"Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. "
Why do we need these outward signs? Simply because we are human, a strange amphibious joining of body and soul. But we no longer think of ourselves as such.
I realized recently that most Western Christians, myself included, have been raised to be gnostics.The primary doctrines of gnosticism are something like this:
1. Matter is evil.
2. Spirit is good.
3. Your body is evil since it is material, but your soul is good.
4. It doesn't matter what you do with your body, since it is already evil.(note: yes, I know this is a dramatic over-simplification. But it's true enough for government work)
Almost every person I knew growing up insisted that the material world and their own bodies were evil and "of the flesh," though no-one took much time to explain what was meant by that. But the goal of everyone's life was to "be more spiritual." Not more obedient, charitable, or disciplined. Spiritual. (No-one ever thought to remind us that the Devil is pure spirit....)
This leads inevitably to the idea that your body can do what it likes, since it's not "spiritual" and can't really hurt you. In fact, it's to be expected that your body do evil, since it is itself hopelessly evil in its mere existence.Why were we raised this way? A whole generation of Western children were raised to think that they must choose between body and soul. When the body proved strong, they chose it over soul. None of us were taught to unite the two. In fact, most of us would have taken this uniting to be evil, since the body is an evil prison for the soul; why join soul to material grossness? We should be working to seperate the two as much as possible.
We used to know that our souls control our bodies, and our bodies influence our souls. But we have come to believe that our physical brains control our bodies, and our souls just float around somewhere inside of us. Naturalism need not deny the existence of the soul, only deny its link to the body.
As a consequence, none of us learned to use spirit to subdue body, or body to inform spirit. We did not kneel in prayer because "physical position doesn't really matter," so we lost prayer as a discipline and became too proud to kneel. We gave up fasting because "works don't save us," and so became gluttons.
Sacrament unites soul and body. As we kneel at the altar, our souls learn humility. As we meditate on the mystery of Christ's sacrifice, our bodies receive nourishment of bread and wine. But we have decided to divide soul and body, and see our bodies only as a prison or cage of the soul. We think that death is the only purgation needed; as soon as our souls are free from this "crude matter," our souls will be completely pure. But if soul and body are united, then everything we do here in this life drives us towards or away from perfection. Even after death, there may be work to do (though I do believe that it is IMPOSSIBLE to work one's way into Heaven), we may still be learning long after we die. But this life prepares us for the life to come.
We were never meant to be disembodied spirits floating about Heaven. We are made for Earth, and it for us. We have both become disfigured, but not disintegrated. We believe in a new earth and a new Jerusalem, which will be our home. We believe in a bodily resurrection of the dead, and that our souls will be forever united with our bodies. And it is here and now, while our bodies and souls are joined, that we will learn how to live in eternity.
Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof; but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed