I've decided to submit a paper to a conference in the fall on the legacy of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit scientist and theologian who drew strongly links between science (in his case paleontology) and religion. My basic premise is that de Chardin's theology can bring a new perspective to sacramental theology, particularly when viewed through an Augustinian lense.
De Chardin speaks passionately of the tangible encounter with God:
By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us and moulds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers. In eo vivimus. As Jacob said, awakening from his dream, the world, this palpable world, which we were wont to treat with the boredom and disrespect with which we habitually regard places with no sacred association for us, is in truth a holy place, and we did not know it. Venite, adoremus!
That vivid image of being assailed by the divine, in everything we touch and that touches us, drives me back to Augustine who saw sacraments as the visible signs of invisible grace. I want to treat of things "sacramental" rather than of the Sacraments (the seven of which the Baltimore catechism -- and the Council of Trent -- say: an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace). Sacraments, with both a small "s" and a big "s", work. They are, as theologians are wont to say, efficacious. De Chardin's sees the universe as inescapably sacramental. The grace pounds at us. Augustine implies a similar outlook, that God and his grace seeps through the physical visible signs.
Each sacrament has its proper matter and form (res et verba). Baptism's water and invocation, "I baptize you in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." are both necessary to bring about the grace of the sacrament. Sacramentals too have may have matter and form, such as the blessed water we use to make the sign of the cross as we enter or exit a church. Would we see matter and form differently from de Chardin's perspective?
At the cemetery, as we stood around my mother's grave, her pastor blessed her one last time, sprinkling water over the casket (as the rite demands). Sprinkle does not do justice to Fr. Ray's blessing. The water poured over her casket, sparkling in the sun like our tears, washing the dust off the top. It was not just grace brought forth, but abundant grace. Full and overflowing.
Sometimes I think we are chintzy with the matter of the sacraments, as if we must somehow horde the grace, or there won't be enough. De Chardin pushes us to consider the abundance of the created world, and to use that created reality to mould ourselves into image and likeness of our creator.
I've got two days to polish this thesis into a 200 word abstract. In search of grace....