Moral Elevation and the Sacrament

Conservative pundit Arthur C. Brooks recently wrote a fascinating op-ed in the New York Times entitled The Trick to Being More Virtuous.  In that post, Brooks talks about an experience he had when speaking at BYU. After he spoke, he was given a variety of BYU swag including a briefcase with a prominent BYU logo. Although not a member of the Church or an alumni or BYU, Brooks decided to carry around the briefcase. He noticed that as he did so, he subconsciously and at times consciously began to act more kindly to others and to try to “live up to the high standards of Mormon kindness, or at least not besmirch that well-earned reputation.” As Brooks describes it, “Almost like magic, the briefcase made me a happier, more helpful person — at least temporarily.”

Brooks goes on to describe a psychological phenomenon called “moral elevation” where those who are exposed to examples of positive behaviors and emotions tend to emulate those behaviors. Brooks goes on to apply this concept to political discourse and urges his readers to be a good and virtuous example even amidst the tumult and rancor of contemporary politics. Brooks message is needed and powerful, and I urge everyone to read his thoughtful piece.

Reading Brooks article got me thinking about the role of moral elevation in the church and in our lives. As I did so, I thought about the perfect example of the savior. Clearly, if any one person or thing can elevate our sights or inspire us to greatness, it is the incomparable example of the savior of mankind. As we remember how he overcome temptations or responded with charity to rancor and vituperation, we too can be inspired and uplifted.

This helped me think about the sacrament that we partake of in church each week in a new light:

“O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.”

During the sacrament we take upon ourselves the name of Christ and covenant to remember him always. As we wear the name of Christ and remember him in our day to day conduct, his example will uplift and inspire us. The sacrament itself is a weekly token or physical reminder of the savior and his perfect example.

However, something is unique about the sacrament and the savior’s atonement. Unlike any other source of moral elevation, the atonement provides not merely a reminder of our goals and aspirations, but the means by which we may truly become transformed and sanctified. Unlike Brook’s BYU briefcase, the impact of remembering the Savior and his atonement is not temporary or transitory. The atonement is a power which can propel us upward to heights we never could achieve on our own.

I am grateful for the weekly opportunity to partake of the sacrament, as well as other sources of moral elevation in the Church which help us remember our covenants and strive to be more like the savior (temple garments for instance are another very tangible daily reminder of our covenants. We need these daily and weekly reminders of our savior, because we are quick to forget and easily drawn in by the temptations of the world. We need him in our lives every hour of every day. By his grace, we will be uplifted and transformed, of this I bear witness in the sacred name of Jesus Christ.

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