Saturday, April 29, 2017

Emmaus - Fr Michael Scanlon & Encountering the Lord in the Sacraments

Fr Michael Scanlon T.O.R. (1931-2017), long-time President of Franciscan University, Stubenville, USA, was a significant leader of charismatic renewal in the early days. He visited Australia in 1975, and spoke of the need for renewal in our experience of the sacraments. The following is taken from his article, Meeting Jesus in the Sacraments, published in the October 1975 issue of New Covenant Magazine.

Three things need to happen for there to be a real renewal of sacramental life:

1. The sacraments must be understood as personal contacts with the saving, healing Lord Jesus. We must be able to experience the sacraments not as objective entities but as personal encounters through which Jesus reaches out to us - now saving, now forgiving, now consecrating and blessing, now uniting, now empowering, and now healing.

Unfortunately this original and necessary dimension of personal encounter and response eventually became overlooked in favour of the automatic effect of the sacraments. Rituals evolved to symbolize the specific action of grace in each sacrament to enrich the experiences and communicate the solemnity of what was happening. Today, our personal encounter with the Lord is precisely what is again being recognized and expected.

In a real way, we personally encounter Jesus in each of the sacraments. The model for this meeting appears in the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They meet Jesus but do not recognize him. They find his presence compelling; they respond, urging him to stay. He explains the Scriptures and their hearts burn within them. And then Jesus presents the sign of the Eucharist. "When he had seated himself with them to eat, he took the bread, pronounced the blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, whereupon he vanished from their sight" (Luke 24:30-31).

From this incident there emerge some clear lessons on the sacraments. Luke is encouraging Christians to let the Spirit of Jesus reveal the Scriptures to them when they are gathered together. He is also teaching them to recognize Jesus - as did the disciples - in the breaking and distributing of the bread each time they celebrate the Eucharist. As soon as the disciples recognized Jesus in the sign of the bread, he disappeared; in other words, there was no longer a need for his physical presence. Now, knowing Jesus to be present among them, the disciples turn around, return to Jerusalem, and are reunited with their brethren. This is the purpose of all sacraments: to meet Jesus now, under the signs, and through that encounter to be more deeply united with the brethren.

2. The sacraments must be seen as an entering into a renewal and a deepening of the covenant life that God's people have together. Unless the sacraments are understood as establishing and renewing the covenant between God and man, the fulness of the encounter with Jesus will be lost. Jesus comes to his body, his church, and within that context to the individual man or woman. He does not come sacramentally to any person apart from the body. Each sacrament, therefore, is a call to respond, to go deeper and more specifically into our covenant with God.

Through Baptism, Jesus invited us into the solemn new covenant with God to become the new people of God. As the church developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, this initiation found its completion in Confirmation - a baptism with "spirit and fire" and empowering to witness to the new covenant. In the Eucharist we celebrate the new covenant, opening our lives to the Spirit and deepening the covenant relationship. Penance enables us to be reconciled to the people of God by letting us repent of infidelity to the covenant. In Matrimony and Orders, special covenant relationships are established both to function within the people of God and to symbolize the broader covenant with God. Finally, we celebrate the nature of covenant as a healing, reconciling, life-giving relationship through the power of the Anointing of the Sick.

3. The priest and the people must expect the Lord to work powerfully in each sacramental action. While it is important to understand the sacraments rightly as encounters and covenant celebrations, it is equally important to approach them expecting the Lord to act powerfully in them here and now. It is a matter of lively, expectant faith. It is again reaching out to touch the hem of Jesus' garment saying, "If only I do, I will be healed." And since the community members call forth this faith from one another, the ministers too must expect that power will go forth from them. The more the sacramental words and actions truly represent a powerful Jesus and a living covenant relationship, the more expectant the faith will be.

It is time to renew the sacraments in their roots of power . . . to incorporate the good in current theology and liturgical practice into the overwhelming truth that Jesus the Lord is solemnly present to us in a saving way in each sacrament. Jesus is given as the Father's sacrament for us. We can meet him in every sacrament.


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