Posted June 07, 2012 in Word Made Flesh:
Getting Intimate with God

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

Some people say it’s just part of being Irish.

I don’t know, but we weren’t much for kissing in my family either. Why, I remember how we used to hiss during the cowboy movies if there was even a hint of any kissing coming up between the hero and the heroine. It was OK for him to give his horse a friendly peck on the nose—that’s different—but not her. Yuk.

Oh, but all of that changed overnight for me, thank God, when I was in high school. That’s when I learned that a kiss can be something between two people which opens the door to all sorts of wonderful, unknown possibilities—and dangers as well. I had never known anything like it before.

You’re not gonna turn out to be another one of them "huggin’ ‘n kissin’ Christians," are you? Them that can’t talk about Jesus without a hug or a peck on the cheek?

We had enough neighbors and relatives like that around our house when I was a kid that by the age of three I vowed never to kiss or hug another Christian until I was at least 90 and they were 120.

I know what you mean, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about sacramentals and how they are holy things leading to intimacy with God—like a kiss can lead to intimacy between people—even though as you say, sometimes it doesn’t.

But I thought sacramentals were just things we made up for our own private devotions ‘n stuff.

No, no, no! In our best Catholic tradition, sacramentals are new creations of the Holy Spirit, blessed things, intimate things by which we reach out to God and all our heavenly friends of Faith, such as the angels and saints.

That’s where the "kissin’" comes in: we kiss the cross, the crucifix, the holy water on our fingertips, the images of Christ and his Mother and of the angels and saints, relics, holy cards and all the rest of the sacramental world of the Spirit.

When I think of sacramentals I think "lips of the Holy Spirit by which I can kiss God and God can kiss me." Outside of the sacraments themselves, there is nothing else like them in all of creation.

Ughhhhhh, I just can’t think of God in those kissy terms! It just ain’t normal.

But isn’t that precisely how the likes of you and I used to think about all kissing until two lips and a lovely heart came along and perhaps changed all of that?

So why do we have to act as if there should be no intimacy between us and God? One of the most astounding things about many of the saints I’ve read about is their unique, different-for-each, intimacy with God, and intimacy which was every bit as real and passionate as any human intimacy we might imagine.

I think the miracle of sacramentals is how the Holy Spirit takes everyday stuff and re-creates it into "holy sacramentals" so that Faith can also be about intimacy with God and not just about Good and Evil, Heaven or Hell.

You’re getting weird again, Reverend.

Weird or not, I think many of us folk are sadly deprived, spiritually and emotionally, because we do not allow the sacramentals to be as much about intimacy as they are about grace.

That’s it, I’m outta here.

Before you rush off to some lesser intimate thing, let me finish. At a time in my life when all sense of intimacy was dead, in my faith, my hope, and my love, two simple sacramentals revived my soul and my heart, my mind and my body.

I was at my wit’s end, so I made an all-night vigil in the parish church. There were no lights but the sanctuary lamp and some vigil candles.

I had taken a seat in the front pew and, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the huge, bigger-than-life crucifix there on the first pillar directly in front of me came into focus.

In that particular light it startled me at first, but every now and then I would get up from the pew and go wrap my arms around the foot of the cross as if seeking some kind of "sacramental" solace in my pain there in the dark.

And then, I don’t know what happened, but I found myself kissing the feet on the cross as if Jesus himself were right there. And it felt as normal as if I were kissing the little crucifix on my rosary or I was back in high school again.


In any case, there in the sacramental light of blessed candles, that simple kiss of the cross opened a door of intimacy between Christ and me.

It wasn’t as if I had not known Christ intimately before that. After all, I had been nourished on his word and his Body and Blood for decades already, and you can’t get more intimate than that. But this time it was almost as if he had kissed me through the sacramental cross! I had never experienced that before.

I just figured it out: You’re not full-blooded Irish, are you?

No, but I’m Irish enough to finally begin to appreciate that, among other things, the Holy Spirit had been sent to do this very thing: to take ordinary earthy stuff and turn it into new and wonderful, avenues of divine intimacy.

"Lips of the Holy Spirit?" "Divine intimacy?" Sounds pretty much like them darn gospel huggers ‘n kissers to me, Reverend.

No, it sounds to me pretty much like the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost. As I read it, there were "tongues" of fire, a quaking earth, and high winds which seemed to completely overcome all those folk in the upper room.

And when they finally got their bearings about them again, they started preaching divine and intimate things about God, things they had never known before.

And P.S., everybody understood it in their own tongue. It doesn’t sound to me like the Holy Spirit’s got a problem when it comes to created things being used as sacred instruments of divine intimacy.

Isn’t it sad to think how many Christians might go through their whole life without any sense of normal intimacy between them and God?

And yet for us people of Sacrament and Word, that intimacy is as simple as kissing a crucifix or a statue or a Bible or lighting a blessed candle.

Lighting a blessed candle? You mean I wouldn’t have to kiss anything? Now you got my interest, Reverend. Tell me more.


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