The years-ago world of sacramentals — as you might remember, these were the scapulars and medals and holy cards and statues you’d find in a Catholic home. They created a certain a tone or atmosphere, and though not in the league with the 7 Sacraments, they nonetheless gave off a certain presence, a holy presence.
They were markers in the course of a day of God’s existence and care. They formed a web of reminders that we were not alone in the world, but were being accompanied along the way. The word sacrament, literally, means making the sacred present, and these objects were a whole array of pointers to that proximity. They conveyed divine nearness, were a whole collection of hints that there was something more in the hours of a day.
Though their era is largely gone, what they did — sensitize us to the Holy — is still much to be desired. What kinds of things might be taking up their roles, providing those hints and reminders of the sacred all around us?
One avenue has been offered to us by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si. The “sacramental” there is nature, the natural world around us as it evokes the divine presence. Among other things, the encyclical would direct our attention to this potential nature possesses to reveal God. Though Laudato Si’s strongest message is its warning of future calamity, it also opens eyes to the inspirational power of nature, the capability of our ecosystem to stir up reverence.
Recently someone confided to me that walking through the midday woods opened him to God’s nearness more than did his kneeling in a Church. Testimonies like his are instances of nature as sacramental. Can its wonders be another contemporary form of these sacred reminders, these pointers to the divine moving around us and within us?
In Matthew’s 10th chapter, Jesus looks up to notice two tiny sparrows flying just above him. In their ordinariness, these birds would be easy to miss. And yet The Lord spies in them an image of His Father’s care.
This passage in mind, I walked through a grassy field trying to keep an eye out for any passing birds.. It surprised me how many I saw and heard and just watched — many more than I would have noticed if Jesus’ lead hadn’t tuned up my senses. Here was nature speaking “presence” to me.
I thought too of the times I had walked down a beach and got taken into the movement and rhythm of the waves as they ran along the shoreline. Especially on sunny days does one particular sight always stir me. It’s the wave just before it curls up and breaks, allowing the sun to glint through it in the instant before it crashes. Following that glowing curl as it rolls down the beach kindles still more wonder, still more sacramental presence.
Here is Jesus reading his Father’s caring hand in those tiny birds, in the natural world all around him. May he also lead us to encounter the love of his Father as we wander through our marvels of the universe – and as members of Vincent and Louise’s Family, also do what we can do to protect it, this sacramental nearness of God.