Believing is Seeing by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (Jesus) said to them again. "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and he said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe." Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
One of modernity's worst phrases is "Seeing is believing." That little quip reduces all knowledge to what can be measured, weighed, calculated or proven in some empirical fashion. It means that such things as justice, love, truth, etc. are merely theories. For no one has ever "seen" them. No one has ever calculated the height of love or determined the atomic weight of truth. Justice's symbol might be a scale, but justice itself has never been put in that scale and measured.
In fact, seeing is just seeing. It grasps the physical, empirical and measurable. Seeing is the opposite of believing. We believe in things precisely because we cannot see them. When we see something, we do not need to believe - it is right here before our eyes.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, "Believing is seeing." To believe means to accept the truth of something on the basis of someone's else's testimony. When we do so, we know - we see - what we cannot see with our own eyes or determine by our own efforts. I know that the earth orbits the sun and that shifting tectonic plates cause earthquakes - not because I have proven these things for myself but because I believe what trustworthy people have taught me. By trusting them I know more. Believing is seeing.
This is precisely the point that the Apostle Thomas misses. He practically coins the phrase "Seeing is believing." "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." (Jn 20:25) He wants proof in order to believe.
His is an attitude common in our culture: "Prove it." Those who insist on every theological truth being proven to them will never have faith because they have set themselves up as the judges. They are unwilling to entrust themselves to the authority or witness of another. Their world is sadly truncated. They live trapped in their own minds, admitting only what can be proven to their liking.
Apologetics and catechesis are essential. But to believe on the basis of proof is not belief at all but acknowledgement of empirical fact. Even the traditional so-called "proofs" of the existence of God were never meant to be proofs in the strict sense. They are rather motives for believing. Yes, we must apply our minds to the things of faith. But we cannot think our way to salvation. We recite the creed - "We believe" - every Sunday not because we are clever and have figured it out on our own but because we have entrusted ourselves to the authority of the Revealer.
And this is why our Lord praises those "who have not seen and have believed" (Jn 20:29) because the act of faith is humble and trusting. Humble, because they acknowledge that such things are beyond their ability to prove. They have no delusions of being so wise and knowledgeable as to stand in judgment on these things. Trusting, because they in effect hand themselves over to the authoritative witness of the Church - and through the Church to God Himself. They possess that higher kind of seeing - that comes from humble entrustment to the Lord.
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