Friday, May 11, 2007

The Heart and Mind of Bishop Robert Vasa (Don't miss it!)

This weeks column from the Catholic Sentinal, by Bp. Vasa

Signs of faith -- reminders of God's love for us
E-Column by Bishop Robert Vasa

I rediscover anew practically each day something that I have seen and heard a hundred times. On a recent drive to Ontario I passed through Hampton on Highway 20. It is easy to miss. It rivals Brothers in size and attractiveness. This trip, both coming and going, I took particular note of Hampton because of a pick-up with a sign standing in its bed. Hampton might have three buildings but the prominent one is a Diner. The sign in the pick-up: The best food in town. I have no reason to doubt the truth or accuracy of the statement but one must note that it makes absolutely no claim about the absolute quality of the food at this particular Diner. The statement is one about the relative quality of the food served at the Diner. Since there is no competition, the food at this particular Diner is the best in town by default. I very rarely stop for meals on the road and this trip was no exception but at very least that sign reminded me of the existence of Hampton, told me of the fact of the Diner and suggested the possibility that the food there would be, if nothing else, interesting. The sign is significant.

In each of my recent Confirmation tours I have quizzed the young people about the Sacred Signs of the Church, the Sacraments. I start with a definition of Sacrament. This is, as we all know, an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace. I ask them to name the Seven Sacraments. This they can flawlessly accomplish. Then I ask them to tell me the outward sign of each of the Sacraments. I ask them how they know that someone has been baptized, how someone knows that he has received Holy Communion, how a priest knows he is a priest, how someone in Confession knows he is forgiven, how a couple knows they are married, how they will know that they have been Confirmed, and how someone knows that he has received the Anointing of the Sick. The answer is that we know these things because they have been externally expressed in Sign and in Word. I am reminded of Pope Benedict's Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est: "The real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts - an unprecedented realism." (12) The Holy Father continues later: "Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history: he encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist." (17) These are the Signs of God's presence and His love. In the case of Eucharist it is quite clear that we need and definitely want the reception of the external Sign which is, in faith and objective reality, the best Food in town, but we often fail to recognize that the other external signs of the concreteness of God's love, particularly Penance, are likewise necessary. We want, and rightly expect, the priest to come to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick when a tragedy has occurred or when death is imminent. We recognize then the need for that concrete expression of God's love, mercy, forgiveness and healing. We are offered this same concrete expression of God's love, mercy, forgiveness and healing in the Sacrament of Penance and yet this Sacrament seems to lack for us the same sense of importance and urgency. A priest is a priest by virtue of the laying on of hands by a bishop, and a couple is married by virtue of their free and mutual exchange of consent to take and to hold each other without condition for the whole of their lives. These both entail definitive external expressions which manifest externally what happens internally, what happens spiritually, what happens in reality.

Our Churches are external signs of our Catholic presence. Our crosses and crucifixes are external signs and reminders to us of what Christ has done for love of us. We have many other signs, sacramentals, as well. Rosaries, medals, scapulars, statues, stained glass windows, pictures, icons, rings, and the like are all external expressions, manifestations and reminders of the fact that we are made for God, that He loves and redeems us and that, while we journey here on earth, our true home, to which each of these things points, ultimately is in heaven. We need these external signs especially the ones given to us by Christ which give us food and strength for the journey. It often happens that we cruise by these signs without giving them the attention which they deserve, without stopping to look at them, without recognizing how significant they can be for us.

At Ontario, Blessed Sacrament Parish (what an honor to be named after the Blessed Sacrament) the young people and the Youth Minister told me of the Diocesan Bread of Life Retreat held the previous weekend at Holy Family in Burns. In response to the question, "What was the best part of the retreat?," I was told "Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament." One parent told me that his son responded that the best part was Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. At the FaithWorks Presentation in Vale I asked a young woman who went to the Retreat the same question. The response, "Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament." This same Lord, present in the Most Holy Eucharist, abides in every tabernacle of each of our Churches and He is perpetually available for adoration. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is an added bonus, but this is not at all necessary for authentic Adoration. What happened at Retreat was that these young people and Youth Ministers were given the opportunity to stop and actually spend some focused, concentrated time before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and they discovered the Greatest Lover in the Universe. They came to appreciate much more fully the wonder and awe of the Blessed Sacrament. This Sign of Christ's Presence has never been far from them but they and we have cruised past it time and time again without noticing, without acknowledging, without recognizing who it was who was awaiting their and our arrival. Perhaps now these same youngsters can be a bit like a sign in the back of a pick-up calling attention to something easily missed. As I traveled closer to Burns and Ontario I again came to Riley with its famous sign, "Ya missed it!" Perhaps this can be a sign for us and a question: Did I miss Hampton? Did I miss Riley? Did I miss, this week, the ultimate Sign of God's love and the Reality of Christ's Presence?

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