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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

Sacramentals and Spiritual Disposition

Fr. Scott A. Haynes

A Meditation on St. Matthew 9:18-26

At that time, as Jesus was speaking to the crowds, behold, a ruler came up and worshipped Him, saying, “Lord, my daughter has just now died; but come and lay Your hand upon her, and she will return to life.” And Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples. Now a woman who for twelve years had been suffering from hemorrhage, came up behind him and touched the tassel of His cloak saying to herself, “If I touch but His cloak I shall be saved.” But Jesus, turning and seeing her, said, “Take courage, daughter; your faith has saved you.” And the woman was restored to health from that moment. And when Jesus came to the ruler's house, and saw the flute players and the crowd making a din, He said, “Begone, the girl is asleep, not dead.” And they laughed Him to scorn. But when the crowd had been put out, He went in and took her by the hand; and the girl arose. And the report of this spread throughout all that district.

On February 2nd, at the Candlemas, the Church blesses candles, which we carry in procession. During the year, we light those candles in our homes to reminds us that we are to keep the light of Christ bright within ourselves. On February 3rd, Holy Mother Church uses blessed candles to impart a blessing for our throats through the intercession of St. Blase, Bishop and Martyr, that we be free of ailments of the throat.

On Ash Wednesday each year the Church blesses ashes, marks us with the Sign of the Cross and bids us, “Remember man, thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” On the Feast of Epiphany, January 6th, the Church blesses incense, chalk and gold in honor of the three kings, marking above the doors of the Church the current year with the initials of the three kings, Caspar, Melchoir and Balthazar, the first pagans to acknowledge the Kingship of Christ. When we enter a Church, we dip our hand in holy water and made the sign of the Cross. When we kneel down to pray after we have arrived, perhaps we begin our conversation with God with familiar memorized prayers like the Rosary, formed by the Hail Mary, Our Father, and Glory be.

All of these things are sacramentals—the candles, the incense the prayers, the holy water. Mother Angelica always calls them ‘holy reminders,’ because each of these reminds us of our faith in God. In discussing sacramentals, we need to make a distinction between the sacraments and the sacramentals. One thing is that the effect of the seven sacraments is a result, not of the holiness of a priest or minister, but rather of Christ Himself who is the Author of each sacrament.

Take, for example, baptism. It does not matter that you were baptized by this priest or by that priest—it was Christ who baptized you. It does not matter which priest heard your confession for every priest speaks those words of forgiveness and absolution in the name and in the person of Jesus Christ. The sacramentals, however, work according to your spiritual disposition. So, if you make the sign of the Cross dipping your hand in holy water and have fervor in your heart, then you will obtain greater grace from this than if you had made the sign of the Cross in a hurried and sloppy way. If you say the Rosary with great love in your soul and try hard to concentrate, and to pray, you will obtain greater grace than if you say the Rosary with a wandering imagination. Simply put, if the spiritual disposition of our soul is open, God can pour in more grace. If I have a large pot of water I can pour a little bit of it into a tea cup but I can pour much more into a large pitcher. If we are open to God then God will give us as much grace as we dare to receive.

In this Gospel passage, Christ performs three miracles of healing. The second miracle catches my interest in particular. In this miracle, a woman with a hemorrhage was healed as she touched the tassels of Christ’s garment. We see in the Gospels that the sacramentals are used by Christ and His Apostles. For example, St. Peter’s shadow fell upon the sick who were lying on mats in the street in Jerusalem and this healed them. Christ Himself looked up into the heavens, put his finger in the ear of the deaf man and then use spittle to heal him. In another Gospel scene we learn how Christ used mud to heal the blind beggar. Are not all these things sacramentals?

A skeptical and critical person today would probably say that our use of sacramentals is really a form of superstition. But like the woman in today’s Gospel who reaches out to touch the garment of Jesus, we do not ascribe any power to sacramentals as if they were magic charms. No our use of sacramentals is based on faith in Jesus Christ, who has power to heal sickness, raise the dead and forgive sins.

Just as the sacramental of blessed candles on the Feast of Candlemas reminds us of the power of Christ the Light of the World, the sacramental of Jesus’ garment had a powerful and mysterious symbolism for the woman in the Gospel story today. She saw Christ wearing that garment and she had the faith that he could heal her here and now. St. Matthew’s [1] account of this story tells us that this dying woman “came up behind [Jesus] and touched the hem of His garment; for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch His cloak, I will be healed.’”

In the Gospels we also recall the time Jesus arrived at the town of Gennesaret, on the Sea of Galilee. After He performed the miracle of walking on the water, the men of the town recognized Jesus and sent word out so that many people brought all their sick to Him and begged Him to let the sick lying on the mats to touch the fringe of His garment. And “all who touched Him were healed” (Mk. 6:53-56).

These people were not healed simply by touching the fringes of Jesus’ garment in a crowd. They were healed when their faith touched the power of God and the One who could heal their infirmities. These people were healed because they had the right spiritual disposition. They had the right spiritual attitude. They put total trust in Jesus Christ. The mud, the spittle, in today’s Gospel the tassels of the Lord’s garment, these things became a point of contact to Christ. As their heart opened in faith, they received a healing touch from the Lord.

Whether we need physical, spiritual, emotional or psychological healing, we can come to our Divine Physician in the sacraments and sacramentals of the Church. What is your disposition? What is your spiritual attitude? Are you open to God? Or do you tie his hands and restrict the hands of the one who heals? Just as that woman reached out to touch Christ’s garment, today He reaches out to touch your soul and bring you grace upon grace.

[1] Matthew 9:20-22


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