Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"No One Can Baptize Himself": Pope Benedict on Faith and the Sacraments

I have been slowly making my way through the catecheses of Pope Benedict XVI on St. Paul, published in book form by Ignatius Press. As you might expect from such a formidable mind and holy soul, these texts are filled with many powerful and beautiful and enlightening passages. Here I've chosen a few to share with you on the connection between faith and the sacraments. First, on faith itself.
"Faith is not a product of our thought or our reflection; it is something new that we cannot invent but only receive as a gift, as a new thing produced by God."
You don't sit down and squint your eyes and furrow your brow and attempt to arrange your neurons in the correct pattern to produce faith. Faith, as in the theological virtue of faith by which we believe in God and trust what He has revealed to us, and in His Church and Her teachings, is something placed before you for your acceptance or rejection, for your cooperation or denial. It is not a product of inner effort, but a present given by God.
"Moreover, faith does not come from reading but from listening. It is not only something interior but also a relationship with Someone. It implies an encounter with the proclamation; it implies the existence of the Other, whom it proclaims, and creates communion."
Again Pope Benedict emphasizes that faith is not something we stir up in ourselves through our own activity or reflection, but comes to us from the outside from someone, or as he puts it, Someone, other than ourselves. We are confronted with it, with the opportunity for a relationship with the Other, the one who is wholly Other, God; and through God, with the community of those who have likewise encountered God and have acceptance his invitation to relationship.
"No one can baptize himself, he needs the other.... Only by another can we be made Christians, and this 'other' who makes us Christians, who gives us the gift of faith, is in the first instance the community of believers, the Church." 
Here Pope Benedict brings out the role of the community of bringing people to faith, to that relationship with God. The Church preaches God's word of redemption, and those who hear it and believe are brought into the Church to join in that communion with God and His People. We are made Christians by other Christians--not by reading the Bible in a room by ourselves and saying a private prayer, but by publicly entering into the gathering of believers and being given the Baptism of Christ by those who have themselves died and risen with Him in that sacrament. Yet, lest we fall into ecclesiolatry (worship of the Church) and put too much emphasis on the Church and its part in salvation, Pope Benedict reminds us of the Church's own source.
"Christ alone can constitute the Church. Christ is the true giver of the sacraments."
The Church brings us the sacraments, but it is Christ's Church, and Christ's sacraments. He, both the Spotless Lamb and the Eternal High Priest, consecrates His people in His Precious Blood and bestows upon them the gift of life in His sacraments. May God increase our faith and grant that we gain his sacramental grace frequently.

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