March 1, 2, & 3, 2009
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Joseph
Bishop Patrick J. McGrath
Listen to it here, or read text below.
Even God uses signs to show us our path and to direct us on our way through this life. Noah saw the sign of the “rainbow” after the flood. It was the sign of God’s covenant, God’s promise that he would always show mercy to all of creation. It was the sign that allowed Noah to live constantly in hope, no matter how bad things seemed to be. God’s signs are everywhere for those who have the eyes of faith to see and recognize them.
But today/tonight, my friends, we celebrate something deeper than a sign. In the Catholic tradition, we often use the words “sign” and “symbol” interchangeably. But there is an important difference between the two. Signs point us to another object or person. Signs represent something else. A stop sign at an intersection means stop your car. A reserved sign on a chair means the seat belongs to another person. A rainbow means the rain has ended and God has promised mercy. Your signature on these pages represents you and your promise.
Signs then remind us of other things. Symbols, however, become the things they represent.
In our Catholic faith, we have many symbols that embody the presence of Christ. First is the symbol of the Church itself—the People of God—who are the human presence of Christ in the world. When the Church prays together, we see Christ most clearly. When the People of God daily live their faith, we see Christ in our world. Dear catechumens, you became part of this symbol when you were accepted by the Church and signed by the cross of Christ.
Next, we have the symbol of the Word of God in Scripture which is God’s voice speaking to us. When we hear the Scriptures, we hear Christ. When we see the Gospels, we see Christ. In the “Word” Christ loves us, teaches us, feeds us, and draws us closer to himself.
Then we have the symbol of the ministers of the Church, the shepherds who guide us. They become Christ, the Good Shepherd, for they lay down their lives for others. These ministers are your pastors and priests; your deacons and catechists, your parents and sponsors; they are your godparents who will accompany you for the rest of your lives. I pray, that I, your Bishop, am also a clear symbol of Christ for you, not because I am perfect or more special, but because you will know that Christ cares for you by the words I speak and the deeds I do. By my love for you, I hope that you will know Christ’s love for you and for all people.
Finally, we have the symbol of the Eucharist—the true presence of Christ given to us at this altar. Here at this table, all the symbols combine—the Church, the Word, the ministers, and the Eucharist—to reveal to us God’s presence in our midst. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we do not have only signs that remind us of God’s promise. We have God’s very promise itself, here in our hands, in our eyes, in our ears, and in our hearts. We become what we eat. We become God’s promise—God’s symbol of mercy—for all the world.
Dear catechumens, when you are baptized in the font—the symbol of God’s living water, of the death of your old self, of your rebirth in the womb of the Church—you will become symbols of Christ. You will be what the saints have called, “little Christs.” For in fact, that is what it means to be called Christian.
You will be “little Christs” because, already, your godparents have seen God at work in your lives. They will testify that they have seen God working in you because you have listened and responded to God’s Word in the reading of the Scriptures and in your own daily prayer. They have seen the signs of Christ already at work in you because you have opened your ears to God’s voice and have spoken in return words of faith, love, hope, and thanksgiving.
In a few moments, you will give me your name. You will show me your sign—your promise “to be Christ” in everything you do—and I in the name of the Church will give you a new name, the name of “Elect,” the Chosen Ones. Yet this name is still only a sign of something greater yet to come.
Once you confess your faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and enter into those waters of baptism, you will be given the name of Christ. You will receive new ears to hear the voice of God and a new tongue to speak as Christ spoke. Through the anointing with the oil of Chrism, you will see the world with new eyes, the world as God sees it, as a world worth loving and saving. And through the Eucharist we share, you will receive the very real Body and Blood of Christ so that you may become, in everything you are, the presence of Christ for others.
Let the Church, all of us, rejoice for God has shown again the signs of his love in the presence of these catechumens. Let us give thanks to God who has not forgotten his people, who, in the storms of our lives, continues to place a rainbow in the sky, a reminder that in this diverse people, of many colors and languages, stories, hopes, and dreams, there are ever-present signs of God’s merciful and boundless love. Let all God’s faithful people remember who they have become—“little Christs,” other Christs, for the life of the world.