Saturday, August 6, 2011

Seeing Is Believing

“It is as if He said to them: ‘As time goes by you may be in danger of losing your faith. To save you from this I tell you now that some standing here listening to me will not taste death until they have seen the Son of Man coming in the glory of his Father.’ Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. There, before their eyes, he was transfigured.

“While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its pre-figuration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven.”
-- From a sermon by Anastasius of Sanai, bishop

On today’s feast of the Transfiguration, I read the above words in my morning breviary readings. They seemed to re-iterate something I had heard yesterday, which in turn was a re-iteration of something I had just written a couple of days ago. We are talking about wisdom, and what it is.

I had written that wisdom is a melding together of knowledge, learnings that we gain, into a new form of knowledge which we did not learn. This “making sense of things” is accomplished by the Holy Spirit in spiritual matters, because we cannot truly know spiritual matters any other way. The knowledge of spiritual matters cannot be gained by us alone; we live in a material world, and that is all we can experience with our material senses. Knowledge of the spiritual world comes through Revelation, a knowledge which is given to us --- but it is a knowledge that does make “sense” to our worldly bodies, when we consider all the material things we know. Faith and reason go together. I gave an example of how wisdom gained is sort of like realizing the sum of numbers, a totaling of things that were apart.

Yesterday, I learned a better example.

I attended a First Friday talk by a new young priest, Fr. Mark Rutherford, who was recently ordained from my parish. Fr. Rutherford was speaking about the experience of the Holy Spirit. He explained that the Holy Spirit brings us the experience of God. We can know Jesus Christ, but unless we ARE Him, and experience His relationship with the Father, we cannot really know His love of the Father. These words made great sense to me.

Think about it in terms of our own earthly fathers. Most of us grew up with them; they were part of our lives, and part of the shaping of our lives. We can describe our father to friends or even strangers, and we can recall examples (good and bad) to illustrate our relationship and learnings, but from our descriptions the people we speak to can only gain some knowledge about our fathers. They cannot really KNOW our fathers because they haven’t had ALL the experiences we had, all of those experiences which add up to our relationship with our father. Unless they have lived our lives, walked in our shoes, they cannot know our fathers as we do. That was the point Fr. Rutherford was illustrating. We can read Scripture and gain all sorts of knowledge about Jesus Christ, but we can never really KNOW him unless we were Him or lived with Him His whole life. Nor can we ever know His relationship with His heavenly Father. But, explained Fr. Rutherford, that is the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can experience God; through the Holy Spirit we can be gifted with that sure knowledge of Jesus Christ and God the Father as if we had really lived our lives with them. We can gain that sure knowledge of experience, the “seeing is believing” knowledge which is often used to describe the word: certainty. With the Holy Spirit’s help, His gift, we can gain a certainty of the truths of God and our relationship with Him; we can gain wisdom.

As we live our lives we often call upon God for help. We see our circumstances and recognize our weaknesses and call out for aid. But we often don’t realize the total of the circumstances to be considered. It’s like asking our earthly father for candy, but he knows such things as tooth decay or obesity or even that dinner will be ready in ten minutes, things beyond the limited circumstances we see. That type of relationship with God the Father doesn’t change as we get older in earth-years, we can never learn enough knowledge see the circumstances as He sees them. So sometimes our calls for help seem unanswered, or answered negatively, and we don’t understand. The reason we don’t understand is that we don’t have the experience of God, even as we did have the experience of our earthly father. Our earthly father may have told us something as simple as “too much candy is no good for you,” or even a simple “no,” and we could accept his answer because of our experience with him --- we knew our earthly father loved us and trusted he knew more than we did. That is the experience the Holy Spirit gives us of the Father and of Jesus Christ: He makes sense of what we may know, as if we experienced our relationship with them.

Today, on the feast of the Transfiguration, before the Holy Spirit was gifted to the apostles, God gave them the experience of knowing Him. As Moses did, they saw and spoke to Him. Seeing was believing; living the actual experience cemented in them the sure knowledge of His spiritual presence.

But we are not given such an experience. For some of us, some of the time, we are given gifts of the Holy Spirit, and experience God, and gain a sure knowledge of Him. I thank Him so much for those blessings, those consolations of sure knowledge of His presence. Peter said: Lord, it is good for us to be here. What an understatement! But unlike Peter, often we must be content with just the earthly knowledge we can gain of Him, content with only our faith in His spiritual presence. Faith is a precious thing.

But blessed are they who have not seen, but have yet believed.


  1. I really like this post! Your parish is very blessed to have Fr. Rutherford. Be sure to PRAY for him! The enemy is NOT going to like him. You did a beautiful job writing down and transmitting the message. Thank you SO much!

  2. Thank you, booklady. Fr. Rutherford is just one of many of our priests. We had five ordained this year, and about another 15 are in formation. Our pastor, our parish, is doing a good job of sprouting vocations; the Holy Spirit is doing the rest. We can only marvel.