Flag Day and the Sacramental Vision

On Tuesday, as with every June 14, this nation will celebrate Flag Day.

June 14 is the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of the Second Continental Congress, in which that Congress called for the design of a national flag with thirteen red and white stripes and thirteen white stars on a blue field.  As Charles Thompson, the Secretary of the Continental Congress, wrote when describing the Great Seal of the United States, “White signifies purity and innocence, red, hardiness [and] valor, and blue . . . signifies vigilance, perseverance [and] justice.”  There is a sense of both constancy and progress, for the number of stars was eventually fixed at thirteen, while the number of stripes increases with addition of new states. For 239 years, this flag has both symbolized and brought about a sense of unity, courage, and confidence in the eventual triumph of justice, ordered liberty, and human rights, principles for which the good people of this nation have lived and died.  This flag, along with other natural symbols (e.g. wedding rings, heirlooms, and uniforms) are visible symbols of invisible realities that help establish the realities for which they stand.

Jesus Christ adopted this idea of symbolism when He established His kingdom on earth.  During His visible time on earth, He used words and gestures such as blessings and touches in His miracles; and He used natural symbols such as vines and birds in His preaching.  See Catechism of the Catholic Church 1151.  With the miracles, the visible signs truly brought about the effect they symbolized; and likewise, in the teachings, the visible symbols helped people who were willing to understand the invisible realm they signified.

Fulfilling this use of symbols, Jesus established the seven sacraments that bring forth His love and power for all ages.  Each of the seven sacraments employs the words and symbols that Jesus and His Church gave us, glorified by the surrounding liturgy, to bring about the effect that they signify.  The establishment of these sacraments thus builds upon the natural wisdom of using symbols, and fulfills it by giving a divine promise to the symbols in those seven select cases.  In this, and in many other ways, we can see how the faith takes our natural longings, purifies and perfects them, and thus helps us advance from this world to a greater one.