Looking for Signs

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An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.

Matthew 12: 39

Those who ask yet another sign of Jesus are in bad faith because they refuse the compelling and clear evidence before them. There is a lack of sincerity and humility in their inquiry. The interchange, and Jesus’ refusal to meet his questioners on a ground that is not truly honest, sincere, and humble, is a challenge to our own lives of presence, study, prayer, and contemplation.

Theodore Ryken, writing of his conversion experience at the age of 19, speaks of being brought low or put in his place (“vernedering”). A true student, or disciple, engages the teacher, be it life, text, or mentor, from a place of not knowing, of desire to learn about that of which she or he is not aware. When I attend, however, to my own speech and moments of encounter in the course of a day, I realize that often I am not listening with the ear of the disciple but rather “selling my own wares” or, as is said in the realm of business and commerce, “selling myself.” Rather than listening at each moment with the “ear of the heart” from the small and low place that I truly occupy, I attempt to impose my meager learning and understanding on the person or situation. So often I can’t read the signs of God’s presence and call because I am attempting to impress myself upon the situation.

Much of our civic and political discourse is broken down because there are so few learners and disciples. Everyone is an expert. Journalism as description of the many and complex facets of world events has been replaced by commentary. So, too, socratic dialogue and deep questioning has been replaced by the assertion of points of view. Much like the scribes and Pharisees in the time of Jesus, we demand a sign to overturn our biases and prejudices rather than humbly asking to be taught. If we truly believed that each moment of our day and each human encounter issued a call from God to us for our unique loving response, we would become “all ears.”

In his recent encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis challenges the human race to conversion by recognizing that the earth and all in it does not exist for us but rather we are to be responsible to and for the earth. We truly exist only to the degree that we live in deep and interdependent relationship with “God, with others, and with all creatures.” Our life is not a “self-assertion” to dominate others and the world; it is a call to love, which is to live responsibly toward a world that comes from and lives in the dynamism of the Trinitarian Formation Event. The deepest aspiration in us is the love that creates us and draws us always into our participation in and responsibility toward the whole.

Our forgetfulness of this has wrought havoc on our planet, and we currently live with all the signs that would humble us and bring us low if we could see and hear them. Yet, we continue to make noise, to pridefully assert ourselves and demand, as the scribes and pharisees, yet greater signs. We human beings have an enormous capacity for self-deceit. The person who is awake can recognize the signs of his or her own arrogance and pride in the reality that surrounds him or her. Those persons know of their own blindness, and so begin to see. As long, however, as we are convinced that we see, that we know what is right and best, we shall remain blind. “The earth and all that is in it”is a sign of God’s love and presence, a manifestation of God’s care for all. We may now be experiencing that the very future of the earth depends on our recognition of how little we know and of how much we need to be taught.

The divine Persons are subsistent relations, and the world, created according to the divine model, is a web of relationships. Creatures tend towards God, and in turn it is proper to every living being to tend towards other things, so that throughout the universe we can find any number of constant and secretly interwoven relationships. This leads us not only to marvel at the manifold connections existing among creatures, but also to discover a key to our own fulfillment. The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.

  Pope Francis, Laudato Si, 240

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2 Comments

  1. James Boyle says:

    Each event, each encounter calls us to a loving response, not to an arrogant, self-asserting attempt to dominate. We see all around us the havoc wrought as our culture puts its faith in continued dependence on the mantra “Well, we have the science…” No one asks whether we ought to do something just because we can do something. So we have the selling of fetal body parts, the murders in Chattanooga and all across the Middle-East, and other horrors too numerous to list. It is no wonder the Pope calls us to marvel at the manifold connections existing among creatures. First, however, we have to recover the realization of our status as creatures.

  2. John Hamilton says:

    Thanks for your comment, Jim. I think you are at the heart of the question when you say: “No one asks whether we ought to do something just because we can do do something.” How interdependent everything is ,and our distinctive humanness truly lies not in our power to dominate and control but in our abiity to respond to the demands of those relationships and connections, what we could call the demands of love.

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