The men’s group at my parish is doing a summer program called “The Bible and the Sacraments.” It’s very interesting and informative, and no, contrary to popular opinion, I’m not attending these sessions only because they feed us breakfast. That’s a nasty rumor started by, um, by everyone who knows me.
Anyway, one of the presentations used an interesting phrase to describe our situation here on earth: “nitty gritty physicality.” This is the main reason the Lord instituted the sacraments. He offers us supernatural grace, but does it using natural elements, such as bread, wine, water, and oil.
We have to remember some things about our Creator and ourselves. As Scripture tells us, God is an eternal spirit. But He chose to create a natural, material universe, including our little planet. All the things on earth are material and physical, 100-percent natural.
The only exception is mankind. God, in His wisdom and by His love, created us with natural, physical bodies, but also gave us immortal, spiritual souls. Of all the beings in the universe, we men and women are the only “hybrids.” (And you thought the Toyota Prius was the first hybrid.)
God and the angels are all purely spiritual. The dirt and the grass and the animals roaming the forest are all purely natural. We human beings are both; we are part material and part spiritual, part natural and part supernatural. We are souls that have been enfleshed with physical bodies, or if you prefer, we are physical bodies that have been infused with eternal souls. This makes us unique.
Although we have eternal souls, oftentimes our souls are spiritually weak. God wants us to be in a strong spiritual relationship with Him, but we often focus all of our energies on the material aspect of life and neglect the spiritual component. The daily grind of life is “nitty gritty physicality.” Thankfully, God understands our weaknesses. He knows that we struggle with the spiritual part of our “hybrid” existence.
To help us draw nearer to Him, God makes His spiritual grace available to us through the part of our “hybrid” selves that is stronger: the physical, natural part. When God gives us His grace by way of the elements of earth, the Church calls it a sacrament, something sacred.
The Incarnation itself was the greatest example of God coming to us in a way we could better understand. The Second Person of the divine Trinity, Jesus Christ, did not take on human flesh just because He was curious about what it was like to be a man. No, He became a human being for our sake. He lowered Himself (completely humiliated Himself, actually) by entering into our natural, physical, nitty gritty, grimy, painful world. He did it because He knew human beings can relate more easily to natural things rather than spiritual things.
It’s God’s way of meeting us halfway. Sure, if God so chose, He could have hidden Himself away in the farthest reaches of Heaven and waited for us to become so spiritually enlightened that we ignored all the physical, natural aspects of our existence and entered into a vibrant and powerful spiritual relationship with Him. Throughout history some of the greatest saints and mystics have been able to do exactly that. But those folks are rare and special cases. For the rest of us, the natural, physical world is what smacks us right in the face every day; it’s what we can see and hear and smell and touch and taste.
So, the natural aspect of our lives, our “nitty gritty physicality,” is the main reason God gave us the sacraments. And one of the most nitty and gritty physical aspects of my life is breakfast, which is served when our parish men’s group gets together. You know, our study of “The Bible and the Sacraments” is so interesting, I would attend even if they did not feed us breakfast. Probably.