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“Signs!” by Leo Aliaga, Fiat Ventures

First Sunday of Advent

Have you ever thought about how many signs you may run into in one day? There are signs at traffic lights that instruct drivers, pedestrians crossing the street. In school, we see different flyers and announcements on walls and bulletin boards. These signs allow us to draw certain conclusions. If you look into the sky and see an incoming set of dark clouds, there is a good chance it’s going to rain. Signs help us get an idea of what is coming.

This week’s Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent talks about signs, particularly the signs leading up to the end of time and Jesus’ second coming. Not what you’d expect, right? Shouldn’t the readings be more Christmas-y? Well we get to that in a few weeks, a little further into Advent. But every year, we kick off Advent looking not to Jesus’ first coming at Christmas, but rather his second coming.

And believe it or not, there’s even a 3rd focus of Advent; besides Jesus’ first coming at Christmas and his second coming at the end of time, there are tons of ways that he comes to us every day. But how do we know when those times are? What signs should we be looking for?

Sometimes the Holy Spirit brings something to our attention. For instance, it might be a team mate who looks like they’re upset about something. They probably won’t be holding a literal sign in their hand saying “my parents are fighting a lot,” but the fact that you noticed their being upset may be the sign God is giving you to reach out and be a support to them.

When it comes to our Catholic faith, the Church also gives us signs to guide us in the journey. St. Augustine says that Sacraments are “visible signs of God’s invisible graces.” But to understand these signs, we need to learn more about them. Imagine a kid who has never learned their colors or that a green light means go and red means stop. They’d have a pretty hard time playing “red light, green light” because they don’t understand what those signs mean. It is the same thing with the Sacraments.

If we want to understand what the point is of going to Sunday Mass, then the learning process needs to continue. Maybe you’ve already wrapped up your formal religious education and Confirmation classes, but we can spend a lifetime going deeper in our understanding of these spiritual signs.  St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the most brilliant minds in history, wrote extensively about the Sacraments and theology, and he essentially said that we can continue learning more and more about God until our physical brains become exhausted with knowledge about him or we die of old age. Whichever comes first.

This is incredible because it means we don’t have to settle with shrugging it off and saying, “God is a mystery and we’ll never fully understand him.” Yes, that’s true because God is infinite, but he created us with incredible minds and an incredible capacity to learn and understand. So we can continue to learn about God as far into infinity as we can – as long as we live and as much as our human brains and hearts can handle.

The signs that Jesus talks about in this Gospel are things that history has seen. Whether it is war, crime, famine, disease, they are things that the world has witnessed. These signs remind us that we need to stay awake and stay connected to God in prayer. With prayer, it allows us to be more aware of the spiritual signs that God may be sending us. We were all made to know God, to love God and to serve God. The process of knowing God will never end in our life but if we are willing to learn from the one who created us, loved us first and always wants best for us, then we will be better equipped to understand the spiritual signs in our own lives, and the signs that he has for the entire world.

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