The Catholic Church teaches that: “Sacraments are ‘powers that come 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” (CCC 1116).
Much has been written about the sacraments and how central a role they play in the economy of salvation. Centuries of prayerful theological reflection have deepened our understanding of this great mystery of our divine faith. The Catechism devotes no less than one fourth of its 2865 paragraphs to illuminate this magnificent arrangement of God’s plan of salvation for mankind.
But for many, especially erudite Catholics, the sacraments do not inspire wonder and delight, let alone poetry. Dr. Regis Martin seeks to change that with his new book, Witness to Wonder.
Dr. Regis Martin’s Opus on Sacrament
Dr. Regis Martin, a professor of dogmatic and systematic theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville since 1988, recently published a book called Witness to wonder: the world of catholic sacrament in which he sets out to recover the sense of wonder and amazement that comes from the realization that God has become flesh and thus truly one of us in order to save and communicate his life to us.
Rather than engage Scripture and Tradition, Dr. Martin takes a different approach, one that’s reminiscent of Blaise Pascal’s Pensées.
In several small fragments that on the surface appear disjointed, Dr. Martin brings to bear personal experiences, Church teaching, poetry, and renowned theologians in order to put forward a new way to examine and appreciate the divine plan manifested in the sacramental economy, fruit of our Lord’s paschal mystery.
One of his most memorable and insightful observations that captures the essence of his work is the following from chapter 5:
The world remains a wedding, with Christ as its point of highest and deepest mediation. Sacrament is how we may most fittingly experience that fact.
God Uses Grit to Give Grace
Dr. Martin sets forth his theme early on in the book and then devotes the rest to proving it out:
It is this last element—the sacramental—that especially interests me. Why? Because it is through the channel of sacrament that one may discover the deepest point of entry into the Mystery.
The grace of salvation reaches us in no other way.
This becomes instantly evident in relation to the phenomenon of wonder, an event whose awakening, I like to think, moved Christ himself to establish the whole sacramental order in the first place.
So how does one go about tracing the connections here? Suppose we begin with the obvious materiality of the sign— this plain palpable thing you see and smell, taste and touch. Examples may be found wherever we humans gather to engage the physical world: the bread we eat, the water and wine we drink, the oil and words we use.
Which God is of course entirely free to fashion into the stuff of sacrament. And thus we are all at once catapulted into a world of wonder and bliss, a realm of amazement in which we behold a world whose ordinary and workaday texture has been entirely transfigured by the fact of Christ’s redeeming presence amid the very materiality of the things he made.
Think of it as God’s use of grit in order to give us grace.
Of course, in order to make these connections, to recognize an order of grace running through nature, of spirit permeating matter, it helps to see the world itself as a place of drama, of pure performance and play.
Is this possible?
Do we see things in this way?
Finding ourselves in the midst of this sheer wondrous redeemed actuality, are we disposed to see the Christian life as something more than mere moral precept or dogmatic proposition?
Do we see it as a time and place for the dramatic, for the staging and performance of a play?
Only when life becomes a setting—I am saying, an ambiance in which the dynamisms of faith and hope and charity are permitted to assume their proper theatrical shape—will the Christian experience become fully operational.
Which is to say, sacramental.
Real life, in other words, is not reducible to the heavy machinery of knowing what’s true, or doing what’s good; it’s also about seeing what’s beautiful.
Dr. Martin waxes eloquently with quotes from poets and theologians that not everyone will be familiar with, but his book is intended for a particular audience.
In bringing to our attention a focus on the notions of beauty, joy, marriage and wonder, Dr. Martin has provided a new avenue by which we can delve into the mysteries of God’s revelation and his design of salvation effected through the sacraments of the New Law.
This post is by apologist Jesus Florez, who recently welcomed his first child into the world.
Jesus distinguished himself by becoming the first apologist to complete the requirements for the Proven Catholic Apologist certificate. He lives with his wife and son in Michigan.