…and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.” (Luke 2:34)
These words, delivered to the Blessed Virgin Mary, set the tone, not only for the life of Christ on earth, but also for His Church. Both Christ and the Church He established stood, and still stand, as a sign of contradiction to the world. In this article, I demonstrate the four ways the Catholic Church stands as a sign of contradiction. Particularly, the Incarnation, the Cross, the Sacraments, and the Dignity of the Human Person.
First, what a sign of contradiction is NOT.
A Sign of Contradiction is NOT
A sign of contradiction is not contrarian. Contrarian means to hold a contrary position against the majority. In the sense of this article, a sign of contradiction may or not hold positions against the majority. Furthermore, a contrarian offers no positive views but only defines itself against something else in the form of criticism. Conversely, a sign of contradiction offers positive positions, not only criticisms.
Moreover, a sign of contradiction is NOT an action (sin) of those within the Church contrary to the ethical and moral teachings of the Church. Hypocrisy exists wherever humans exist. The priests’ abuse scandal represents a violation of fidelity. Fidelity to the Church as a sign of contradiction.
A Sign of Contradiction
Definition: invert worldly expectations and understanding.
The incarnation stands as a sign of contradiction against the world because the Second Person of the Godhead (the Word) took on humanity. The God of the universe entered it through a poor family in the small Roman province of Judea. Many other religious traditions find such an idea contradictory, if not blasphemous. Not so the Catholic Church. St. Paul states:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. even death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 5-7)
Therefore, since the beginning, rooted in the Incarnation, the Catholic Church stands as a sign of contradiction. The Catholic Church believes “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Why did God assume human flesh?
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)
The cross: one of the most brutal forms of torturous death ever devised by the mind of men. All who looked upon the cross before Christ only saw death. Furthermore, authorities in the ancient world reserved crucifixion for those they wished to place on painful public spectacle. In a word, crucifixion stood as warning to all who dared contemplate resistance against state power, especially Rome.
The cross, as a sign of contradiction, turns a symbol of torture and death into a symbol of hope and forgiveness. Those who looking up and saw the threat of death before Christ, now look up and see life after Christ. Arms outstretched in agonizing punishment now outstretch in love. In the Catholic Church, Catholic celebrate the crucifixion as Good Friday.
Tom Block stated beautifully:
The Cross, for believers, is not so much a symbol of pain, but rather of the Love God has for us. Jesus said at the Last Supper, “No one has any greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” and that’s precisely what Jesus, our Good Shepherd did when he gave his own life on the Cross so that we, might live. The Cross is not a symbol, principally, of agonizing suffering, but of the mind-blowing love God has for us.
Moreover, billions of Catholics now make this sign of the cross before and after each prayer. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. Truly a sign of contradiction.
In a past article, I wrote about sacramental logic. Harkening back to the Incarnation, the sacraments also reflect the same sign of contradiction. The seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony contain both physical and spiritual realities. This means that each sacrament has a material element (like water in baptism) that also conveys a spiritual effect (forgiveness of sins in baptism). Furthermore, as God took on a human body to physically touch us, God uses the sacraments to do likewise. To restate what I wrote in the linked article above:
We have a God who sympathizes with our weaknesses. A God who knows us. One we can physically touch (John 20:27) and who can physically touch us (Matthew 8:3). In Jesus, we have the touchable God. It is in this touch that we find the Sacraments. We did not cease to need the physical presence of our Lord once He ascended into heaven. In fact, we needed it more.
The Dignity of the Human Person
Moving from the theological to the cultural, and the most strikingly in contrast: the Catholic Church’s view on the Dignity of the Human Person. We see this most clearly reflected as a sign of contradiction in the Church’s stance on abortion, human sexuality, and marriage. Founded on the Dignity of the Human Person, the Church stands in contradiction to a modern culture that denies inherent human dignity. For example, a culture that supports abortion, contraception, euthanasia, gender theory, and the destruction of the traditional human family.
In 2012, then president Barack Obama stated that support of same-sex marriage puts him “on the right side of history.” This places the Catholic Church “on the wrong side of history.” Such a sentiment Pope Paul VI predicted as much. He stated:
There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a “sign of contradiction.” She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical. Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man. Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 18 [emphasis added]
To reemphasize Pope Paul VI’s words, “It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.” For this, the Catholic Church stands as a sign of contradiction to the world.
Consequences of Contradiction
The Church as a sign of contradiction against the world has consequences. As Monsignor Charles Pope once stated in his blog on the same subject in 2012:
…when the Church solemnly and unequivocally speaks on moral questions she is often criticized for being too harsh, judgmental and intolerant, or out of touch with modern realities.
The good monsignor observes that the Church will receive scorn and hatred from the world for its positions. He also comforts his readers by quoting Jesus in John 15:18-21. Here, Jesus states that the world hated Him first. Furthermore, if the world does not hate you as it hates Christ, you belong to the world and not Christ. Finally, standing as a sign of contradiction against the world also has an upside. GK Chesterton made the following observation about saints as a sign of contradiction:
The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need… Therefore it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.”
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