each
marriage is special, no marriage on earth is quite like another. Regardless of
the kind of family a couple come from, their parent's marriage, or the kind of
marriage they are "expected" to have, the partners of each marriage have the
right and the call from God to create a marriage that is right for them - based
on that unconditional love announced at their wedding.
Sex and Love
When we talk about making love, we usually mean physical intimacy between two
people. But, if we stop to think about it making love is much more than that.
Physical intimacy can be just a selfish ego trip, or simply a desire to follow
the crowd. But, intimacy is transformed, when, in marriage, it becomes a sign of
the special love of the couple. This is a love which shows itself in the
life-long commitment to one another, in unselfishness, and which after tension
or disagreement, can share genuine forgiveness.
This love, expressed in physical intimacy is creative in two ways:
Perhaps for the first time, each feels really free and has the trust to share
themselves honestly and openly. Each may bring to the marriage scars from
earlier relationships or from childhood. Love in marriage helps to heal these
hurts. It offers the chance to start again. In the safety of one another's arms,
each discovers the liberation of true security, new depths, new values. Such
experiences transform each partner and help their love to last.
A special and unique sign of love-making is the creation of a completely new
human being. The future of that child will depend very much on the quality of
the love in the couple's life together.
God and Love
It's so much easier to believe in someone's love for us when we feel their arms
about us. The touch of a partner reassures us of their love. It should also
reassure us of God's love, for Christians believe that God reaches out and
touches us through the love of others. Jesus Christ is at the heart of all
Falling in love is a very human experience. But when we decide to consecrate
that love in Christian marriage, our human love becomes a sign in the world of
God's love. Our experience tells us that there is something "extra"
here - something beyond human explanation. When we pledge ourselves to
unconditional love for life, we show what Christ's own self-sacrificing love is
like. Ours, like His, is a love without limits. We are in true partnership with
The Saving Spirit
The Sacrament of the Sick
When we are sick, we feel alone, weak and frightened. Things which seemed
important don't matter much anymore. But as Christians, we know that we are
never alone. In fact, we are never so close to Jesus as when we are weak or
unwell. During His life on earth, Jesus loved people into total health. He
fought pain and suffering in Himself and others. He lifted up those who were
sick and raised them to new life.
Only when He could no longer avoid pain and death did Jesus accept it. And
then, on the cross, Jesus transformed suffering. Through suffering, He was
raised to new life. And Jesus offers the same life to all who accept Him in
faith. Throughout our lives, Jesus loves us into total health, helping us to
triumph over sickness. For at the heart of being a Christian are the healing
sacraments in which Jesus comes to us as a constant source of strength and
In Baptism, we join the family of God and celebrate God's
love and care for us.
In reconciliation, we experience the healing power of Jesus
Christ and the peace of mind which only He can give.
In the Eucharist, we are strengthened and supported by the
true presence of Jesus every time we turn to Him.
The anointing of the sick is the ultimate healing sacrament, available whenever
our health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age. God is always with us
in our illness, loving us into health of mind, body and soul. Through our faith,
we know that we will have life forever.
Throughout His life, Jesus loved people so deeply and so completely that they
were healed of whatever was destroying them, whether that was physical or
mental illness, or emotional or spiritual suffering. That is what He continues
to do when we receive the sacrament of the sick.
Our fears for the future begin to dissolve as we listen to the words of Jesus
who promises to be with us forever.
Through this sacrament, the sick person is strengthened and encouraged as they
face any anxiety or fear they may have about frailty or death. Faith is renewed
and the tendency in illness to despair and hopelessness is overcome by the
loving signs of the Lord's presence at this special time in our lives.
The frailty of old age is recognized too. An old person may not be ill but the
years do impose burdens upon the elderly which can be difficult to adjust to
and which can make the older person feel isolated and at times very lonely.
Again, this sacrament helps and strengthens the Christian in this stage of life
so that they can continue to be part of the family of God as actively as
possible, for older people have so much to offer younger Christians.
A sick child has special difficulties to overcome. The normal activity and
liveliness of youth are often limited to a considerable extent through illness.
Being confined to bed or to the house for long periods can limit social contact
with other children and a sick child can often worry about the stress their
illness places upon parents and the rest of the family. The sacrament of the
sick is for any sick child who is old enough to understand what it means and
how it can help them as a sign of the real involvement of Jesus Christ in their
life day by day.
A Sign of Life
Some people have the idea that this sacrament is rather like the sign of death
or approaching death - it is only offered when all hope is lost. In fact, the
reverse is true; it is a sign of life, the eternal life promised by Jesus
Christ, here and now as well as in the future. Christ came to show us how we
can have life to the full in whatever situation we find ourselves. His Spirit,
active and dynamic in our sickness and frailty as well as in our health and
strength, is a real presence. The sacrament of the sick confirms this in a
The final blessing of the sick person following reception of the sacrament of
the sick is:
May God the Father bless you.
May God the Son heal you.
May God the Holy Spirit
May God protect you from harm
and grant you salvation.
May He shine on your heart and
lead you to eternal life.
God is with the sick person now, nothing is more certain than that. Throughout
His life, Jesus loved people so deeply and completely that they were healed of
whatever was destroying them, whether that was physical or mental illness, or
emotional or spiritual suffering. That is what He continues to do when we
receive the sacrament of the sick.
The Nurturing Spirit
The Sacrament of the Eucharist
To an onlooker, it may seem that what happens at Holy Communion bears little
relation to what's going on in the world; it seems irrelevant. But Christians
see Holy Communion differently. We believe that what happens at Holy Communion
is really a picture of what is happening in the world. Holy Communion is like a
lens which brings into sharp focus those things which often we overlook.
Through this lens, we can see the true nature and meaning of our world and the
reason for our existence. By looking at what happens at Holy Communion, we begin
to see the world in a new way.
The first thing we see is people coming together. They come from different
homes and situations: some happy, some sad, some fulfilled, some lonely. But
there is a unity. Christians are united in that we believe that coming together
for the Sunday Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is important. For we believe that,
despite all the problems, God's power is at work in the world and that God's
strength can overcome human weakness. This is true for people of every race,
color and creed. Our coming together as Christ's followers brings this belief
in God's power within each one of us into focus.
The second thing we see at Holy Communion is that very soon everyone sits down
to listen to the Scriptures being read. There are a lot of ways in which we
believe that God has spoken and continues to speak to people. Human experience
and our own conscience, for example, are ways in which God touches everyone.
Yet for Christians, there is something more: there is Jesus Christ and all that
He has taught us about God and His love for His people. That's why, at the
final reading, which is from the Gospels, we stand to listen to the words Jesus
Himself spoke. When we listen to God's word in the Scriptures, it brings God's
voice in the world into focus.
The third thing we see as central to Holy Communion is what some Christians
call the Eucharistic Prayer. The word "Eucharist" comes from the Greek word
meaning "thanksgiving." Everyone gathers around the altar with the presbyter to
re-enact what Christ did with His disciples at the Last Supper. We listen
afresh to Christ's words thanking and praising God saying,
We believe what Christ said. We believe that when we remember and
act on His words, Jesus is present. This is the most precious moment of life.
The bread and wine which has been brought forward to represent our life and
work are now changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. He is present, as
He said He would be, and is our reminder of God's unending promise. But this
precious moment doesn't mean that what's happening in the rest of the world is
irrelevant. The opposite is true. This moment reminds us of the importance of
every single person in God's eyes. Our celebration of Christ's presence among us
brings into focus just how precious is the whole of God's world.
"Take this all of you, and eat it.
This is my body which will be
given up for you."
Then, "Take this, all of you,
and drink from it:
This is the cup of my blood,
the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.
It will be shed for you and for all
so that sins may be forgiven.
Do this in memory of me."
Finally, at the heart of Holy Communion is a personal moment. When we share in
this sacred meal, we do indeed share in the life of Christ. We are experiencing
the result of God's great desire to come to us and be one with us. To make the
bread and wine for our Communion, grapes and grain are crushed. Jesus Christ
was also crushed for our Communion. He was crushed and crucified on the Cross,
so that the power of God's love for all could be shown. In all our lives there
is suffering, but our suffering is not meaningless. For when suffering is faced
with love, that which is crushed and broken is transformed by such love into
new life. Our celebration of Holy Communion brings into focus the cost of all
true loving and shows us where such love will lead us - into the hands of God the
Creator of love.
What Does the Eucharist Tell Us?
When we think about the reality of what our celebration at Holy Communion tells
us, it becomes clear that in the Eucharist we find all that we need in life. We
find unity with others, guidance from our heavenly Father, food for the journey
and confirmation of the promise which was made to us by Jesus Christ. The Lord
has not the slightest intention of leaving us to our own devices and our narrow
outlook on life. Having created each of us to be special and unique, He doesn't
leave it there any more than we would leave a newborn baby to fend for itself.
No, our heavenly Father intends to nurture and cosset us every moment of our
lives until the day we are completely one with Him in love, unity and peace.
God gives us His Body and Blood as a sign of His continued presence to nurture
and continually form us in His likeness. We are called to bring Christ to our
home, our work place, our world. And we are called to do this, not by hollow
words and empty gestures, but as Christ come to us - in a simple, everyday way, a
gentle way with ordinary, everyday gifts and actions which transform and
nurture in a profound and authentic way.
What is the Eucharist?
Christ's own preaching of the Eucharist met with small success. In the
synagogue at Capernaum, His claim that He would give His flesh for the life of
the world was greeted very unsympathetically. Many of His followers walked
away. And, at the Last Supper, with His closest disciples, He took bread and
wine saying, "This is my body...this is my blood poured out for you," one of
those with Jesus had the mind to betray Him.
To the ancient world, the Eucharist seemed "intolerable language." (St. John
6:60). It appears no more reasonable to the modern world. And so it has been
throughout the Church's history. Jesus' claim seems to defy reason. "How can
this man give us His flesh to eat?" How can it make sense to suggest that,
"Christ become present in the sacrament precisely by a change of the bread's
whole substance into His body and the wine's whole substance into His blood"?
(St. Thomas Aquinas).
We must be clear about two things. Firstly, in the Eucharist, we are going
beyond appearances. In the Eucharist, Christ is as truly present as He was
nearly two thousand years ago in Capernaum. And, even then, people judged only
by external appearances. "This is the son of Joseph. We know his father and his
mother," they said "how can he claim to have come down from heaven?...What sign
will you have to show us that we should believe in you?" Appearances were
deceiving. Appearances are deceiving
Secondly, Christ's presence among men and women was not in itself sufficient to
save those who met Him. To be saved, they had to approach Him in faith. We have
to communicate with Him. He is present as our food, the eating of which
gives us a share in His saving sacrifice and resurrection.
Yet Christ's presence among us, and especially His unique presence in the
Eucharist, is the foundation of our faith. It is the mystery of faith.
How does the Church describe the vital change which takes place in the bread
and wine at the words of consecration at Holy Communion?
Most Christians are familiar with the word transubstantiation which has been
used by the Church since the 12th century to describe this change. The
substance of the bread changes, but the accidents do not.
Accidents are those qualities which are perceived by the senses - taste, touch,
sight, etc. The substance is what is grasped by the mind. Only an intelligent
human being can say "what" a thing is.
Usually, when the senses perceive the qualities of whiteness, softness, etc.
the mind, left to itself, says, "that is bread." But Jesus Christ has not left
the mind to itself. He tells us that by the power of His word the bread and
wine are changed into His Body and Blood.
Eucharist Means Thanksgiving
The eating of the bread and wine, which are changed into the Body and Blood of
Jesus Christ to be the food of eternal life, is the sign of our union with
Christ. In the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus said, "Anyone who does eat my flesh
and drink my blood has eternal life and I shall raise him up on the last day."
(St. John 6:54).
Jesus instituted the Eucharist within the Jewish Passover meal on the night
before He died. Jesus said, "I have longed to eat this Passover with you before
I suffer; for I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of
God." (St. Luke 22:15-16).
"Then Jesus took some bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it and gave it
to them, saying, 'This is my body which shall be given for you; do this as a
memorial of me.' He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, 'This cup
is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you.'" (St. Luke
In the Eucharist then, we are united with Christ through the power of the
Spirit and so united with the risen Christ's worship of His Father. "Nourished
by His Body and Blood and filled with His Holy Spirit in Christ" and so are
able to offer glory and honor to the Almighty Father.
Reminds Us of Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross
The Holy Communion is a remembrance of Christ's sacrifice at Calvary. This is
the central mystery of our faith. But what does it mean? After all, the casual
observer sees no similarity whatever between the cold callousness of Calvary
and the calm comfort of today's celebration, separated by nearly two thousand
How do we explain our statement of the truth? We will make our explanation in
1. What Happened at Calvary?
On the Cross, Jesus chose to offer Himself to the Father, in the supreme
sacrifice of the giving of His blood. At that moment, Jesus breathed His last
with the words, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
But then, into Jesus' lifeless body, the Father poured His life-giving Spirit.
The Son, who offered His life into the hands of the Father, now sits at the
right hand of His Father, raised up as Lord.
On the night before He died, Jesus had instituted the Eucharist to be a sign of
His true continuing presence. To understand the full significance of His
presence, then, we look at the full meaning of the sign.
2. What Happens at Holy Communion?
And what do we see? We see the sign of Christ's Body and Blood on our altar
offered to the Father by the presbyter. In the name of Christ, the presbyter
consecrates the bread and wine, where they become the body "given up for you" and
blood "shed for you."
On the altar at Holy Communion then, Christ is present in the moment of
offering Himself to His Father. Jesus Christ, filled with the life-giving
Spirit of His Father, is given for us. What happens in a bloody manner on
Calvary takes place in a sign, but just as truly, at Holy Communion.
3. What is the Difference Between Christ's Offering on Calvary and
at Holy Communion?
On Calvary, Jesus was offering directly in His own Person. But at Holy Communion,
Jesus offers through the person of His presbyter and also in union with His
followers, His Church.
On Calvary, suspended between heaven and earth, Jesus was alone, isolated from
the men and women who had rejected Him. But, at Holy Communion, we are united
with Christ's offering. We are part of His Body, the Church.
At Holy Communion, in other words, Christ's offering become our offering; for
in baptism we became members of Christ's Body. We are not spectators at the
sacrifice of the Holy Communion like the bored soldiers playing dice at
Calvary, nor even like Mary and John looking up into the face of the dying
Jesus. We are members of Christ's Body.
We offer the sacrifice through Him, with Him, and in Him.