In a freshman Theology class I had a professor that assigned a project around the Sacraments: If we were to add one Sacrament to the existing seven, what would it be? What would it look like? Smell like? When would you receive it? Why? Essentially I suspect he wanted to get at the heart of what we celebrate as Sacrament and what makes each experience a vehicle of grace?
At the time my answer was Affirmation--post Confirmation. This seemed an appropriate sign to me,given a culture so hungry for meaning, purpose and worth. In hindsight my suggested 'sacrament' would essentially take on the look of a surprise party. Folks from all parts of a person's life would show up at the appointed place, sometime mid-life to celebrate the gifts that they bring, specifically. It would be a surprise of course, because so few would plan one of these on their own. And it would consist of words: spoken & written.
A need? Yes. Vehicle of grace? Probably. Practical? Maybe not.
Not bad for freshman Theology.
If I were to answer the same question today, I think I'd change my answer to Commissioning. What an absolute gift to be blessed by a community on the cusp of an important undertaking. In some ways I suppose it bears the marks of my original affirmation idea in that celebrating this occasion would require that those in our community are aware of the ebb and flow of our individual discernment process--well enough to celebrate that work with us. Commissioning is a far more repeatable ritual (good news for those millennials who are noted for their multiple career paths). Each time a new venture is underway, you would again celebrate this sacrament and be sent on your way with the prayers of a community.
A need? Yes. A Vehicle of grace? Yes. Practical: Yes!
I was invited to speak at a Commissioning last Sunday. I don’t know about you, but I don’t receive a lot of invitations to Commissionings—and they’re really important! It was the sending out of a group of young adults as they begin their service to those living in the margins in the Denver metro.
I did some research around the practice of commissioning as I prepared for this gathering that may help to patch together the significance of such a celebration:
The most succinct, secular description of being commissioned is this: 'To bring something (such as a factory or machine) into working condition.'
In art, a commission is 'the hiring and payment for the creation of a piece, often on behalf of another.'
Then there is the Great Commission—from the end of Matthew’s Gospel, which sends the 12 out to make disciples of all nations…reminding them that: I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
This collection of input helped me to come to a couple of interesting conclusions about this group:
1. You likely did not arrive at this new beginning operating as ‘a machine,’ nor will you operate in this way on your first day, week or month. But after today (maybe even long after today), you will! This array of gifts & personalities will make sense and you will even begin to model the peaceable kingdom by your love. By your witness.
2. This gathered community has come together in recognition of the masterpiece that together your lives create. In every sense, your being commissioned today is a work-in-progress created on behalf of those you serve.
3. You are not doing this alone!
You are making this journey with companions you may or may not have met yet—that have been praying for you since before you arrived and they will continue on with you in the stubborn client, the wise long-time volunteer, the chatty bus driver, and so on.
Saints like Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac will continue on this journey with you by helping you to see your own poverty, and the tremendous opportunity it is to meet Jesus in those who are poor, and to pay attention to the work of providence—that is the Holy Spirit—that is always moving.
This message of accompaniment is so important for St. Matthew that it has the final word in his Gospel! "I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
So yes, you are on the brink of something big; and you will be companioned and equipped to do the work of this mission. We, the community, are compelled to send you with our blessing to do the good work you were called to do.
Perhaps this is what I was grasping for, originally. This vision of community and affirmation that resonated within me although I had yet to witness it outright. That's the allure of faith isn't it? I can lean into it, just about describe it coherently, only to realize that my great epiphany was more like a baby step on this long journey than the epic leap perhaps I had envisioned in my minds' eye.
What ritual or tradition in your life have you observed as a vehicle of grace? What is it?
What baby step or giant leap are you being asked to take at this point & who is helping you to celebrate and name it?
"We must allow God the freedom to work in our souls in whatever way he pleases, knowing that he is an accomplished Master and will produce in us a masterpiece."- Fr. Joesph Girzone