"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Incarnational Theology and Praying the Anglican Rosary

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
~Various Occasions, Collect no. 4: Of the Incarnation

Among the things that I have been learning in my readings over the last year or so, one recurring idea is that of the Incarnation as central to the Anglican identity and understanding of the faith.  The results of recognizing Incarnational theology as the foundation of the faith are many and significant.  One result for me has been an embracing of the tangible and physical as redeemed and good.  This is a desire that has always been present in me (and, I think, in humanity generally), but was for years tempered by my Protestant upbringing.  I read a statement a while back about the latent and unacknowledged Gnosticism that pervades much of Protestantism.  It is the dualism of the Gnostic that says, "The spirit alone is good, the flesh is evil."  Many Protestants would not baldly make such an extreme assertion in their theology (some would), but the results are manifest nonetheless.  Compare the sparse, utilitarian "meeting house" of the Protestant with the glittering, liturgy-steeped cathedral of the Catholic.  "Bah, rags of Popery!  Enticing and deceiving the ignorant masses with all those 'smells and bells', the sensuality of it all!"  To which the catholic Christian answers, "Christ has come and fully embraced our humanity, our earth and time-bound existence.  God became man, was born, lived as one of us, died, and was reborn out of death.  In so doing, He has hallowed our humanity, and all creation with us.  As it was in the beginning, so it is now again: 'It is good'."

Now, it is obviously true that we still live beset by the corruption of this fallen world and must continually "persevere in resisting evil"; to suggest otherwise is to be blind to the daily reality of sin, to look on evil and claim that it is actually good and we just don't yet recognize the goodness (what C.S. Lewis called "talking damned nonsense").  I am not advocating a feel good theology that refuses to acknowledge that there is evil in the world; yet the great work of redemption has been accomplished already. Christ the second Adam has reconciled humankind to God by becoming one of us, and through an act of entire self-giving has filled all in all.

And so, out of the goodness of His creation, we bring Him the best we can offer.  Yes, we seek to move beyond the purely temporal as we draw nearer to God in Christ, but we do not reject the temporal in the process.  God did not redeem us by rejecting the temporal to affect our salvation by some purely spiritual act "somewhere out there." He came to us in the here and now.  It is here and now that we exist, and so we worship with our bodies as well, with our minds, with our voices, with our gifts, be they literary, musical, architectural, etc.  We bring all we are before God as an offering.  And we glorify Him in the here and now, where He has placed us to be a channel of His Love in the midst of this physical Creation.

A simple example of this embracing of the tangible is the use of prayer beads, a tradition that stretches back centuries through the saints.  I ordered mine online from the Solitaries of DeKoven; one of the hermits makes them as a ministry and form of livelihood for the order; each one is crafted in prayer.  I've been using them in my times of personal prayer for about a month now.  I also just read a small book (a pamphlet, really) by Lynn C. Bauman entitled The Anglican Rosary.  The book consists primarily of sample prayers, which also serve as examples to inspire the reader in composing their own prayers.  But it also includes an introduction to the history of the Rosary, and an explanation of its symbols.  The Anglican Rosary is rife with symbolism, much of it focused on numbers which have deep significance in Scripture: the circle of the beads represents eternity, even while our praying through the cycle of beads mirrors our earthy pilgrimage; the four cruciform beads make the symbol of the cross; the four "weeks" or series of seven beads make up the majority of the prayers, recalling the seven days of creation, and the seven seasons of the church's liturgical year; the rosary is prayed through three times, bringing the number of cruciform prayers to twelve; the total number of beads is thirty-three, the number of years of Christ's earthly life; and on and on.

In many ways, the Rosary also mirrors the liturgical year of the church, which is itself an acknowledgement of the redemption of the created order, the seasons which govern our life.  But in the liturgical year, the church consciously marks time by a recognition of the sacred, the major events of that supreme event, the life of Christ.  In so doing, we are able to see the deeper truths to which the whole created order points.  I think Bauman sums this up beautifully.  For example, she writes:

"Because the seasons of the Liturgical Year are strategically placed around the four cardinal points of the solar year, we can more easily grasp their spiritual significance.  For example, the Feast of Christmas falls on and replaces the ancient feast of Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, when the Sun makes its turn back toward the longest day.  This ancient, pagan feast signified the birth of Light into the world and the return to light from darkness.  It is fitting, therefore, that Christmas should be celebrated here as well, since it stands for the birth of the Divine Light into the great darkness of the world.  Another example, Easter falls on or around Spring Equinox when light 'conquers' darkness, so to speak, and the days are now longer than the night.  Pentecost is celebrated on or near the Summer Solstice, the longest and brightest day of the year.  Briefly then we can understand the spiritual symbolism inherent in each season."

Another point Bauman makes is that we can view praying the Rosary as "a little office".  This has been especially helpful to me.  I love to pray the daily office (using the rites in The Book of Common Prayer), but since the arrival of our third child, this is not always easy.  Very often the times when I have opportunity to pray are times that I am holding a little one in my arms.  Viewing the Rosary as a modified form of the daily office comes in handy in such a situation.  Bauman cites Robert Llewelyn here:

"It is best to see the saying of the Rosary as an offering ... The Rosary is, in fact, a Little Office.  It has the great advantage of simplicity.  No books, no distractions in searching for hymns, antiphons, psalms and lessons, and the Rosary itself can be easily carried wherever we go."

As I said, I love the daily office, and I certainly don't intend for the Rosary to replace it over the long term, but it has been a blessing for me in this season.  I close now with a sample prayer from Bauman's book that I find particularly beautiful and powerful.  It's also particularly appropriate for the approaching Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.  Peace.

A Rosary of Image and Likeness

In the Name of Christ,
The Alpha and Omega,
Our Origin, our Destiny, and End.

Invitatory Bead:
When anyone turns to the Lord
the veil is removed.
For the Lord is the Spirit,
and where the Spirit of the Lord is,
there is freedom.
And we who gaze with unveiled faces,
reflecting the glory of the Lord
are being transformed into the same image
from one degree of glory to another.
All this comes from the Lord, who is Spirit.

Cruciform Beads:
And I, when I awaken,
Shall see your face, my God,
I shall gaze upon your image and be satisfied.

The Weeks:
I descended in your image,
I remain here in your love,
In your likeness at last I shall ascend.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On the Feast of Thomas a Kempis

A very small sampling of wisdom from his classic, The Imitation of Christ:

From Book II "Directives for the Interior Life":
Always take the lowest place for yourself and the highest will be given to you.  There is a highest place only because there is a lowest.  The saints who are greatest before God are least in their own eyes, and the greater their glory the more humble they are in themselves.  Because they are filled with truth and the glory of heaven, they seek no empty glory ... 

Jesus today has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few of them carry his cross.  He has many friends who ask for consolation, but few who pray for affliction.  He has many companions to share His meals, but few to share His abstinence.  We all want to rejoice with Him, but few of us are willing to suffer anything for His sake.  Many follow Jesus up to the breaking of the bread, but few go on to the drinking of the chalice of His passion.

From Book III "On Interior Consolation":
Blessed are the ears that are attuned to God's quiet whisper, and ignore the world's raucous sounds.

If I am only outwardly admonished and not interiorly set on fire I may die and find that my life was without fruit, and at the moment of judgment I may be condemned for hearing the word but not fulfilling it, for knowing it but not loving it, for believing it but not living it.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Reflections After a Retreat

A few weeks ago, my family and I had the privilege of traveling to the motherhouse of the the Rivendell Community for a weekend retreat.  Rivendell is a religious community within the Episcopal Church.  The following is from their website:

"Rivendell’s professed members (called “Companions”—those who break bread and share the journey together) include women and men, lay and ordained, married and single. Some live together in residential community, while the majority live in private homes, coming together for worship, prayer, conversation, study, and active ministry. All follow a common Rule, or pattern of life and prayer, which sustains and nourishes us to live active lives of service in our particular and diverse ministries.
The work of the Rivendell Community is focused on prayer and hospitality: the constant offering of prayer and worship on behalf of the Church and the world, and hospitality both physical and spiritual. Through its life and work, the Community seeks to foster the contemplative dimension of Christian faith—not as self-seeking spirituality but as self-giving availability to the transformative power of the Gospel, and loving obedience to the purposes of God."

I became aware of the existence of the community some time ago, but this was my first experience of it. I had been particularly eager for the experience, as the idea of living according to a vowed common rule of life has held a great attraction for me as of late. Those who live by such a rule must, I think, be well disposed to grow deeper into God by virtue of the nearly constant mindfulness of God that the rule necessitates. There is also an invitation to community offered by such religious orders, even among a group of people who are dispersed geographically. Meaningful Christian fellowship in community is, as I've noted before, something I greatly desire.

My excitement before the retreat was tempered, however, by realism. As my wife and I were bringing our entire brood along, we both went into the weekend without high hopes for being able to participate in the rhythm of reflective study and worship to the extent that we would have sans children. That certainly turned out to be the right attitude for avoiding frustration, as our kids brought their own rhythms with them. Consequently, our participation throughout the retreat was haphazard, as is the entirety of our existence at this point in life's journey. We were blessed, nonetheless.

Our rector (who is also a professed companion of Rivendell) had graciously invited us for the weekend. The retreat was focused on the writings of the early twentieth century English mystic, Evelyn Underhill. I knew of Underhill, but had not previously read any of her works. Over the last several weeks I have been delving into her writings. Wholly apart from the blessings of the retreat itself, introduction to Underhill has been blessing enough for me. A theme of her work (at least as I have encountered it so far) is the living of the interior life of the Spirit in the midst of the daily responsibilities of life. Again and again she stresses this, as a selection of excerpts below demonstrates. From The School of Charity:

"The creative action of the Spirit penetrates the whole of life, and is felt by us in all sorts of ways. If our idea of that creative action is so restricted that we fail to recognize it working within the homely necessities and opportunities of our visible life, we may well suspect the quality of those invisible experiences to which we like to give spiritual status. 'I found Him very easily among the pots and pans,' said St. Teresa. 'The duties of my position take precedence of everything else,' said Elizabeth Leseur; pinned down by those duties to a life which was a constant check on the devotional practices she loved. She recognized the totality of God's creative action, penetrating and controlling the whole web of life."

and again,

"We see the child in the carpenter's workshop.  He does not go outside the frame of the homely life in which He appeared.  It did quite well for Him, and will do quite well for us; there is no need for peculiar conditions in order to grow in the spiritual life, for the pressure of God's Spirit is present everywhere and at all times.  Our environment itself, our home and job, is the medium through which we experience His moulding action and His besetting love.  It is not Christian to try to get out of our frame, or separate our outward life from our life of prayer, since both are the creation of one Charity.  The third-rate little town in the hills, with its limited social contacts and monotonous manual work, reproves us when we begin to fuss about our opportunities and our scope."

Finally, from The Spiritual Life:

"Therefore our favourite distinction between the spiritual life and the practical life is false.  We cannot divide them.  One affects the other all the time: for we are creatures of sense and spirit, and must live an amphibious life.  Christ's whole ministry was an exhibition, first in one way and then in another, of this mysterious truth.  It is through all the circumstances of existence, inward and outward, not only those we like to label spiritual, that we are pressed to our right position and given our supernatural food.  For a spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God: a life soaked through and through by a sense of His reality and claim, and self-given to the great movement of His will."

These are words that speak to me where I am. This is my struggle, not to balance family responsibilities with my spiritual life, but to understand that my duty as a father is currently my primary opportunity for the living out of the life I profess to walk in Christ. It is no good to devote myself to praying the Daily Office, to serious study of the Scriptures, to the composing of posts for a blog (oh, the bitter irony), if I do so at the cost of neglecting my family, even for a moment. My wife and I were discussing this the other night. I confessed that I felt that if I am to be the loving, involved father that I feel I should be (and that I want to be), I must commit to nothing else. To attempt to do anything other than be a devoted father seems futile, a guaranteed recipe for frustration. And while I want to be that father, I also want (perhaps need) to have other outlets as well; to read, to write, to work, to have adult conversation. I think there is much that could be interestingly developed here on the topic of parenting in the modern era, and gender roles and expectations, but that conversation will have to wait for another day. I really do believe parenthood is one of the greatest responsibilities and privileges life offers. It is certainly the prevailing responsibility of my life at this point in time. But it is so hard. As my wife said, "Supposedly, other people are going through the same thing." I guess, but why does it seem so much crazier for us? To say our life right now is controlled chaos gives us a bit too much credit. So, yes, this is my struggle, and I need grace anew every day.

Not incidentally, this is also one of my recurring concerns/questions about ordained ministry. How does one manage to be both a husband/father and priest/pastor? I mean, it's one thing to leave the business office early so you can see your kid's ball game; priorities seem pretty clear to me there. But what if it's a choice between your kid's game and attending the bedside of a dying parishioner? That's quite a tougher call. And if I'm not mistaken, having to make that type of decision is not an uncommon occurrence for those who have answered the call to a vocation in ordained ministry. I can see how being a young priest with a family could have its benefits (and I'm also not a believer in putting life on hold until the kids are all grown up), but I can also see how it would make sense to wait until life has slowed down a bit and one has had a chance to accumulate additional "life experience", and the wisdom that comes with the years. But then again, maybe life never does slow down.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Thoughts on "Open Communion" Part II

The grace which we have by the holy Eucharist doth not begin but continue life. No man therefore receiveth this sacrament before Baptism, because no dead thing is capable of nourishment. That which groweth must of necessity first live.~Richard Hooker Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity 

A second point  made in the explanatory section of resolution C040 is that "the unfolding of the Divine Liturgy" provides all the spiritual preparation an individual needs in order "to receive the spiritual body and blood of Christ".  While I would be the last one to in any way seek to decrease an appreciation for the great spiritual realities to be encountered within the liturgy, it seems obvious that this statement rationalizes an "open table" at the cost of making baptism superfluous.  If simply experiencing the liturgy provides "whatever an individual needs for examination, repentance and forgiveness" in preparation for partaking of the sacrament that unites us to Christ and one another, then does baptism still serve any meaningful purpose?  Maybe it does, but I think it would certainly be understandable for a newcomer to be confused about baptism.  If the church were to officially endorse a policy of inviting the unbaptized to the Eucharistic table, then the clear message would seem to be that baptism, although preferable, is by no means necessary.  Is that the message we want to send about one of the two great sacraments given by Christ to His church?

Lastly, the resolution argues that "boldness in offering radical hospitality is our calling."  While I agree that the church is called to radical hospitality, I do not think that this means the church should feel compelled to invite the unbaptized to partake of the Eucharist.  The church can be hospitable in many ways: by inviting all to the liturgy; by making all feel welcome not only in the context of the services of the church, but in our everyday social interactions; even by inviting the unbaptized to the Eucharistic rail to receive a blessing.  But to partake of the bread and the cup is to partake of the very Body and Blood of Christ.  Though the specific ways of seeking to theologically articulate this mystery have varied, the church has always held to the belief that in the central act of the Eucharist, the church participates in a sacrament, a mystery in which we mortals are united to God and one another through the sacrifice of Christ.  The belief that this is the reality of the Eucharist is born out by both Scripture and tradition.  There are the plain words of Our Lord in the gospels: "This is My body ... this is My blood" (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20).  Paul expounds on the significance of these words in his First Letter to the Corinthians, proclaiming that "we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread" (I Cor. 10:16-17), and warning against the real danger of receiving the bread and the cup "in an unworthy manner" (I Cor. 11:20-34).  It seems clear that this is no mere community supper.  The very early traditions of the church confirm this high view of the Eucharist as sacrament.  Saint Ignatius of Antioch (late first, early second century), in his letter to the Philadelphians, writes, "Take great care to keep one Eucharist.  For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup to unite us by his blood."  Saint Justin Martyr (second century) writes in his Apology:
"This food is called Eucharist with us, and only those are allowed to partake who believe in the truth of our teaching and have received the washing for the remission of sins and for regeneration ... We do not receive these gifts as ordinary food or ordinary drink.  But as Jesus Christ our Savior was made flesh through the word of God, and took flesh and blood for our salvation; in the same way the food over which thanksgiving has been offered through the word of prayer which we have from him - the food by which our blood and flesh our nourished through its transformation - is, we are taught, the flesh and blood of Jesus who was made flesh."
Saint Irenaeus (latter second century) writes, "For as the bread, which comes from the earth, receives the invocation of God, and then it is no longer common bread but Eucharist, consists of two things, an earthly and a heavenly; so our bodies, after partaking of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of eternal resurrection" (Against Heresies).  And the examples go on and on throughout the history of the church.

Our own Book of Common Prayer, beautifully and powerfully drawn from both the Scriptures and the ancient liturgies of the church, gives clear assent to these teachings.  The "Exhortation" (pg. 316) recalls Paul's admonitions, stating "But if we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament."  In our liturgy we pray that "we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him" (Rite I, Eucharistic Prayer I).  Again, "Sanctify (these gifts of bread and wine) by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him" (Rite II, Eucharistic Prayer A).  Likewise, in all our post-communion prayers we acknowledge the great significance of the grace we have just received as it relates to our present and future state.  For example, "we thank you ... for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son, and heirs of your eternal kingdom" (pg. 366).  I have gone to the effort of pointing out all the preceding points because I believe that resolution C040 is flawed in its premise.  The resolution is fundamentally based on this idea of offering "radical hospitality" to all.  Hospitality certainly is a vital aspect of our calling as a church.  But it is simply not what the Eucharist is about.

The Eucharist is, rather, the sacrament of the Church by which God's people, those who have through baptism died to the world to live to Christ, receive grace to be united to one another and to grow into unity with God in Christ.  I believe that the church should offer radical hospitality to all, but not by rejecting the historic understanding of a central practice of our catholic faith and confusing people about what we believe, which I think would be the inevitable result of passing the "open table" resolution.  I would rather see us presenting ourselves in love as servants to all humankind, while also boldly inviting all to respond to God's call to be led out of darkness and into His marvelous light.  I certainly believe this resolution has been offered out of a sincere desire to be faithful to God's call to embrace all.  But, in my opinion, this is entirely the wrong way to go about it.  It is ironic to me that the resolution mentions "our strivings within ecumenism" as a justification for what it proposes.  It seems to me that many of the decisions of the Episcopal Church in recent decades have done serious (I pray not irreparable) damage to the ecumenical gains of the last century.  I think the passage of resolution C040 would be yet another widening of the breach between ourselves and our brothers and sisters in other branches of the church.  And, though it is clearly not the intention of the proponents of the resolution, I think such a practice would eventually be viewed negatively by those serious seekers outside the church as well.  We want to be a church where people can ask questions, and feel welcome despite doubts and disagreements.  Well and good, but if we think that the way to become such a church is by refusing to articulate what we do believe and make no claims at all, then I think we will continue to see decline in the Episcopal Church.  Such a church would be like to one who wants to engage all in conversation, but ends up having nothing herself to say.

 Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel in General Convention for the renewal and mission of your Church.  Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory.  Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Thoughts on "Open Communion" Part I

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.
~ Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

It seems to me that it would make sense to begin this blog with some foundational reflections (e.g. Who/What is God?  Why do I believe in God?) and gradually work my way into more specific reflections and questions.  However, that would require a fair deal of planning and structure on my part, so ... I don't think that's going to happen.  Instead, since General Convention 2012 is nearly upon us, I'd like to offer some thoughts on the resolution proposing the Episcopal Church adopt what is being called (rather confusingly) "open communion".  (Note: this is going to be one of those preachy sounding posts, but please understand that I am not saying 'I've got it all figured out and this is the answer'.  What I am saying is 'This is how I see it', and I would very much like to know how others view the issue). Resolution C040 calls for an "Open Table", that is, the deletion of Canon 1.17.7 "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church", thereby enabling congregations "to invite all, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar rail for Holy Communion."

There is, of course, that other, soon-to-be much talked about resolution A049 to authorize the trial use of  liturgies for same-gender blessings.  I'd rather focus on C040, for several reasons.  For one, I think the approval of same-gender blessings is almost a foregone conclusion at this point.  Secondly, I'm still not entirely sure what my position is on same-gender blessings, which is not really the case regarding open communion. Finally, and most significantly, I think this issue of communion without baptism is of very great importance for the future of the church, even more so than the issue of same-gender blessings.  The latter is primarily about us and our experience of being human.  The former is much more directly about Christ, and our experience of the Divine.

In the explanation section, the resolution offers the reasoning that "such an open invitation for all to fully participate in the Eucharist is in keeping with our catechism's teaching of grace: 'Grace is God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.'" The resolution continues, "that appropriate preparation and readiness to receive the spiritual body and blood of Christ is experienced within the unfolding of the Divine Liturgy, providing whatever an individual needs for examination, repentance and forgiveness amid the call to be in love and charity with all people" (again referencing the catechism). Finally, the explanation sums all up by stating, "We know from our strivings within ecumenism and mission that the communion Christ intended for all is perilous and difficult, and that boldness in offering radical hospitality is our calling rather than canonically driven caution." I would like to address each of these points.

First, regarding the idea of grace as presented in our catechism. I'm glad the catechism is brought up here, though I think it a bit ironic, since it seems to me that this whole issue could be not unjustifiably viewed as a case of dismissing basic doctrine and catechesis in favor of wanting to just be nice and not leave anybody out. God's grace toward us is indeed unearned and undeserved. And that grace is offered freely in baptism, the first great sacrament of the church, upon which all other sacraments of the church are predicated. The catechism states that "Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God." It continues, "The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God's family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit." Now, what does the catechism say about the Holy Eucharist? "The Eucharist, the Church's sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering of himself." Continuing, "The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith" and "The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life" (emphases all mine).

Apart from the clear tradition of the church (I'll return to this point later), a simple reading of our catechism makes plain that there is a clear and reasonable order in the administration of these two central sacraments.  In baptism, we die and are resurrected with Christ, are made one with Christ, and adopted by the Father into the family of God.  Many today, including many within the church, speak of all humans as the children of God.  This sounds nice (and certainly God longs for all to recognize and embrace their origin in Him, and so on one level I don't think it is entirely inaccurate to speak this way), but it is not sound Christian theology.  The whole of Scripture and of the church's tradition proclaims that we have become estranged from God through sin, and that it is only through the redemption won by Christ that we are reconciled to God.  Paul writes to the Galations that "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Gal. 3:26-27) and "when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son ... in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5).  Our baptism into Christ ushers us into the household of God, reconciling us to God, and marking us as "inheritors of the kingdom," the people of God.  That the Eucharist is the sacramental food for the people of God is clearly demonstrated in the words of the catechism: it is "the Church's sacrifice" by which we are united to Christ's sacrifice, reaffirming that which we embraced as truth in our baptismal covenant; through the Eucharist we receive "the strengthening of our union with Christ."  How can one who has not acknowledged and rejected the corruption of the world and turned to Christ in faith through baptism receive bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ?  How can the sacrament impart grace to strengthen one's union with Christ when there has not yet been any such union?

(Whew! This has turned into a bit more than I had anticipated, though I had a sneaking suspicion this would happen.  I'm going to call it quits for right now.  Don't fret; I'll be back soon with the much anticipated second half of this post!  Peace.)