By Rita Piro
It was during renovations to our house that a young worker came across a large box filled with religious articles. The young man examined the contents for a moment, and then asked, “Hey, lady, where should I put this box of holy stuff?”
Sacramentals we were taught to call them in our religion classes and like most baby boomer Catholics, their parents and grandparents, we grew up with them as frequent reminders of our faith.
While a nativity was sure to be on display in the living room during the Advent and Christmas seasons and palm crosses made their appearance during Lent, other items like rosaries, scapulars, prayer cards, novena booklets, candles and medals were objects of devotion that helped to fill our homes and our lives with the abiding presence of God every day of the year.
Catholic doctrine teaches that sacramentals are indeed “holy stuff” or at least “holy things which the Church uses through her intercession to obtain spiritual and temporal gifts for the faithful.” In other words, sacramentals help to bring us closer to God and to God’s love, mercy, protection and support.
While some, especially those outside of the Catholic faith, might reduce sacramentals to mere good luck charms, superstition or magical thinking, the truth is that their proper use serves to unite us in a more tangible way to our faith. They help to draw us into a deeper, richer personal relationship with God, the Liturgy, the sacraments and the Church as a whole.
St. Francis of Assisi has been credited with saying, in one form or another, “You are the only Bible some people will read, you are the only Jesus some people will see.”
Perhaps then the most effective sacramental we have is actually ourselves. We, too, are “holy stuff,” created in the likeness of God, for the purpose of providing a witness to the Gospel message that will allow others to know, love and serve Christ.
If the mere act of lighting a candle, sprinkling holy water, praying a rosary or offering a novena is considered a holy and powerful action toward uniting ourselves and others with God, then how much more holy and more powerful could our own daily actions be toward this same objective.
We are called every day to be a Christ-like people, rooted in love for and reconciliation with all. Our Church is a missionary church and we, its faithful, exist to spread the Gospel. The way we act, speak, look and even think should reflect Jesus, His ways and teachings.
We may certainly hold tight to our popular piety, our favorite devotions and cherished traditions, but in order to fully share in the mission of Jesus, we must each present ourselves as a flesh and blood sacramental, eager to live in such a way that our actions inspire all to unite themselves to the mission of Christ.
Rita Piro is a freelance writer for Catholic publications and a native of Brooklyn.