Signs of Christ abound all around us. However, the gifts of faith and wisdom are required before we can possess eyes with supernatural vision and hearts filled with supernatural love.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
12 February 2018
Today’s gospel provides us with a short narration in which the Pharisees are arguing with Jesus, presumably in an arrogant and accusative manner, demanding that he produce a heavenly sign in order to prove his divinity:
The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Then he left them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore. (Mk 8:11-13)
It’s the common struggle we frequently find in the gospels between the Pharisees and Jesus (or perhaps the scribes, chief priests, elders and Jesus). The Pharisees are suspicious of Jesus; they fear him; they view him as a troublemaker, or worse, as a blasphemer; they either don’t recognize him as the Messiah or flat-out reject his divine sonship.
Of course, it’s easy for us to look back on the situation from the perspective of 2000 years of faith-history and decree judgments about their problem: The Pharisees were hard-hearted folks more into rules, prescriptions, proscriptions and laying burdens on the shoulders of Jewish people than they were interested in repentance and love of God.
Anyway, the Pharisees demand—on their own terms and within their own determined constraints of time and space—to see a heavenly sign from Christ. That is a problem because we don’t make demands on God; it’s the other way around.
In the gospel, we get the sense that Jesus is frustrated because he “sighed from the depth of his spirit.” The Son of God incarnate is standing before them, the One who has already worked countless miracles, the One who has come down from heaven and assumed a human nature in order to redeem humankind; yet they fail to grasp the magnitude of the situation; they fail to recognize they are standing in the presence of God himself. The point is, the perfect image of the invisible Father is standing in their midst (cf. Col 1:15, 19).
Jesus tells the Pharisees that “no sign will be given to this generation.” He then gets into the boat and goes “off to the other shore.” He leaves the unbelievers and their demands for a supernatural performance to themselves.
I think it’s important to ask, do we demand signs from Christ that remain unrealized, unfulfilled, unseen? On the other hand, do we see signs of Christ? After all, they’re all around us.
What are a few of these signs? The Eucharist (the glorified and risen Christ who is himself bodily present sacramentally under the forms of consecrated bread and wine. Christ is truly and substantially present in the Eucharist), the divine Scriptures (Christ’s divine teaching written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), the crucifix (the greatest sign of the love of Christ for his Father and for us), the priest at Mass (who stands in Persona Christi, in the person of Christ as His minister who offers the sacrifice of the Mass in His name), and the assembly at Mass in whom Christ is present, and who are individual members of the one, physical body of Christ.
We could also list creation (the entire physical universe is created and sustained by God as it’s first-order cause; it is made in and through and for Christ and held in existence by him. See Col 1:16-17), people (created in the image and likeness of the Son of God and sustained by him), the human soul or spirit which cannot possibly be the product of evolution (because the soul is immaterial, its existence can be explained only by a direct act of creation by God at the moment of conception) and therefore owes its origin and existence to Christ.
What if you do not recognize any of these signs? Then perhaps repentance and a change of life are in order. After repenting and giving yourself over to Christ, the next step might be to pray for wisdom.
St. James offers this advice:
[I]f any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways. (Jas 1:5-9)
It’s worth noting that God’s gift of wisdom is not human insight or ingenuity or worldly knowledge. It’s a divine gift by which we rightly understand the nature of our human life in relation to God. Wisdom is knowledge apprehended by the light of faith.
One point St. James is making, is that if we desire the gifts of God, such as wisdom, we need to ask for these gifts from the perspective of faith. What is faith? Faith is a theological virtue (a free gift from God infused into the soul) by which the whole man entrusts himself entirely to God, giving full assent of intellect and will to Christ. The man of faith says to Christ, “I belong to you completely. I believe in you totally. I give my entire self and life, without reservation, to all that you teach through Tradition, Scripture and your Church.” Obviously, humility before God is an integral component of a lively, authentic faith.
Faith is a free gift that opens the way to heavenly gifts. Faith is a supernatural gift by which you are enabled by God to give yourself entirely over to God—something necessary to attain salvation.
Obviously, if you do not have faith in Christ, that must itself be the starting point. Pray in humility before God for the gift of faith. If you’re sincere, you’ll find it’s the always-answered and never-denied prayer. Christ never withholds faith from those who seek it with contrite (repentant) and sincere hearts. Then, give yourself entirely to Jesus Christ, Savior of the world (Jn 3:17). Be baptized in the Church and live the Catholic life to its fullest.
In living that life, you’ll find that signs of Christ abound.
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Photo Credit: Attribution: By Fyodor Bronnikov, (1827—1902) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.