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Uniting With Christ Through Our Senses

August 15, AD2014 16 Comments

How do we perceive the Divine and communicate with God as beings who possess both physical and spiritual senses?

Some ascetics might try to starve their physical senses to sharpen their inner senses, but such a notion seems to me to be contrary to Catholic wisdom and practice. The Catholic Church  repudiates Gnosticism, realizing that believers come to a fuller sense of Christ through the totality of their human person.

The first time I walked into a Catholic Church as a child, I was hit by a sense of a Holy Presence.  Overwhelmed by awe, I tip-toed  around this foreign Church. The whole atmosphere seemed exotic, with dim, soft lighting coming through gorgeous stained glass windows and a few votive candles. Incense assaulted my nostrils, countless paintings and statues begged for my visual attention and the holy water in the font felt holy. This encounter was an experience of both sensory and spiritual overload, a profound experience of the Holy.  God touched that little child’s inner spiritual self through her physical senses.  Although  as a child, I could not yet articulate an explanation. Now, I understand that  the art, sculpture, water and incense are sacramentals, physical objects infused by the Holy Spirit, imbued with the Divine.

Contrast this rich atmosphere with the stark place of worship of my childhood in the Presbyterian church. Plain white walls  were broken  only  by a single bare wooden cross at the front of the sanctuary. The pews were low backed and unadorned.  The lighting  was  bright, almost harsh with plain glass windows. A durable, light beige rug covered  the floor.  One, small cloth,  featuring the burning bush, hung over the minister’s pulpit. The decorating was bland, at best.

My  childhood experience of church was the result of the Protestant Reformation which emphasized preaching as the main vehicle for evangelizing and the formation of  believers; they believed that  ” faith comes from hearing” ( Romans 10:17).  All other senses, except hearing,  were considered  a distraction from God during a service.

Contrary to this Puritanical view is the Catholic understanding that all five senses are vehicles to apprehend Divine reality. The Bible itself tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps:34:9, 1 Peter 2:3) and Isaiah says “hear the word of the Lord”.  Jesus promises that “the pure in heart will see God” (Mat 5:8) and that the  faithful will “inhale the sweet aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15). St. Paul blessed handkerchiefs to be placed on those needing healing who lived far away. Even Christ himself spat on the ground, made mud and placed it on the blind man’s eyes because He understood the power of touch.

The Church understands the power of the Sacraments with their physical signs; sometimes man needs the touch of holy water or blessed oil as well as hearing prayers to open his soul to the power of Christ. God knows that we are body and spirit. Obviously, the physical sense of taste is directly related to an encounter with the Mystical Body of Christ in the Eucharist. Jesus commanded us to” Take , eat for  this is My Body given for you”. Jesus did not want us to simply watch the priest during the Consecration. It is not enough to  just hear the words of the Last Supper; we must actively participate with our bodies by tasting and eating, taking the host into our physical bodies. This physical action of eating is the doorway to a spiritual encounter,  real union with the Mystical Body of Christ.

A holy person is not someone who disdains his body like the impression given by old holy cards where a sickly, pasty-faced saint with eyes rolled back in his head, gazes heavenward while looking like a stiff breeze will knock him over.  No, a holy person is one who has achieved harmony between his body and spirit and the Spirit of God.

About the Author:

Melanie Jean Juneau is a petite wife, writer and mother of nine children who blogs at joy of nine9. When the words "The Joy of Mothering on a Hobby Farm" popped into her head as a subtitle for her short stories, it was like an epiphany for her because those few words verbalized her experience living with little people.The very existence of a joyful mother of nine children seems to confound people. Her writing is humorous and heart warming; thoughtful and thought provoking with a strong current of spirituality running through it. Part of her call and her witness is to write the truth about children, family, marriage and the sacredness of life, especially a life lived in God.

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  • http://www.dianemckelva.com/ Diane McKelva

    “The Church understands the power of the Sacraments with their physical signs; sometimes man needs the touch of holy water or blessed oil as well as hearing prayers to open his soul to the power of Christ. ” Yes, we do, Melanie. Thank you for the beautiful written reminder. Peace.

    • melanie jean juneau

      I am so grateful for the power imbued in the Sacraments

  • james

    So perfectly detailed and true, this image of church and Spirit

    • melanie jean juneau

      I was worried that I missed explicitly mentioning the Real Presence in the tabernacle but I felt that His presence was implicit in my description. So relieved that it came across

  • John Darrouzet

    Excellent! Thanks for this post.

    • melanie jean juneau

      thanks for the encouragment

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  • asmondius

    ‘Contrast this rich atmosphere with the stark place of worship of my childhood in the Presbyterian church. Plain white walls were broken only by a single bare wooden cross at the front of the sanctuary. The pews were low backed and unadorned. The lighting was bright, almost harsh with plain glass windows. A durable, light beige rug covered the floor. One, small cloth, featuring the burning bush, hung over the minister’s pulpit. The decorating was bland, at best.’

    How sad that many Catholic churches constructed over the past few decades would fit this description exactly.

    • melanie jean juneau

      Agreed; our surroundings affect us much more than we realize. I have noticed that in modern Churches which resemble casual, community centres, the parishoners are more talkative, less reverent.

    • Catholic pilgrim

      Yes. Also, It’s sad (& even embarrassing) when a Catholic parish church has no Communion kneeling rails but the local Lutheran place (which does not have the true Blessed Sacrament) does have & use rails. Or when a Catholic parish church does not place the Tabernacle (the fulfillment of the Jews’ Holy of Holies) front & center, but rather in the side-wall over there by the corner. Or when the local Catholic parish organizes the yearly Eucharistic Procession to be inside the parish church building instead of outside. Seriously? Having parish Eucharistic Processions outside in the neighborhood streets is a great way to evangelize. Another thing that needs to go: “confessions by appointment Only”. Way to encroach on the Sacrament of God’s reconciling power. Simple solutions that will help increase Mass attendance & reverance. Just sayin’.

  • Nancy Shuman

    Yes! A thousand, thousand times: “yes!”

    • melanie jean juneau

      Yes…because consecrated spaces, blessed objects and art soaked in prayer really are saturated with the Holy Spirit…especially icons.

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  • David Peters

    Great article Melanie. I truly love relating to God in a Catholic way and hope to soon experience Him through the Eucharist.

    • melanie jean juneau

      When I received the Eucharist for the first time at 19, I was almost undone by the sheer power of such an intimate physical and spiritual encounter with the Body of Christ..

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