Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

No, I’m not referring to “long haired freaky people need not apply,” the sign referred to in
the song by Five Man Electrical Band. But sometimes, wouldn’t it be nice if we had
signs that were clear like that, especially from God? Signs that were clear in the sense
that we had clear direction with respect to what to do?

In the readings we had at daily Mass last week on Monday, Jesus, in response to a
demand from the Pharisees for a sign, states “no sign will be given…except the sign of
Jonah the prophet.” The point here is that God does not typically do overt signs like
sending kind of magician; but rather if you look deeply and take some time, there are
plenty of signs there. The sign of Jonah was resurrection; he went from the belly of the
big fish and being lost to a new life; the town he preached to, Nineveh, went from the
darkness of sin to repenting and converting in their ways.

How, then, does God speak to us? Well, I think if we look all around, we can see signs
of God in our lives.

When we want signs about what to do, where we ask God a direct question. How can
we know the answer?

For me, I think back to my journey to the priesthood. In college, I was active as a
Catholic, but I had a restless heart. I wasn’t quite sure what God was calling me to do.
But gradually, I discerned a call to the priesthood. The “signs” were the advice of a good
priest and confessor who helped me to understand that call. But in 2 subtle signs that I
remember looking back, one was in the cathedral. I was waiting to go to a dinner at the
residence of the archbishop for perspective seminary students. I was praying silently in
front of the statue of the Sacred Heart, and felt calm and peaceful, like I was just in the
right place at the right moment. The second was when I nearly didn’t go to seminary. I
sometimes brood excessively over a decision, and one morning found myself thinking I
just could not go to seminary so soon after college. (It was literally a few weeks
turnaround graduating in summer of 2001). Three times I attempted to call the seminary
to speak to the vice rector; three times I got his voice mail and was unable to reach him.
Calming down and thinking it over, I realized that this would be OK and while it was a
big unknown, I knew what I needed to do.

Sometimes though there are signs we least expect, when we aren’t asking God for a
sign, but they come along anyway. For me, this came during my first pastorate. There
were a lot of blessings, but also signs in my life where I knew that maybe I needed to
look at a new assignment, and that I had done what God wanted me to do. Making a
request for the new assignment, I was then sent to Saint Joseph’s 2 years ago. And
since then, there have been many signs that I truly believe I’m in the right place. I’m
overall much more happy and at peace, and I truly feel so connected to the parish like
being part of a big family. Sometimes things come along in life that tell us it’s time to
make a change in our job, or our lifestyle, and these are signs we have to read too.

We must remember too we can be a sign to other people. One of the big ways I’ve
learned about the faith is seeing it in action and lived out through people like my mom
and dad and grandparents. At funeral Masses, one of the things I reflect on is how our
loved ones who have died continue to inspire us to become better people. Even when
people drift from the faith, they may come back later in life or start thinking more about
how to be a better person or serve others because their parents and grandparents were
signs to them of how to live.

Lastly, sometimes prophets come to us in the form of other people. As I’ve discerned
where God is calling me, family, friends, and other priests have helped me quite a bit in
discernment. It’s important to have people who will “give it to us straight” and tell us not
what we want to hear but what we need to hear in life.

Indeed, signs are all around us. We spend a lot of time talking, but listening is even
more difficult. Spend time time in silent meditation in a church or in your living room at
night or outside. Talk to people who will help guide you. Pray. Look at the blessings
you’ve been given. And be patient. God is a part of your life and loves you so very much
– just because we can’t physically see Him doesn’t mean we can’t hear Him.
Blessings,

Fr. Paul