It is in the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, or Light of the World, that time and time again, the Church is described as mystery. Its insistence that the church is a mystery is intended to proclaim openly that we are a pilgrim church and that a pilgrim church is never complete until its pilgrimage reaches its end. As pilgrims on the journey we try to become the best women and men possible. The mystery of how this pilgrim church becomes a reality is one that we struggle with daily. We need the help of the community of the church together to do this.
Even though it recognizes our human limitations, Lumen Gentium directs our attention to the divine innerness of the church which is invisible rather than its external structure which is visible. Although the church is a mystery, it is still a reality that is imbued with the hidden presence of God. Somehow that hidden presence needs to be mediated to us in our daily lives so that we can experience that hidden presence of God, so that we can somehow know and be in relationship with that hidden presence of God, and somehow be able to share it with others. One way this occurs in Catholic belief is through sacraments. Today, the church understands a sacrament in a broad way as any visible sign of God’s invisible presence. Another way to say it is to understand a sacrament more personally as a grace that brings about a relationship between the human person and God. Grace is the gift of divine life itself, the gift of friendship, the gift of relationship with God.
The Christian Scriptures are filled with examples of God’s presence through the love and compassion being mediated to others through the words and actions of Jesus. In this way, we can call Jesus the sacrament of God because Jesus is the visible sign of God’s love, the embodiment of God’s compassionate grace experienced on earth. But because Jesus is no longer present in the flesh the church is commissioned to be the visible sign of Jesus’ presence, the sacrament of his salvation. Just as Jesus is the sacrament of God, so too, the church is the sacrament of Jesus because she makes the hidden presence of God visible.
We are the church so it logically follows that we are to be a means of God’s presence, God’s love and compassion being mediated or made present and visible today. God is still a mystery but that mystery exists here and now through us. When people interact with us they should be experiencing Jesus’s presence. When your compassion is extended to someone they should be experiencing the compassion of Jesus. When you spend time with someone who is lonely they should be experiencing the presence of Jesus. When you care for someone who is ill they should be experiencing the healing presence of Jesus. When you let go of a hurt and offer forgiveness they should experience the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus.
God may be pure mystery but we believe that the presence of God can be made real in the here and now through us.
When and how have you experienced God’s presence through another person?
When and how have you been the presence of God for another person?