The principle of sacramentality

New Zealand participants will be sending posts from the Synod on Marriage and the Family in Rome this month. Here is a post from Dr John Kleinsman.

The principle of sacramentality, which is at the heart of the Catholic way, captures the insight that our experience of God can be mediated through the ordinary, including our culture and physical environment. That has got me thinking.

I have been wondering whether the Catholics of Rome might experience the transcendent in a way that is different from the way we do in New Zealand because of the very different physical and cultural surroundings.

Aside from the Eucharistic liturgy and other rituals and prayers, I experience God’s presence in the New Zealand context through the beauty of the natural world that surrounds me – I am missing the quiet and peaceful greenness of the trees and bush that I usually take for granted as well as the richness of colour and fragrance of the Botanical gardens where I often walk in my lunch-breaks.

Here in Rome, by contrast, as I walk around, the eye is drawn constantly to the colossal buildings with their ornate and solid columns stretching heavenward and the awe-inspiring paintings, frescos and statues they contain. Everything is big, spacious, old, solid, ornate and crowded and the cobblestones well-worn. Consequently, what shines through is the timelessness, stability, permanence, largesse, greatness and continuity of God, the Catholic Tradition and the Church. These attributes complement the earthiness, natural beauty, newness, flexibility, changeability, sensuousness, simplicity and freshness of God, the Catholic Tradition and the Church that my New Zealand environment puts me in mind of.

Perhaps also, the different cultures and environments shape and influence our respective approaches to ‘doing theology’ and provide us with different starting points (although not necessarily different conclusions) when it comes to looking at the various difficult pastoral questions that are being debated at the Synod?
Whatever our starting point, our focus remains on the risen Lord who loves us all equally, generously and unconditionally and who wants only that we have life in abundance (John 10:10).

Dr John Kleinsman is the Director of the Nathaniel Centre, the Catholic Biethics agency. He is married with three adult children.