Don’t miss the signs

Signs and symbols are key to Catholic spirituality and ritual.  Using John’s Gospel as a text, Archbishop Robert  LeGall, OSB, Archbishop of Toulouse, France spoke of how gestures within our liturgies and rituals open the believer up to a greater perspective, a reality that takes us beyond the gesture itself. Archbishop LeGall is one of a number of bishops who are serving as catechists at the Congress.


Archbishop LeGall pointed out that in Greek, symbol means “to put together” and in John’s Gospel, particularly in chapters 1-12, Jesus is using gestures and signs to help people put together the concrete symbol with the deeper meaning. By way of example, he spoke of the parable of the multiplication of the loaves.  The miracle of providing enough food to feed the people gathered was not the main point. Jesus was preparing people to make the connection between he providing bread and he who would become bread. The Archbishop reminded us that indeed, Jesus later reprimanded the people for missing the point, they couldn’t get beyond the obvious and the concrete.  Jesus says “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26).

To appreciate our sacraments, to grow in the spiritual life, we need to explore the signs and symbols of our faith–we need to go deeper and put together the “material and the mystical” so to speak! Another example in the talk was from John 19 in which we read “And bowing his head, he handed over the Spirit.” On first reading we understand that he died, reading this with the eyes of faith, we are invited to see in this gesture, that Jesus is also, in his death, transmitting his Spirit.

What helps us catch the signs? How do we begin to open ourselves up to a greater perspective? Not surprisingly, the Archbishop suggested full and active particpation in the liturgy and the practice of Lectio Divina which helps us to read Scripture prayerfully and to listen in a way in which we begin to see differently.

In the question and answer period that follwed, a young man asked if we also face a challenge in the reality that not only do believers need to explore the meaning of symbols,  we seem to face the same problem in secular culture as well. Some gestures and symbols go unrecognized for their deeper meaning.  Do you think this is true? How have you come to understand the symbols of our faith in a way they have brought a new perspective?

The Congress is unfolding in a really beautiful way. As we contemplate the Eucharist as the source and summit of the faith, we are doing that by focusing on its relationship to one of the other sacraments on each day. Monday was Baptism, Tuesday, through Marriage, today we celebrated Holy Orders. Thursday is Reconciliation and Friday, the Sacrament of the Sick.

(the photo is a shot of particpants enjoying lunch on the  Green and is courtesy of the Congress Press staff)

One Reply to “Don’t miss the signs”

  1. Symbols of meaning are God’s ways of talking to us wordlessly. The beauty of a smile, or a sunset, is just a couple of examples.

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