Catholicism has a “sacramental” view of reality because it believes we can encounter God, the creator, in the abundant beauty of creation. The God we worship is not impossibly distant and unreachable, but draws near to us in a sky blanketed with stars on a cloudless night, in the flamboyant colors of autumn, in the quiet of a gray November day, and especially in our neighbors, each of them a unique and irreplaceable image of God.
As our reading today from the book of Wisdom attests, if we “seek God and wish to find him,” we can easily do so each day if we only open our eyes to the beauty that surrounds us. But sometimes, as this passage suggests, we can be so captivated by “the greatness and the beauty of created things,” whether in nature, other creatures, or the people we love, that we don’t look beyond them to the God who made them; we see the gift, but forget the gift-giver. The remedy to this shortsightedness is to remember that the purpose of any sacrament is to bring God closer to us so that we might draw closer to God. If we truly see the beauty and goodness of creation, we will also see the unsurpassable beauty and goodness of the creator.
This might steady us in light of the weird and unsettling passage from the gospel of Luke, so full of ominous warnings and baffling declarations. Jesus suggests that we will likely be no more prepared for the coming of the Son of Man at the end of the world than people were in the days of Noah and the flood or when “fire and brimstone rained from the sky” to destroy the inhabitants of Sodom. Those unsuspecting folks were so taken up with the ordinary things of life (“eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building”) that they lost sight of what really mattered. As Jesus observes, they were so intent on preserving their lives that they lost them.
Perhaps the only way to be ready for the coming of the Lord is to seek him every day in the world around us. After all, in a truly sacramental world the Lord isn’t about to come, he is with us every moment of our lives.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor Emeritus of Theology & Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the extended Passionist family.