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Fostering an Inclusive Faith: How to Make Catholicism More Tangible?

As we grow in our faith, it’s important to also consider those with different needs in their spiritual lives. Father Dave receives a question from Ignatz who says, “Being autistic, some of my perceptions of spirituality and religion are limited. I find that the way my mind works does not allow me to genuinely believe or practice something that is not tangible. Is it still possible for me to try or be included in religious spaces?”

Father Dave begins, “I’m glad that you’re asking a Catholic priest that, because I would say overwhelmingly, the answer is yes; it is of course possible for you to be included in religious spaces in a religious context.” He continues that Ignatz uses an important word for Catholics: tangible. 

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“For the Catholic Church, the tangibility is a very important piece for how we interact with God and with one another,” Father Dave says. “We would call ourselves sacramental Christians…but not just the seven sacraments that we can enumerate as Catholics; We are also sacramental in a broader sense. Fundamentally, because of the Incarnation, because God who was divine and transcendent chose himself to become like us and take on our humanness and everything that comes with that – he did that intentionally and purposefully in order to give us salvation.”

Father Dave continues, “The fact that God takes on our humanness, including all of our senses, we believe that that’s an important dimension of relating to God, because God chose first to do that, to relate to us and to save us.” He says that while prayer, reading Sscripture, and other more mediative elements of faith are important, “they would all be incomplete without the much more tangible and sacramental experiences.”

Diving into the physical aspects of the Seven Sacraments, Father Dave first highlights Baptism. “Through Baptism, we believe that we are incorporated into God’s family, into the body of Christ,” he says. “We do that by pouring water; A Baptism doesn’t work if we just think it, pray it or speak it. A Baptism for us must include that tangible experience of feeling water poured over our forehead or over our entire bodies.”

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Next, Father Dave discusses the Eucharist. “We call the Eucharist the summit, the high point, and the very source of our faith. That involves extending our hand or our tongue and actually physically, tangibly consuming that which we believe is bread that has been fundamentally changed to be the true presence of Christ. To contain within it the true presence of our Lord: body, blood, soul and divinity. Jesus himself said, ‘Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not have life within you.’” He also notes the Greek word that Jesus uses for “eat” translates to “chewing or gnawing.”

“[Sacraments] are not just theoretical. They’re not just in our brain, and they’re not even just in our heart. We would say that in order to profoundly experience God in a Catholic way, we are sacramental people, experiencing it tangibly, with our senses,” Father Dave underscores. “So overwhelmingly, I say to Ignatz that even with your autism, maybe even particularly because of your autism and need to experience things tangibly, there is absolutely a welcome place for you, particularly in the Catholic Church”