It seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? We don’t earn salvation; we don’t earn gifts. And yet how many times have I watched the way my six-year-old son acts in Mass and thought, “You’re so not ready to receive Jesus in the Eucharist yet.” In an everyday critique of my child’s behaviour, I give light to a belief that I know in my head is not a right belief – that my child has to earn the sacraments.
I know it’s a struggle for me, ’cause I catch myself thinking this nearly every time we are at Mass together. However, we don’t earn sacraments. Not baptism, not marriage, not ordination, not anointing and certainly not reconciliation. So why do I continue to struggle with this idea? Eucharist and confirmation are no exceptions here.
Sacraments as Gift
Just as there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love or the salvation offered, God also freely gives the sacraments to us as a tangible expression of his love. We can prepare ourselves for them, which helps these gifts find their fullest expression, but knowledge only helps, it does not earn, and preparation extends beyond knowledge. This belief that we earn sacraments (or at least specific ones, like Eucharist and Confirmation) developed at an early age for me and the churches I worshiped at often affirmed this belief. Holding my child up to some crazy “sit still and listen and be quiet but participate in all the parts” standard that is challenging enough for an adult, let alone a six-year-old, is not only harmful to him, but also not a part of any church teaching in order for us to receive this gift. This greatest gift.
As a society we struggle with this – outside of our church almost everything is earned through knowledge, so I see how this attitude can unknowingly influence the way a parish and her leaders treat preparation. But we are not called to be scholars before we receive grace. That in itself is the great foolhardiness of Christianity, the stumbling block: God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). Peter truly is my hero – the blundering mistake-filled man, given a great gift of leadership, not by earning it through knowledge or excellence, but by weakness and sturdy reliance on God.
Weakness is Strength
As a mother, I know how much I fail. I know how much sin creeps into my life, and yet, Jesus is always there waiting for me, even in my weakness. It is alarming to me to think about how much more sinful I am than my son – what right do I have to say he cannot receive because of his actions? I have none, and I recognise that Jesus wants us when we are weak.
Jesus wants us when we are vulnerable. How much more love can we accept when we see how far away we are from God! In my weakness I grasp hold onto Jesus more tightly than when I am confident and knowledgeable. And so, my son misbehaves in Mass? Yes. But thank God for his generosity, for now there is hope in the grace of the Eucharist (or other sacraments). Hope for my son, and hope for me.
Kids don’t earn the sacraments. Neither do I. And that is something in which to be truly thankful.
Do you judge your child’s “ability” to receive the sacraments? Take a moment to reflect on the great mercy of God in these gifts, freely given to us.
Copyright 2016 Jane Korvemaker