Last week, I took a quick trip down to the Baltimore area to spend time with some of my cousins.
We are very close and always have a blast together, but due to geography, we rarely get to see each other.
So, with a pretty open weekend and my wife’s blessing, I hopped on a plane Saturday morning and flew home Sunday in time to get a decent night’s sleep before school resumed the next morning.
Crossing the border both ways, I knew I had to bring my passport. A tiny souvenir of my trip, my passport received stamps from the American and Canadian border agents, signifying yet another journey in my life.
When I think back, my passport has now been marked with stamps from several other countries besides Canada and the United States, namely Aruba, Chile, England, France, Greece, Italy and Mexico.
As my passport stampings symbolize travels over the course of my life, it is interesting to note how in many religions, there are similar markers representing one’s spiritual voyage.
As a teacher of a high school World Religions course, we study in my classes such milestones as the naming and welcoming of a child (aqiqah) in Islam, a bar- and bat- mitzvah in Judaism, the sacred thread ceremony (upanayana) in Hinduism and the becoming of a monk in Buddhism.
It’s no different in Christianity, as various denominations have their own rituals signaling rites of passage for their members from birth to death.
For instance, just like the seven countries I have visited outside of North America, the Roman Catholic Church has seven sacraments to present the distinct steps of one’s faithfulness to God and practice of belief.
In addition to Baptism, Reconciliation (confession), Holy Eucharist and Confirmation, Roman Catholics may also celebrate the sacraments of Marriage, Holy Orders (priesthood) and Anointing of the Sick.
Similar to the collection of countries in a continent, these seven sacraments can be grouped as rites of initiation (Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Confirmation), healing (Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick) and service (Marriage and Holy Orders).
And just as a passport can afford someone great opportunity for travel, the sacraments can offer a person a fuller experience of God’s blessings and presence.
But, just as a passport is only good if it is kept updated, the sacraments can only bring us to holiness if they are practiced regularly.
Much like a passport, we are called to live a faith of renewal and to be active in living out our beliefs, and that includes traditions and rituals.
For example, while we are baptized once (typically as a baby), we renew our baptismal identity each time we attend Mass, receiving a blessing when we dip our finger or hand into holy water upon entry into the church. Furthermore, how we carry ourselves each day of the week following a Sunday service should also reflect our baptismal identity.
Making our first confession of sins at a young age of approximately seven years old, we will surely commit sins well past that stage in our lives. Thus, reconciling with God and receiving His forgiveness through the sacrament of penance at least a few times each year can ensure absolution of our faults and a regular reminder of God’s grace and unconditional love for us.
As I remind my students when we discuss the sacraments, Holy Eucharist received as kids is intended to be our “First Communion” and not our last. Therefore, by honoring the Sabbath and attending church service regularly (ideally weekly), we are offered a chance to be fully and frequently united with our Lord Jesus Christ.
When it comes to Confirmation, I can remember being confirmed at the age of 13, while in Grade 7. I believe I was old enough to appreciate with relative maturity the significance of the sacrament. Today, I am challenged and called to display that appreciation by continuing my practice of faith in attending Mass weekly, reciting the Apostles’ Creed and living out my beliefs in God through actions each and every day.
While my wife Catherine and I married nearly five years ago, I know I am tasked with carrying out our sacramental and matrimonial vows daily for the rest of our life. This can come in many forms, including regular reminders of how much I love her – both through words and deeds. My remaining loyal to her, supporting her wishes and dreams, providing for her needs and those of our children, and honoring her by my living each day – these are all ways I can embody the meaning of the sacrament of marriage.
Certainly, the remaining two sacraments will not necessarily apply to everyone in the Roman Catholic faith, much like each milestone may not take place for everyone in any given denomination or religion.
Just the same, a sincere display within the sacraments can help express one’s true devotion in his or her relationship with God.
Regardless, much like a passport must be renewed in order to always be effective, it is important to stay current in our faith through the sacraments, allowing us to enjoy the fullest experience possible with God in our lives.
Doing this, then, we can not only enjoy great spiritual travels here on earth, but also stamp ourselves a trip to eternal salvation in Heaven.