Monday, December 27, 2010

Signs

[Please read the previous post, Marriage and the Mass, before reading this one.]


The arms of the Church as represented in St. Peter's Square

The signs of bread and wine

At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ's Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord's command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion: "He took bread...." "He took the cup filled with wine...." the signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ; they continue also to signify the goodness of creation.

 – Catechism of the Catholic Church (par. 1333)

If you read my previous post, it should have left you with a question.

"What is a sign?"

The Bible is full of signs, so this should not be a new question. But then many times we don't think too deeply about what we are reading. Or at least we don't question it.

But the Bible is meant to be questioned. Not in the sense of a disbeliever; not even in the sense of doubting.

But in the sense of the believer searching for the truth.

The New Testament begins with a series of signs.

And from there it reveals their meanings.

"But, what is a sign?"
And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
 – Luke 2:10-12
The angel gave the shepherds a sign: "a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."

Yes, we all know what a sign is in our everyday world. It is a symbol. It points us towards something. It reveals a greater meaning.

The ruins of the Roman Colosseum
A sign is a bridge between one world and another. In common usage, it connects the world of words and images with the world of thoughts and ideas; it is a bridge between the physical reality that we experience through our senses and the interior reality of the mind.

The signs in scripture are meant to communicate not to our minds, but to our hearts and souls. They connect the physical world to the spiritual world.

The Biblical signs are outward physical manifestations of an inward spiritual reality.

And so the angel gave the shepherds a sign. It is a sign that reflects a spiritual reality.

The Book of John reveals that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us". This is the meaning of the angel's sign given to the shepherds.

But John does more than just explain the meaning of this sign to us; he also uncovers and reveals the spiritual reality hidden behind the sign. This is an example of a revelation. A message from God.
The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
 – John 1:9-13
The Eucharist is a sign.

It is an outward physical manifestation of an inward spiritual reality.

Marriage is a sign.

It is an outward physical manifestation of an inward spiritual reality.

The New Testament begins with a multitude of signs.

An angel appears to Zechari'ah; a child is born to the aging and barren Elizabeth; an angel appears to the Virgin Mary; a child is born in a manger; an angel warns Joseph in a dream; John baptizes in the Jordan river.

And suddenly the meaning of all these signs becomes clear when Jesus is baptized by John and the Holy Spirit appears and the voice of the Father is heard by all.

"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Another sign from Heaven. But this one is unmistakeable.

And then more signs as Jesus performs miracles – the water becomes wine, the blind see, the crippled walk, lepers are healed.

Miracles are outward physical manifestations of an inward spiritual reality.

And still the Pharisees asked Jesus to provide them with a sign.

"Rabbi, give us a sign."

And Jesus replied, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah."

And this in itself is a sign.

When the Devil tempted Jesus in the desert, He replied: "You shall not tempt [test] the Lord your God."

And yet we all keep asking for a sign – another sign from God.

The Church is a sign.

It is an outward physical manifestation of an inward spiritual reality.

Over the past two thousand years, the Church has persevered. It has weathered the storms. And it has emerged alive and vibrant, with renewed vigor; ready to fight the new and powerful demons and dragons that challenge its authority and its existence.

I'm sure that there is no one that understands better the importance of signs to the life of the Church than our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. When he celebrates the Mass every word, every action becomes an outward sign and expression of a hidden spiritual reality, which is the real presence of Jesus Christ.

He is at the helm of the ship which is the Catholic Church. He has guided us through these dark and turbulent times by the light of the Holy Spirit. God bless the Pope!

The Pope is also a sign. He is the Pontifex Maximus. A Latin term that literally means "the greatest bridge-maker". He is the Vicar of Christ. Like the father is to the family, the Holy Father is to the Church. He is the greatest authority and as such has responsibility for the well-being of the Church. His authority flows from God. And so he is for the Catholic Church a sign; a bridge between the Kingdoms of Heaven and Earth.

2 comments:

  1. I just realized that this post is in harmony with the Christmas season as celebrated by the Church. The season begins on Christmas Day with the birth of Christ and ends with the celebration of the baptism of Christ by John on January 9.

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  2. UPDATE: I added a citation of John 1:9-13 to the article. I also made some other minor changes.

    Notice that in John 1:9-13 it takes us from the birth of Christ (Christmas) to the institution of the Eucharist by Christ at the Last Supper. And even beyond that to the process of rebirth which is the Resurrection (Easter Sunday).

    "The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

    ReplyDelete