Douglas Farrow’s Thoughts on Smudging and the Sacraments

An intriguing and insightful take here from Dr. Douglas Farrow, a fifth-generation Canadian and professor of theology and ethics at McGill university. My talk at our recent Wojtyla Conference was on the ‘Sacramental Nature of the Human Person’, and we are indeed sacramental by our very nature, not only seeing things as ‘signs’, but turning things into signs, for good or ill. We are either guided by God’s revelation, so led to heaven, or we are not, and so led astray. The missionaries to this fair land sought the good of the people, and suffered for it, many unto death. May their sacrifice continue to bear fruit.

Questions were raised about the smudging that accompanied the papal visit to Canada.  I can’t shed much light on that. Smudging is an ancient pagan sacramental with no very precise meaning, so far as I can tell, beyond bidding “negative energy” depart so that men may be at peace. What this energy is and how exactly it is banished, other than by good intentions or wishful thinking, I don’t know. It is all rather obscure to me, though perhaps a good psychological or sociological account of its use in this or that culture can be given. A good spiritual account is another matter, and here it must be said that the spiritually obscure is also the spiritually dangerous. Sacramentals can serve to hide, as much as to hallow, the truth. They can even corrupt or pervert it, should they stray, as they may, into support for idolatry.

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