January 12, 2015

Hungering for the Sacramental

            Our week at the Abbey “filled the hungry with good things.” We return refreshed, with quieter hearts and a spirit of peace.  We also return with new resolve to bring balance to our lives outside the cloister.  The combination of prayer, work, and holy leisure, as prescribed by the Rule of St. Benedict, is all about human flourishing.

People attend the Benedictine Spirituality course for a lot of reasons.  It is a relatively painless way to earn three hours; it provides opportunity for retreat; it offers spiritual community; and, it introduces the learner to a time-honored tradition for conversion of all ways of life.  I am always grateful for this extended time with fellow learners in prayer, around the tables, with opportunity to engage hospitable monks who offer transparent windows into their lives and faithful practice.

Over the years of teaching this class at Conception Abbey, I have noticed another process unfolding in the lives of those who make this pilgrimage.  There is a palpable hunger for the sacramental.  Learners from Central are not eager to convert to Roman Catholicism; however, they long for more significance in Eucharist, words of blessing and absolution, and a deeper sense of sacred space and time.
We recognize that the Protestant Reformation gave attention to key issues such as the role of faith, the normative significance of Scripture, and the priesthood of all believers. Yet, we perceive that the rending of the church caused loss on both sides.  Protestants lost much of the interlocking sacramental system; Catholics lost the possibility of a more inclusive way of thinking about leadership, vocation, and assurance of salvation by faith alone.

When asked to reflect on the experience at the Abbey in one word, one learner simply said “thirstier.”  Another said “sacramental.”  They were speaking about their yearning to appropriate weightier, more sacramentally grounded “means of grace” in their own tradition.

The Epistle reading for this coming Sunday, the second Sunday after the Epiphany, includes this statement: “ . . . whoever is joined to Christ becomes one spirit with Christ” (1 Corinthians 6:17).  This suggests to me that the goal of a more sacramental focus is for union with Christ in an organic way.  One no longer thinks of his or her identity separate from Christ—or from Christ’s Body, held together in the power of the Spirit.
Once again, we were beckoned to new insights by another branch of the church.  By walking back through our tributary toward the river of origin, we identified our thirst and recognized more about the Source.

Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

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