Shortly before the Bishop asks the confirmandi to profess their faith in the form of the renewal of baptismal promises (Do you believe in God the Father? I Do!), he introduces what is about to happen in terms of the completion of the Sacraments of Initiation, inviting those to be confirmed to recall how on the occasion of their baptism their parents and godparents professed this faith for them as they were initiated into a new relationship within the Church. It was then, last night, that I had a very clear experience of, what I will call, “Sacramental Time.”
I was Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica, NY, (my home parish), for the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation for my youngest brother, Ryan. He is a lot younger than I am, which might help explain how, in addition to being asked to be his Confirmation Sponsor, I was asked by our parents many years ago to be his godfather. It was in the same church, in the same sacred space that more than a decade ago I stood holding my baby brother and then the baptismal candle representing the Light of Christ, professing on his infant behalf the faith he now professed with his classmates.
I glanced over beyond where the confirmandi were standing to see the baptismal font where that took place so many years ago and the experience of grace, the liminality of both sacramental events, occurred to me in a way that transcends chronological time. We experience life so often as a series of events, engaged or confronted in sequential order. Yet, this was an experience of the transcendent of the liminal that was non-sequential, it was indeed sacramental.
The time marked by that moment of the Spirit was not something easily adjudicated by clocks and calendars, nor easily expressed by words (hence the difficulty with which I write this reflection), but instead was an experience of the sacred and a recognition of the way God’s Spirit is always already at work in the world. Augustine, Bonaventure and others understood Grace to mean — fundamentally — the Holy Spirit. The experience of Grace in the Sacraments, I would argue, is indeed a unique experience of the Holy Spirit, but not something temporally invoked or logically conceived. Instead, it is an experience of the reality of God’s love and work in our world.
The Sacramentality of this time has the power to snap us out of the quotidian ordinariness of daily life and allows us to see, to feel, to share in the baptismal relationship we celebrate as a community of faith and the Body of Christ.
When I walked up before the local Bishop to place my right hand on my brother’s shoulder, supporting him and providing witness to the experience of the completion of what began as an infant and now continues through his entire life, I was able to recognize the ways in which the Spirit bestows Her gifts to the world, not in the form of superpowers, but in the forms — as the Prophet Isaiah and St. Paul tell us — that God provides to live a life centered on community and charity (Caritas).
This is precisely what the celebration of the Sacraments of the Church are about: Sacramental Time. They are not excuses for parties, nor rites of passage, they are moments that call us beyond ourselves, beyond the everyday to experience the God who is always in relationship with us from the time we were in our mothers’ wombs through life until we pass into eternal life.