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Breaking the Spell
Kathleen McCarty
/ Categories: Eucharistic Revival

Breaking the Spell

By Kathleen McCarty

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

“Human kind cannot bear very much reality,” wrote the poet T.S. Eliot. While some might interpret this verse from the “Four Quartets” as a need to escape from the daily grind, this is not what Eliot is saying. Rather, he is referring to a deeper reality that underlies the world that we see. He is referring to a sacramental vision of the world.

Within a sacramental worldview, there is a certain “porous” quality to the world. It is the interplay between the physical world and the spiritual to the point that spiritual realities are mediated to us through the physical. For instance, in the sacrament of baptism, we believe that the spiritual becomes present in the physical to the point that water, a chemical compound of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, does more than just wash away dirt. In baptism, water actually washes away sin. The sacraments are in fact “a visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 774).

The sacramental reality also means that the physical has the power to affect the spiritual. Thus, the things that we do with our bodies affect spiritual realities. Our physical sins affect our immortal souls — and they can also affect other people spiritually. The physical and the spiritual are inseparably linked.

Does this seem a little crazy?

It should!

This view of reality is radically different from mainstream culture. And going back to the quote from T.S. Eliot, this sacramental worldview is often difficult to accept. It’s important to examine our underlying assumptions and beliefs and to grapple with the nature of what the Catholic Church teaches. Like it or not, we are formed by the culture. Unless we thoroughly sift through and set aside the unhelpful or untrue ways that predominant cultural beliefs may have affected us, it becomes difficult to be conformed to the mind and heart of Christ. If on some level we believe that the material world is all that exists, then on another level it is difficult to accept that Christ and the Holy Spirit are able to make grace present to us through material means. In other words, if we don’t possess a sacramental vision of the world, belief in the sacraments, especially the true presence of Jesus in Eucharist, becomes difficult if not impossible.

This means that a sacramental vision is vital to our life as Catholics. In his book “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission,” Msgr. James Shea notes that “A large percentage of Catholics in America do not believe in the doctrine of the Real Presence. They look at the Eucharist as symbolically and ritually meaningful but not as a transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ . . . while there may be simple ignorance of Church teaching in play here, a more significant factor is a lack of sacramental vision of the world.”

One way of putting this is that our world is under an “evil enchantment” so to speak. These deep sacramental realities are often obscured by the fog of materialism, disbelief, sinfulness, and the frenetic pace of life. C.S. Lewis notes in his essay “The Weight of Glory” that ”you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to take us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good man is to be found on this earth.” Earlier in this same essay, Lewis comments on the peculiarity of our longing for something that we have no experience of and that we cannot name, a “secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both.”

I believe that the first step in cultivating a sacramental worldview is to tap into the longing that Lewis describes. “The Weight of Glory” is a short essay and well worth reading in its entirety, but maybe the very first place to start would be to stop and listen — to be quiet. Just sit in a place of beauty — no phone, no music, no noise. If you do this often enough, it can help to clear away some of the “evil enchantment” that surrounds all of us. There’s a good chance that you might start to get glimpses of what Lewis so poignantly expresses.

Gratitude is another simple place where we can foster a sense of the sacramental. When we choose to focus on the good things that we are grateful for, it can help us to see the source for all of those good things. There are so many things in life that are pure gifts of God. Gratitude has a way of clearing the path for joy and giving us the eyes to see God in all circumstances.

It is important to acknowledge that it takes time and effort to cultivate a sacramental worldview. This way of seeing came perhaps more naturally to other times, because it was part of the fabric of existence. For the medievals, a sacramental worldview was incorporated into every area of life: art, faith, conversation, business, politics, culture, and daily routines. Because they were immersed in this way of seeing, there were less struggles from the “outside.” We currently inhabit a culture that is blatantly hostile to a sacramental vision. Yet faith always has been and always will be a struggle. It is vital to name the particular struggles that we face as a culture and as a people, because only then can we work to overcome them.

Finally, the sacraments always remain the primary place of encounter with Christ, especially the Eucharist. Eucharistic adoration is powerful place where we can come to ask for healing from whatever is lacking in our vision. As we look forward to the diocesan Eucharistic Procession for the Feast of Corpus Christi on June 2 in downtown Colorado Springs, this is a perfect opportunity to witness to the outrageous beauty of the sacramental vision of our Catholic Faith.

(Kathleen McCarty is executive assistant to the Chief of Staff for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.)

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