I remember very clearly the afternoon when we received word that the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris was on fire. I was living in our convent in St. Louis and one of the other sisters in formation pulled up the images on the computer. We all sat there for a few minutes in silence, absolutely in dumbfounded by what was happening. I remember praying over and over again, “Lord, have mercy.”
As the hours went on, we received the news that the Blessed Sacrament had been rescued. No one had died. And yet, we all felt heartbroken knowing that the church had been so mangled in the fire. Inside myself, I was confused. Why was I so upset about a building?
In reality, this is because Notre-Dame is not just a building. Throughout the centuries, countless people have come to that place to have an encounter with the living God. The beauty of the art and architecture was designed expressly and was successful in pointing to God’s loving providence. In a country that struggles so much to hold on to faith, the towering church is a symbol that God remains. It is so much more than a building.
As I began to think, I realized that Notre-Dame was not the only thing in my life that was more than what appeared on the surface. Each morning, I open my Bible, which some people might consider to be just another book. But my Bible is more than just another book; it is the living Word of God that speaks to me on a daily basis. When I walk into church, I genuflect to the tabernacle and spend time in prayer there because the Eucharist is not just bread but the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. When I touch my Rosary in my pocket, I am not just touching beads on a string but am reminded of the Blessed Mother’s constant loving protection and moved to trust what God is doing in that moment.
This is a concept that actually gets to the core of how Catholics see the world. This is called a “sacramental worldview” and it is what allows us to see the physical world, those things that we can see and feel and touch in this life, in a way that points to God. It is a sacramental worldview that leads us to see the glory of God in a sunset or to be in awe at the beauty of a newborn baby. It is the understanding that allows us to appreciate this life and material things for the good that they truly are while also recognizing that this is not our ultimate homeland.
Right now, we are getting ready for the season of preparation for the key to understanding what it means to have a sacramental worldview: the Incarnation. In the Incarnation, God himself became one of us. He entered into our material world in a real way, not through symbols, not simply by appearing to us, but by actually becoming human. In Jesus Christ, God could breathe and eat and cry and even be killed. Because he entered into our physical reality in such an intimate way, he was able to save us from the inside as one of us so that we would be able to have his own life within us. “And the soul felt its worth.”
These next few weeks are going to be busy and intense for all of us. With long lines at shopping malls, Christmas songs on the radio, and endless parties and events, God is extending an invitation to us to see more than what is on the surface. He is asking us to allow these things to penetrate our hearts so that it is not just another run to the store, another version of “Silent Night,” or another batch of cookies that we bake with loved ones. No, to you and to me, he is saying, “Let me use these things to show you how much I love you.”
This is how we see the world in a sacramental way. Although we live in the world, it is a vastly different way of seeing it than most people today. This allows us to live in such a way that everything leads us to God because we are aware that everything in this life is a gift from him, a sign of his love for us. And this can even go one step further: you can become a sacrament for others. You can be an instrument, a person created and beloved by God, through whom he makes his love known in this world during this crazy season. Let each decoration that you put up, each present that you wrap, each minute that you wait in line, and each Christmas card you write become a channel for God’s grace in this season. That’s certainly a different way of seeing the world.
Truly, God did not become incarnate only in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, but takes on flesh in each of us every time we are open to receiving his love. The more we are aware of how he is using the material things in our lives to reveal his love to us, the more we are able to use these material things to show that love to others. As you go about your day, you can ask God, “How is it that you are showing me that you love me today?” You may be surprised by just how many love notes he sends you.
by Sr. Cecilia Cicone, novice