Drawing on the nourishing nature of the Eucharist and the cleansing of baptismal waters, Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan pointed out that such common themes convey universal meaning to believers of many cultures.
Archbishop Onaiyekan, who is from the Archdiocese of Abuja, Nigeria, delved into the symbolic nature of the seven sacraments during his July 13 keynote address at the 10th National Black Catholic Congress.
The symbols of the church convey the presence of Christ in our lives, said the archbishop, who has served as copresident of the African Council of Religious Leaders.
“To be Catholic is to really believe that Jesus is at work in his church,” he said.
He said baptism is the foundation of all the other sacraments and cleanses people of original sin. The sacrament of confirmation confirms the baptismal promises. It is needed, he said, because many Catholics have been baptized as infants rather than choosing to become Catholic as adults.
Archbishop Onaiyekan said Catholics should see the Eucharist as an active force in their lives that calls them to address the growing gap between the rich and poor. The sacrament of reconciliation, he said, helps prepare people to receive the Eucharist. He noted that anointing of the sick can heal both physical and spiritual ailments.
He said it’s important to remember that a married couple receives grace from marriage.
“You are going to heaven because of your marriage, not in spite of it,” Archbishop Onaiyekan said, drawing laughter.
In addition to marriage, he spoke about vocations contained in the sacrament of holy orders, which confers the three degrees of deacon, priest and bishop. The archbishop said he is impressed by the number of married deacons in the United States and said young men should consider the priesthood.
“All the baptized have a share in the charism of the Lord Jesus,” he said. “You are all priests, in a sense.”