Last week we were reflecting on one of the great Sermons (272) of St. Augustine. Because it was Corpus Christi, we were looking particularly at some of his wisdom with respect to our understanding of what it means to be a Eucharistic people.
“When you received exorcism, you were ‘ground.’ When you were baptized, you were ‘leavened.’ When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were ‘baked.’ Be what you see; receive what you are.”
We observed that in the time of St. Augustine (4th - 5th Century), the common practice was Adult Baptism, which, at the time, was not usually separated from First Eucharist or Confirmation. The implication was that to become a Christian, to be initiated into the life of faith, marked a new beginning for the mature, adult, Christian. For different reasons throughout history, our Church struggled to maintain that focus. The implications for us, in our own time, are not insignificant. In a time when we are more familiar with the baptism of infants, first communion in childhood, and confirmation in teenage years, it’s good to hear the encouragement of St. Augustine reach to us across the ages.
Today, Confirmation is sometimes misunderstood as the “end” of our growing in faith, something of a “sacramental graduation”. With that understanding it’s not surprising that some people think we’re “done” with Church and with sacrament. We think Confirmation is something we “get” (over and done) as opposed to something that sustains us and that moves with us through our living of Christian discipleship. If we think in these terms, considering Confirmation to be a “sacramental graduation”, then we totally miss the reality that it is really about “digging deep” into the Christian way of life. To be fully initiated into the Christian way of life is to be born into a life of discipleship of Jesus. What that discipleship looks like is a lifetime’s exploration and living (practice) of the faith.
St. Augustine goes on, in his sermon, to point out the profound significance of what it means to be a person of faith who participates in the Eucharist. He reminds us that our participation in Holy Communion is an expression of our “actual” communion as a people of faith. He encourages us to remember that our unity and our peace is part and parcel of our participation in Eucharist:
“This is what Paul is saying about the bread. So too, what we are to understand about the cup is similar and requires little explanation. In the visible object of bread, many grains are gathered into one just as the faithful (so Scripture says) form ‘a single heart and mind in God’ [Acts 4.32]. And thus it is with the wine. Remember, friends, how wine is made. Individual grapes hang together in a bunch, but the juice from them all is mingled to become a single brew. This is the image chosen by Christ our Lord to show how, at his own table, the mystery of our unity and peace is solemnly consecrated. All who fail to keep the bond of peace after entering this mystery receive not a sacrament that benefits them, but an indictment that condemns them. So let us give God our sincere and deepest gratitude, and, as far as human weakness will permit, let us turn to the Lord with pure hearts. With all our strength, let us seek God's singular mercy, for then the Divine Goodness will surely hear our prayers. God's power will drive the Evil One from our acts and thoughts; it will deepen our faith, govern our minds, grant us holy thoughts, and lead us, finally, to share the divine happiness through God's own son Jesus Christ. Amen!”
This unity and peace of which St. Augustine speaks demands no small sacrifice on our part. It is not for the faint of heart. For believers, for disciples of Jesus, whenever we say “Amen!” after receiving the Real Presence in the Eucharist, we are at one and the same time committing ourselves to full participation in the life and mission of Jesus. For some of us, at least, that may involve suffering for what is right, and just and true. It sometimes takes great courage, it takes humility, and it takes an openness to the ongoing discernment of God’s will in our lives, all the while being sensitive to our human weakness, yet confident in the grace and goodness of our heavenly Father.