On Sunday morning, I was feeling pretty good. I would spend some time at Church, signing people up for the financial class Kathi and I will lead this fall. Then a relaxed afternoon, spending time with Kathi and the kids.
Just as I was on the last leg of my short drive, my phone rang. “Dad?” a nervous voice asked. “When are you coming home?”
Don’t you just love those types of questions?
“I’m going to be at Church for a while,” I said. “Why?”
“Well, I can’t get the water turned off in the bathroom. Can you come home soon?” My heart sank. “I’ll be there in a minute,” I said.
As I suspected, a faucet in the boys’ bathroom had gone bad. I had already purchased a replacement, as the faucet had gotten temperamental lately. But I hadn’t gotten around to replacing it, knowing that it’s a messy, time-consuming, sometimes even painful job. It’s not a big bathroom, and the vanity is really small. I’m six foot four.
Even worse, I am missing two critical ingredients of a successful plumbing job: aptitude and tools. Past experience has proven this to be a horrible combination, leading to botched jobs and trips to the confessional.
As it turned out, my prescient emotions were completely correct. The job took far too long, I have a deep bruise under my right arm where I kept attempting to jam myself underneath to see what the heck I was doing, and I even cracked the sink slightly. Finishing the job was an exercise in sheer perseverance, and took several hours to complete. Mostly because I kept running into a problem: I didn’t have the right tools for the job.
It’s funny, I’ve often thought about having the right tools for the job in a spiritual sense. As a grateful convert to Catholicism, the most awesome, incredible, powerful difference from my Protestant upbringing is simple: in becoming Catholic, I was given the most fantastic “toolbox” I’ll ever need. The “tools” are perfect for the job of sanctification. They’re called the sacraments.
I mentioned the difference the sacraments make to a good evangelical friend recently, and he tried to sound cool and knowledgeable but clearly hadn’t the slightest idea what I was talking about. So for the benefit of my non-Catholic friends who read this, here’s a quick definition of sacraments from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1116):
Sacraments are “powers that comes forth” from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are “the masterworks of God” in the new and everlasting covenant.
The Catechism also cites some scripture verses to illustrate the concept, they’re well worth looking up and reading. See Luke 5:17, 6:19, and 8:46.
So what are the sacraments? Check these out in CCC 1210:
Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. the seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life.
At Easter Vigil, 1992, Kathi and I were received into the Catholic Church. I was baptized that very night. We were both confirmed and received the Eucharist. Our marriage became a sacrament. It was mind-blowing. We have both subsequently received the anointing of the sick for different reasons, and frequented confession (me much more so than Kathi, probably no surprise there). We hope that one or more of our children receive holy orders someday. That covers them all.
Countless volumes have been written on these topics, so I won’t belabor the point, but for all the people who feel awkward asking for forgiveness through a human being, I can only tell you my experience of confession. It rocks. Completely. In a life-changing, over the top, soul cleansing, cathartic, deeply compassionate manner. It smacks of something that could only have been designed by the Creator of mankind, in anticipation of human nature. It’s awesome.
Don’t even get me started on the Eucharist. During our conversion, I dragged poor pregnant Kathi and our two small boys out of Mass prior to communion, because I couldn’t handle not receiving what I knew was Jesus – body, blood, soul and divinity. The Catechism calls it a sacrament of Christian initiation, I also think of it as a sacrament of strength – it nourishes us spiritually, in ways that utterly transcend our understanding, and transform our lives.
I could even speak of marriage, the underrated and rather abused sacrament, in glowing terms. My Dad told me years ago that God has us marry the person who will cause us to grow the most. He always said this with a smile, but I think it’s true. I’m still nuts about Kathi to this day, even though we don’t always live up to the fullness of God’s calling in our marriage. Yet there is a deeper purpose here – we exist partly to help one another to heaven. We complement (and complete, in deference to Jerry Maguire fans) each other in countless ways that are spiritually beneficial.
There’s so much more to be said, and that has been said, about the Catholic toolkit. My experience has been incredible, it has truly made all the difference in the world. Think of it this way – this toolkit is on sale, right now, at your local Catholic Church. It’s called RCIA, or the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (there are other terms out there too). And it’s free. I would love for you, my friend, to have all these tools in your kit too.
Oh, and please remember to say a prayer for me and my silly plumbing problems. You see, the boys’ bathroom has two sinks.
This time, I’m heading over to the hardware store first. I need a few tools.