Wednesday, October 09, 2013

RCIA: Signs, Symbols, and Sacrament

Last night's RCIA topic was "Sign, Symbol, and Sacrament." My intention for the class was to develop a Catholic way of seeing the world around us. Just as a musician trains to hear the intricacies of music, or a surgeon trains in dexterity and deftness of hand, so must the Catholic train "to see" the world differently, to see how the "Grandeur of God" shines through it.

We live in a world of signs. Signs are objects that point away from themselves and tend to have one, relatively clear meaning. A STOP sign hardly calls for much interpretation; a check mark on an test records approval, a red-x an incorrect answer. Granted, many signs are ones we have, as a society, agreed upon in recognizing: Green means go, Red means stop, and Yellow means either "caution" or "hurry up!" There could have been different colors chosen, but we've settled on these three.

The next level down, symbols are more complex and involved signs. They can have more than one meaning and involve subjective evaluation and meaning. A blue ribbon may be a sign of success but, to a child who has trained and practice at running, it's symbolic of much hard work and effort. An old flower pressed between the pages of a book may be, to anyone else, just a relic of the past; to its owner, however, it's symbolic of a memorable day of first-love.

Within the Church, our Sacraments are symbols whose meaning depend not upon ourselves and our interpretation but on the person who stands at their center: Jesus Christ. Each Sacrament marks a profound way of Jesus entering into our lives. Instead of trying to fit the Sacrament into our conceptual scheme, the Sacrament draws us into the larger story of the Church, the Body of Christ.

I don't decide what a Sacrament means. The Sacrament reveals to me what I mean within the life of the Church, gathered by the Spirit into the Body of Christ.

Tad Guzie offers a lovely definition of Sacrament:
A sacrament is a festive action in which Christians assemble to celebrate their lived experience and to call to heart their common story. The action is a symbol of God's care for us in Christ. Enacting the symbol brings us closer to one another in the Church and to the Lord who is there for us. 
Note the core of his definition is how the Sacrament reveals how God cares for us in Christ. Christ who offers us the rebirth of Baptism, "washing" us into a new life with fellow believers and pilgrims. Christ who anoints us with oil as we Confirm our place with the assembled community. Christ who nourishes each day with his own body and blood in the Eucharist.

For me, the question we must confront always as Catholic believers is: am I weak enough to accept the Sacraments? Am I weak enough to allow the waters of baptism to wash me into a community, to live in a way focused not on myself and my desires but on the mission of the Church to bring good news to the world? Am I weak enough to realize that I cannot stand on my own, that I need support, weak enough to confirm my commitment to seeking my salvation with others? Am I weak enough to admit that I cannot feed myself, that the journey is too daunting even with the companionship of others, and only the "Bread of Angels" offered to me at the Eucharistic table is capable of sustaining my journey?

The Sacraments of the Church aren't talismans or magic rites we have created to make ourselves feel better. Instead, they are the rituals whereby we recognize where we stand in relation to the Holy Trinity who forever calls us into a relationship of love. A sacrament is not merely a symbol; it is the most excellent of symbols because its meaning comes not from us but from the author of all creation. It is through the Sacrament we are given privileged access into the story God is unfolding in history, a story we share as Church, a story we are charged with living out in "festive action" as we bring the Good News to the world.


Here is an outline of last night's presentation for anyone who is interested in how I structured the conversation
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