Direct Relationship vs. Sacramental Mediation

Fr. Ayre started a twitter thread on the misapprehension of sacramentality like this:

(Read it all for context. Also, in this post all references to The Church are to the fullest sense of The Church, i.e. the mystical body of Christ, i.e. all people, angels, etc. who in the end love God including those who may only come to know Christ after their death, such as Abraham or Moses and we hope as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church all those who through no fault of their own do not know Christ or his church but following the dictates of their conscience sincerely seek God.)

I think a lot of the problem is that the Church is necessary as a mediatrix for a full relationship with Christ, but not for just any relationship with Christ. That is to say, a relationship with Christ is not only through his Church. You can see this in the prayer which Christ himself gave us. It begins “Πάτερ ἡμῶν.” Literally: “Father ours”. Jesus himself taught us to pray directly to the father. Our primarily relationship is directly with God. But, our secondary relationship is indicated in that second word: ours. We are to pray directly to God, with our fellow creatures, that is, with the Church.

However, in the modern era, only one one of those two words is deeply felt. And this is all the more so because we live in a polyculture. Human beings by nature live in small family groups; we’re not made for widespread dissension. Some of us are better at handling it than others, but most aren’t good at it and so naturally try to compromise. That is, they try to find common ground, or put more depressingly, they try to go to the lowest common denominator. The extreme of this is atheism, where people figure that everyone agrees on secular things, at least, so let’s just get rid of the spiritual part and all agree. Within Christianity and especially in America we’re plagued with Protestantism; people’s natural desire to compromise in the practical sense leads people to compromise in the worse sense of damage.

This is especially the case given that what many protestants believe is some variant of Believe or Burn. Long story short: Martin Luther turned faith from living according to truth into an abstract pledge of allegiance to Christ in theory but (often) in practice to the dominant culture. The Church as mediatrix is—if one isn’t paying attention—awfully close to “pledge allegiance to the group or burn in hell”. This makes unmediated relationship with Christ all the more attractive, since believe-or-burn is repulsive.

But I think all this points to the way to recover sacramentality. Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it to the full, not merely that we might just barely scrape by. The natural virtue people in the modern age most need to develop is courage. It takes courage to strive for living to the full instead of just scraping by. Scraping by is safe precisely because it is minimal. The less you do, the less you can do wrong. We need to remind people that the less that they do, the less that they do right, and life is fundamentally about doing right and only incidentally about not doing wrong.

I think that in this, too, humor might be helpful. What are we to make of a man who is willing to be tortured and executed for Christ, but can’t bring himself to tell his sins to a priest? What are we to make of a man who is willing to be beaten instead of renounce the name of Christ, but isn’t willing to listen to a few bad hymns in order to eat his body and drink his blood? What are we to make of a man who won’t judge a woman who abandoned her husband and children to take up with her new lover, but who will judge someone for gossiping about that woman?

So in conclusion, that I think that reinforcing the sense of the Church as mediatrix of Christ will be done most effectively by calling on people to be courageous. I don’t think anyone really objects to loving their fellow man in principle, I think that most of the time they’re just too scared.

Though like all things it traces its origin back to having faith—that is, trust—in God. Our fellow men are imperfect, and if we pray with them they may screw up our prayers. If we use the sacraments, we may have to wait or get them before we understand or all manner of imperfections. At the end of the day, like in all things, the only solution is to do our best and trust the rest to God. And in this specific case, if we trust God, what have we to fear from our fellow men?

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