Everywhere a Sign: Recognizing and Being Signs of God's Love

brother david henley with signDecember 2011

"Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind.
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?"
—Lyrics from the song "Signs"
by Les Emmerson

You can't go too many places today without seeing signs. Why do we need so many signs? Isn't there an app for that?

We see so many signs, everywhere we go, that many of the ordinary ones simply blend into the background. After we've seen the same billboard message half a dozen times advertising the same burger, our tendency is to no longer pay conscious attention to the message.

Although the stop signs we see every day are nearly universal in shape and color, they still stand out most of the time. However, too many accidents are caused by people who fail to see them or obey their message. Signs are important, but they aren't our destinations: they are placed along our paths to alert us, prepare us, or guide us to destinations.

dog signThe signs that I notice the most are the ones that have unique or distinctive messages. When I see a sign with a unique message, I wonder what inspired the writer to create that specific sign.... I once saw a sign on the inside of a church door that read, "Judas was the first person to leave Mass early." I wonder how many times people at that church slipped out of Mass right after Communion before the pastor posted that sign? Recently in eastern Kentucky, I saw a sign alongside the road that read, "Watch for Blind Dog." Unlike a "Deer Crossing" sign, that is one you don't see every day.

restroom signsSigns sometimes have to be explained to us so we do not misinterpret them. I find it amusing when a newer sign is posted to ensure the reader sees an existing sign. If people didn't see the first one, more than likely they aren't going to see the second one. Whose fault is it, the writer or reader, when a new sign has to be posted in order to explain an earlier one, such as a sign on a restroom door explaining who is allowed in that particular room?

I think many signs that tell us what to do or not to do
must have come about as reactions to previous incidents. They are like new laws that often come into existence because people want to prevent the recurrence of specific undesirable incidents or situations.

gas signsDuring the season of Advent, we are reminded to pay attention to the signs of the times. The Scripture readings at Advent Masses give us examples of people who paid attention to the signs of their times. John the Baptist served as a sign to those around him. The Gospel of Matthew says, "It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: ‘A voice of one crying out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord'" (Mt 3:3). Mary received a sign in the form of an appearance and announcement by the angel Gabriel, who said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God..." (Lk 1:30).

These were great signs pointing to the coming of God into our world. On Christmas we celebrate this one true sign of God's love. Unlike a prophet or angel, though, Jesus isn't a sign pointing us in the right direction; he is the real thing, a revelation of the Father.

Are we able to see signs of God's love today amid all the other signs and distractions in our lives? Do other people recognize us as signs of God's love by the way we live our lives? Are we aware of the signs guiding us to be signs of God's love as missioners among the poor and neglected—and calling us to specific vocations as priests or brothers? "Sign, sign, everywhere a sign..."

The most exciting signs I have seen this year are in the new Glenmary mission areas in East Tennessee. For the first time ever in Union County, for instance, there is a sign announcing the formation of a Catholic community (see below). Many places throughout the United States still don't have similar signs.

If you would like to see this sign in Tennessee in person or to visit another Glenmary mission, please contact our Vocation Office to schedule a mission trip.

Tennessee Mass sign

Read previous articles by Brother David about Glenmary, missionary life, discernment, vocations and formation.

This article appears in the December 2011 Vocation Office E-Newsletter.