Day 74–The Eucharist as a Sacramental Sign

   One of the things I have learned in my Eucharist class at the Angelicum is that I know almost nothing about the word “sign” and how it is used theologically, but that it is very rich and I am so intrigued. Thomas Aquinas says that all sacraments are “signs,” and that these are “sacred secrets.” This is so beautiful–a sacred secret! (ST. III.60.1)
    A sign is something that represents something else. A Byzantine icon, for example, mediates a heavenly presence. The sacramental notion of sign is that the sign is where God invites us to find union with Him. Signs guide Israel’s worship of Him. For example, the sabbath, it says in Exodus 31, is a “sign forever between [God] and the people of Israel that in 6 days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the 7th day he rested.” When a Jew observes the sabbath, he or she enters into that sign and grows in intimacy with God. All throughout the Scripture, God uses “signs” as to how to relate to God. The Gospel of John is called “the book of signs” and Christ is often called “a sign” although I have not explored that yet. One way I am thinking of it is to say that “God speaks the language of signs.” We have to learn to read and understand signs, or we will never relate to God.
    Interestingly, “signum” in Latin (word for sign) is synonymous with “symbolum” which in Greek is “symbolein.” In Greek it means “to yolk together.” This is explored by Avery Dulles, a Cardinal who used to teach at Fordham when Ron and I were there. This is the big moment for me when I think, “Yes, God yolks us to Him through signs.” So that means that you need to find signs, God’s signs, if you want to be close to him.
   Another example is marriage. Marriage, especially open to life marriage, is a sign of the Trinity. It is reflective of God’s total self-gift among the Persons of the Trinity. Marriage can be a “sign” of God’s love.
   I think that, different from sacramental signs, we can find signs in nature that are ways to find union with God. Poverty is a kind of sign–not a sacramental sign, because those are instituted by Christ. But Anthony in the Desert left comfortable Alexandria and went to the desert to find God–by participating in the poverty of Christ. For him, poverty was a “sign.”
   I believe that motherhood also has the chance to be a “sign”: a vocation in which to enter into the “being emptied out” for another person, as Christ was in his Passion and death (Philippians 2:6). I also believe that adoptive motherhood has a high “sign value,” in being able to reflect the blessing of human life.
   I would like to explore this much further, and the non-sacramental notion of sign. Are there things that have “sign value” that are not about relating to God? But that are about becoming your best self, becoming fully human? I will let you know when I find out!