In John Biguenet’s short story, The Vulgar Soul, an atheist who is unexpectedly experiencing the stigmata is speaking to a psychiatrist, who asks,
‘“What about religion?”
“Well, I’m Catholic — at least I was raised a Catholic — but of course I don’t practice.”
To believe in God, he patiently explained to the psychiatrist, one has to be willing to close his eyes to a great deal. “Isn’t that what they mean by faith — refusing to accept the obvious, refusing to accept what has always been right there in front of our eyes.”
“But that’s exactly what believers say,” she countered. “God has always been right there in front of us. We just won’t open our eyes.”
“Maybe it’s not so easy to see what right in front of our eyes.”
The psychiatrist laughed. “That’s certainly true, Mr. Hogue. I’d be out of business if that weren’t true.”’
Faith is an act of seeing what God reveals. As seeing, it is an act of the imagination. The tradition speaks of the “eyes of faith” that see what the “light of faith” reveals. Seeing and believing are complementary. By believing one can see and by seeing one can believe. The phrase “blind faith” is profoundly misleading. God cannot bypass the senses, and since the senses lead to knowledge through the imagination, God cannot bypass the imagination, the means by which the eyes of faith see the form/gestalt of God’s revelation, Jesus Christ. The form is the incarnate, yet risen, human reality of Jesus. The risen Jesus is absent to the physical eyes, but is visible to the eyes of faith. John says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” But those who believe now see. Jesus must be imagined to be believed in, or if he is believed in, Jesus is then imagined. To the eyes of the believer, the risen Jesus is not imaginary, but is indeed imagined, and thus the whole world is seen as transformed. If the world is transformed by the resurrection of Jesus, then a living faith must be Catholic, where “Catholic” means “through the whole.” The dynamic imagination of Catholicism, “through-the whole-ness,” cannot rest short of attempting to see and then understand everything.
Daniel Sheridan is Professor of Theology at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine and former Director of the Online Theology Program.