Catholics like smells n’ bells.
If you are Catholic (or you have a Catholic friend), you’ve probably seen them with various Catholic paraphernalia. It could be a cross or a rosary or a small statue. Saint Christopher medals in cars are popular.
I’ve worn my brown scapular for well over 20 years. That might not seem like an accomplish, but it is the same scapular. Yes, reluctantly I’ve washed it, once or twice a year. But it’s survived high school, college, world travels, marriage, and now two kids. It flops out when I exercise, and rarely do I fall asleep without it.
The brown scapular is one of the myriad of sacramentals of the church. “Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.” (CCC 1677). To keep the apologetic simple, sacramentals are meant in daily life to remind us of the love God has for us. The scapular is a particularly popular sacramental because it comes with a promise: he or she who dies wearing the scapular will not suffer the flames of eternal damnation.
Admittedly, I sometimes wonder if I’m not a bit superstitious about my scapular. My heart races a bit when I reach around my neck and don’t find it there. I’ve wondered a few times if I’d slip and fall in the shower and die without the scapular on. God is looking right for the moment to get me.
I don’t know why I’d think God would want to find a loophole. That’s not very charitable. But I also don’t know why I might believe a simple piece of cloth could save me from His judgment. That’s not very rational.
No. The scapular around my neck is a daily reminder of the price God paid to reconcile the world to Him. It’s also a very tangible consideration that I, through the Sacraments, participate in the fruits of that redemption. I find the reminder helpful throughout the day, especially at the beginning and the end, when getting dressed. My mind flutters with thousands of things that the scapulars appeal is precisely to remind me of what life is supposed to be all about.
These days we Catholics would do well to recover sacramentals like the scapular. For starters we need the constant reminder of God’s love for us. That in turn should remind us to encounter Him more frequently in prayer and in the sacraments. Countless times after seeing my scapular I remember “When exactly was the last time I made it to confession?”
And that’s the point. Our God is a God not seen by our eyes. It is up to us, with the help of the Church, to leave a trail of breadcrumbs in our life to remember our journey to Him each day. The fear at not finding my scapular around my neck is a deeper worry: have I forgotten about Him?