We live in a symbol-laden world

Driving to work I cross an intersection with a stop sign in each lane. I see friendly waves and indignant one-finger gestures as drivers negotiate the tricky crossing. What a weight of meaning    anger, thanks, contempt or respect    such nearly identical gestures can convey.

The significance of symbols

Our use of symbols distinguishes us from other animals. Alphabets, traffic signs, wedding rings – each is a product of thousands of years of reaching out, mind to mind, heart to heart, in increasingly complex societies. Many people have felt the power of God in certain signs. Statues of the Buddha, the cross, and even the Declaration of independence are layered with multiple levels of religious associations.

Divinely crafted symbols

Many folk of some or no formal religion believe God has spoken to them in signs, either in personal events or in the wonders of nature. Many Christians see the life of Christ as full of dramatic signs: words of power and transformation, sacred rituals such as baptism or the last supper before his death. Jesus himself prophesied that some of these signs – being washed in the waters of baptism, or eating the bread that enshrined his presence – would continue to embody not just his memory, but also his inner reality. These are what Catholics know as sacraments – sacred signs that recall, empower and embody the divine in our lives.


Father Neil Vaney

Next Steps

This writing is based on the content of ‘What Catholics Believe’, Booklet 5, ‘God’s life in us’ referencing page 4. Should you like to read more just click either of the links below to download ‘Booklet 5’ or the complete set of ‘What Catholics Believe’.