Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sacraments on Demand

A few years ago we finally broke down and got cable TV. We had resisted it for a very long time. I was never that motivated. For one thing, because I worked in television for years and when I got home from work at the end of the day plopping down in front of more television didn't have a lot of appeal for me. And second, I felt like we didn't need any encouragement to spend additional time in front of the TV. My wife and I didn't need it, our children didn't need it.

But a few years ago we finally broke down. The kids were grown. My daughter was in college (and she lamented that we waited until she was out of the house before getting cable) and there were stories in the news about the switch to digital broadcasting, so you were either going to need to be connected to cable or buy converters or else buy new television sets. So we got cable. And it wasn't easy at first because we were apparently the only household in our neighborhood that didn't already have cable. The cable company couldn't imagine we weren't connected. But after some calls back and forth they finally came out and connected us.

And it's been nice having cable. I get to watch things I wouldn't necessarily see - movies, documentaries, cooking shows - things I very much enjoy. And our cable came with this very interesting feature called "On Demand." I didn't pay much attention to it at first. But I soon found there were times when I was in the mood to relax in front of the TV and there wasn't really anything on that interested me. I could go to "On Demand" and pick from a wide range of choices and "poof!" I could watch it. And this just amazed me - anyone connected to that cable system any time of day has the ability to choose something to watch, all controlled from their fingertips. No more trips out for a video rental, no more setting up my VCR to record a film at 2 in the morning so I can watch it later. The technology blew me away.

We live in an "On Demand" society, an "On Demand" world. It's not all that long ago that stores that offered convenience were only open from 7 in the morning until 11 at night - now they're open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I gassed up my car at 6:00 in the morning today. I carry a piece of plastic in my wallet that lets me have access to my bank account and cash 24 hours a day. And many times I don't even need cash - the little plastic card is all I need. I remember a couple times being up with one of my children in the middle of the night when they were very small and going and doing grocery shopping at 3am. The ability to do these things were unheard of not so long ago.

Yet as in love as we are with convenience and being able to acquire things on demand many of us have forgotten that our church pretty much offers us "On Demand" sacraments. I once heard it said that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week Mass is being celebrated somewhere. We as Catholics pretty much have "On Demand" access to the Eucharist, yet we don't always seek it out. The other sacrament we pretty much have "On Demand" access to is the sacrament of reconciliation.

In the Gospel of Luke a woman that has sinned takes advantage of the opportunity to kneel before Christ in contrition. It is clear from her actions that her desire for forgiveness is genuine. And Christ understands that. Others criticize, because in that moment Christ welcomes the sinner, welcomes one that others deem "untouchable" - someone to be avoided, to be scorned. Yet Christ welcomes her and in that gesture demonstrates that all sinners are to be welcomed. That by our faith we can be saved.

Reconciliation on demand. The church offers it sacramentally. Yet so many pass it by, even avoid it. And I can understand that to some extent. The act of baring your soul before a priest and before God can be horribly intimidating. Admitting our sins, recognizing failure can be a very difficult thing for us to face, let alone share with someone else. Forgiving ourselves can be the most difficult thing of all. I've always said God will never beat me up as badly as I'll beat myself up over mistakes I've made, sins I've committed, people I've hurt. And some of those transgressions - even though I know I've been forgiven - I will carry in my heart to the day I die. Because everything I've done, everything I've failed to do is a part of my being, a part of what makes me who I am today.

That's how it is for all of us. We're human. Failure is what makes us human, and defines our humanity. Those unwilling to admit their failures, admit their sins - step outside of themselves and take a hard look at who they are - are only deluding themselves.

Sacraments on demand. What a brilliant concept! To open up our souls before God in reconciliation, and then be deemed worthy once again to accept His Son in the Eucharist is extraordinary. And this "On Demand" convenience is not something that has been made available to us in the last five years, or ten or twenty or fifty. It has been available to us for centuries. Available to us to the end of the age. Peace, salvation, through faith. On demand. All we have to do is seek it out.

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