Why must we be well-disposed to benefit from the sacraments? (and personal crisis of faith)

Please help me to understand and accept what appears to be a kind of “having your cake and eating it too” (non-falsifiability in phrasing) problem in the Catechism Statements are made like,

[1128] the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: “by the very fact of the action’s being performed”), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. …] Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.

[1129] The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.

[1131] The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace …] They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

The argument strikes me as almost circular:
*]You must receive the Holy Spirit’s grace in the sacraments necessary for salvation.
*]To benefit from the Holy Spirit’s grace bestowed in sacraments, you must be in good disposition.
*]To be in good disposition, you must receive grace from the Holy Spirit.

I suppose the resolution is that God gives one grace to be well-disposed towards the sacraments, and then even more grace via the sacraments. Something like driving towards an on-ramp, and then accelerating via the on-ramp onto the highway… I suppose my real problem, then, is not the reasoning here, but that I just don’t seem to have received the prior grace needed, so I’m ready to quit the sacraments all together. (To make matters worse, I’ve already been Confirmed, so I don’t understand why this lack of faith …)

Additionally, this claim is apparently false:

[1129] The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God.

I don’t see that I have been transformed or healed. I suppose the resolution here is that they meant “spiritual healing”, i.e. absolution from sin, the purification of Penance, and the sanctification of the Eucharist.

I would appreciate your help in resolving these intellectual difficulties. If I have myself resolved them with my proffered answers, then I would appreciate your prayers.

Proofreading, I don’t think I’ve articulated all the problem I have with this section: I try to be well-disposed, i.e. Confession before Mass, reading Bible & Catechism, praying throughout the day, trying to do spiritual and corporal works of mercy, participating in Mass, praying beforehand, praying afterwards, etc., yet I only seem to have increasingly less faith. Then I go to receive Communion and want to be healed and tell myself it’s Jesus but remind myself to be open to God’s will, not my will, and then pray that if it’s not God’s will for me to be healed that He tell me why or when, and then I receive the Eucharist and it’s as if I’ve just been kidding myself and it’s in reality only a piece of bread. Then I later try to talk myself into thinking I’m just not ready to be healed yet, but I still don’t know how to distinguish my own thoughts from the Holy Spirit’s guidance, even though I’ve prayed that the Holy Spirit guide me, etc.

So, basically, this section of the Catechism talks like the sacraments actually do something if you’re well-disposed, “guarantee”, but they seem to have done nothing and I don’t know how to be any more well-disposed. Moreover, I don’t see that everyone in my life is generally holier than they were previously as a consequence of receiving the sacraments over time. Is it reasonable to think that all the fruit they’re bearing and holiness they’re increasing in is invisible? Or is it reasonable to think that most everyone in my life is not well-disposed to the sacraments? Aren’t we supposed to know people by their fruit? Yet the people in my life are generally the same, it seems, not changing over time to greater holiness.

I’m honestly beginning to feel like a hypocrite if I continue participating in the Mass, educating children, and calling myself a Christian, because at this point I think I might actually be surprised if I were to die and find myself facing God. At this point I think I want God to exist but no longer believe He does, even though I continue praying, asking for more faith, frequenting the sacraments, etc., because I cannot understand what it means to call a silent, absent being ‘Father’. Or if he’s not silent because He talks to me in the Bible, then I don’t understand why His only communication to me is a largely arcane and archaic collection of documents from 2,000+ years ago.

I believe it refers to the fact that you can’t receive something if you are already full of something else. The argument would more likely end with:
“To be in good disposition, you must **be open to responding to **grace from the Holy Spirit”.

Receiving grace does not mean we will witness or experience miracles, healings, or anything else. Those are just the dessert of Christianity…and some of us don’t get dessert…we just get the meat and potatoes.

Is it reasonable to think that all the fruit they’re bearing and holiness they’re increasing in is invisible? Or is it reasonable to think that most everyone in my life is not well-disposed to the sacraments? Aren’t we supposed to know people by their fruit? Yet the people in my life are generally the same, it seems, not changing over time to greater holiness.

Sure, it’s reasonable to think they simply aren’t properly disposed. If a person isn’t growing in faith, their faith is essentially dying, isn’t it? If something stops to grow, don’t we usually see it as being dead, or dying? Why is faith any different? But I would focus more on myself, than on others, on this point. If your own faith is waning, you couldn’t very well expect to be a good judge of the condition of anyone else’s could you?

So sorry your are going through this, but suspect everyone does, I have found help in those circumstances that St. Ignatius of Loyola has good advice on getting through dryness. St. Francis de Sales has good advice for ordinary people as well. One of the saints, I forget which, speculated that when we experience this kind of desolation God is so close and brilliant for us that we can’t see him. Like looking directly at the sun shining directly on us is impossible because it is so bright. These are things that have helped me. I hope they might help you also, my friend.

…let’s start with your chosen screen name… you seem to believe in a higher purpose… though, is that one of self-sufficiency (no need of God) or is that of Faith in God’s plane of existence (a better world/existential plane)?

There is a difference… if you believe yourself to be complete and fulfilled then no external stimuli will ever bring you to Believe in God.

If you espouse knowledge/ritual with access to God… ditto; some of the greatest minds/personalities in the world reject/ed anyone but themselves as their superior.

…so it comes to ignorance and humility:

And said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew 18:3)

But Jesus said to them: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such. (St. Matthew 19:14)

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; (1 Corinthians 3:19)

I am sure that you are not the first (or last) person in the world who have had difficulties… and coming to such a thought (resolve) is also not unique… however, acting upon it is different than asking God to take you away–the first is an unforgivable sin, the latter may be your spirit’s anguish seeking the Holy Spirits aide…

…“disposed…” Here’s how Christ put it: this person of note gave a party, invited his peeps, they all dissed Him; he then opened the villa to all… checking the scene He noticed a guy that did not even bother to put on his besties; He ordered to have the interloper gagged and bagged and put out on the curb!

We, of our own, cannot merit Salvation–Jesus Purchased it for us.

We, of our own, cannot cleanse ourselves from our impurities–Christ’s Blood Cleanses us.

We, of our own, do not have life (Spiritual/Immortal)–Jesus Christ Gives Himself, His Body and Blood, to us at Mass, every day.

…but, you would say: 'yet, we are sinners… Yes, that is why Christ has left us His Church and the Sacraments…

…slow down… begin by seeking a Spiritual counselor (a Priest from your parish)… don’t work so hard in knowing God at your terms… begin a prayerful life not a commerce exchange (I do this, God gives me that…)… study each point (that you are wrestling with) individually…

Maran atha!


Hi ethereality,

From my quick estimation, this is not primarily a problem of intellect but one of will.

However, it would be helpful for you to know a few things - first, this is not an abnormal experience/phenomenon. Second, the real world of the spirit is silent and imperceptible as a norm. Third, yes, God uses grace to prepare us for grace, and we can leave it at that. The sign that grace is operating in one’s life is, according to all the spiritual masters, a detachment from sin and the world and an attachment to virtue and the Lord. In other words, if one is not increasing in virtue and holiness, it’s a sign that he is either not cooperating well enough with the grace indwelling in his soul (his own fault) or that he has closed himself to grace altogether (his own fault again).

In this time of dryness, pain, and confusion, you can earn a lot of merit by simply committing to persevering no matter what. You will show then that you love God for God (and develop in such love), not for His gifts.

Go to confession, go to Mass, pray, sacrifice, persevere, repeat.

Being well-disposed is similar to consenting to receive God’s graces. If you consent enthusiastically to a Sacrament and prepare as well as you can, of course you will have more capacity to accept the graces being poured upon you.

Of course, the good news is that if you weren’t well-disposed for a Sacrament, you can become well-disposed later on. And then you get all the graces you couldn’t get before!

The other good news is that, as you grow in virtue or contrition or what-have-you, you can also be gaining capacity to receive graces. Sp you can get even more graces now, and even more graces from before, too!

Now… that doesn’t mean that you will necessarily feel holier. You may feel more like a terrible sinner and worm, because suddenly you can notice more of the stuff you’re doing wrong. (Like somebody who improves in art - suddenly you’re not happy with your early work, even though it was the best thing you could have done at the time, and you used to think it was pretty darned good.) Or you might appreciate God’s greatness more, and therefore feel worse about yourself in comparison. This stuff happens. It is all part of a growth process, and some parts of that process are more enjoyable than others.

And yes, spiritual dryness is one of the less fun parts of prayer life. But if prayer is an exercise program, there are going to be times when God helps you lift the weights and other times when He lets you do it, even though He’s keeping a close eye on you from behind. Those are the times when you are growing in the strength of your faith and love, but all you can feel are the painful muscles and the annoyance of trying to keep going.

This is not the time to change anything or try to do something harder. This is the time to just keep going with what you’ve been doing, trusting God.

I forgot to mention the most important thing. You can get advice from your priest about your prayer life, or from someone else who is qualified as a spiritual advisor, or even from a wise friend or family member. Sometimes we can’t “diagnose” our own problems, or we’re doing something obvious that other people can see and we can’t.

If you can’t get a spiritual advisor, then books by saints about prayer, or learning about the lives of saints who remind you of yourself, can be a big help. Heck, you can ask any of the saints for some intercession and advice. The whole “cloud of witnesses” are your brothers and sisters, and they want to help you and cheer you on.

How am I to hear their advice and acknowledge their cheer? According to e_c,

When your conscience urges you toward virtues you didn’t think you were capable of, and you can carry them out, you can be assured of the efficacy of grace in your life. That is the primary voice and litmus test of spiritual growth.

You are grossly over-thinking this. It is simple. Why complicate it?

  1. Baptism: state of grace.
  2. Sin: fall from grace
  3. Sacrament of reconciliation: restoration to state of grace.
  4. Repeat as necessary.

Maybe a change in “why” I’m doing these holy things.

I believe this is best answered by one question … for what reason am I doing all this?

To become holy is not one that would satisfy me. To love Jesus and to love others is more to my liking. Then it makes sense.

Yes, because when we love Jesus, we want to know Him better. We want to know and love all His friends. We want to do the stuff He does. We want to become better people for the sake of the One we love. “Become holy” is a lot harder to picture.

Sometimes, doing things for other people makes us feel better too. Of course, it helps to be prudent about what you do for them, but it helps. And if you’re feeling depressed, keeping up with a routine and with responsibilities is one way to help depression.

Also, make sure you get outside in the sunlight and fresh air. If your schedule doesn’t permit sunlight, make sure you are taking Vitamin D (and calcium). You need Vitamin D (and the other vitamins) in order for your body to work, as well as to be able to feel half-decent.

St Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, Part 3, Question 69, Articles 9 and 10, discusses how insincerity on the part of the person being baptized hinders the effect of the sacrament of Baptism, and how the sacrament takes effect when the insincerity ceases. I suppose the same is true of the other sacraments as well.

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