Then he said to Thomas, Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe. Thomas answered him, My Lord and my God! Jesus said to him, Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
— The Gospel of Saint John, 20:27-29
At Friday’s 6:15 a.m. mass at Santuario de San Jose Church in Greenhills, parish priest Fr. Alexius Magtibay of the Oblates of Saint Joseph took issue with the cliche expression, “Seeing is believing.”
They are not the same, he explained. Seeing is an act of the senses. Believing comes from the heart. That is why Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Indeed, if we believe only what we see, we set aside so much that our mind, heart and soul can envision which our eyes cannot.
The great masterpieces of art, music, literature, architecture, cinema, and other gems of culture all started with the vision of their creators many days, week, months or years before these works could be seen.
If Michaelangelo were not convinced that the Sistine Chapel frescoes, Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Pieta statues, and other creations would take form long before they had taken visible form, then they would never have. Ditto the symphonies, concertos, and operas of Mozart, the plays and poetry of Shakespeare, the films of Steven Spielberg, and other works of the human imagination.
The amazing discoveries of science and inventions of technology also began with believing before seeing: the inklings of physicists, chemists, biologists, astronomers, mathematicians, engineers, inventors, and other thinkers and tinkerers. Only after much trial and error over years or decades did belief in the validity of untried ideas finally find vindication in scientifically proven theories and working prototypes and processes.
Of course, religious faith often thrives sans sights and sounds, from the Christian belief in Christ’s Resurrection to our prayers for deceased loved ones, whom we look forward to seeing again in the afterlife we have never experienced. How much less blessed the faithful would be if, like Thomas, they demanded to see before having faith.
So when we are told that seeing is believing, that we should not believe what we cannot see, hear, smell, taste or touch, or bother trying what has never been seen, then remember what our Lord told His doubting apostle Thomas. Only by believing what we have not seen can we have a chance of bringing our visions before our eyes.
Goodness thrives on faith
Being good is perhaps the most in need of faith among all human endeavors. For what we have seen in man all these millennia and throughout life from infancy doesn’t give immense hope for saintliness and anything close to it.
Every innocent child is in fact far from a caring, loving, giving and selfless soul. He wants instant gratification all the time right this minute, wailing every second he doesn’t have what he wants.
When man learns good and evil, he continually picks the latter, from the first time he disobeys or lies to Mom or Dad, copying test answers in school, and fighting with classmates, to corruption, crime, exploitation, even genocide.
Even the holiest of humankind have to battle concupiscence, animosity, and selfishness all their lives. The revered Saint Padre Pio, gifted with the stigmata for his holiness, prayed after receiving the Eucharist: “Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak, and I need Your strength, so that I may not fall so often.”
We are sinful, period, and striving to become even half-saintly takes a lifetime of believing in one’s innate and future godliness, and in the grace, mercy and love of almighty God.
Remove that faith and hope in our eventual triumph over sin, and what we now see in humanity’s past and present would yield the future to our dark side. Indeed, our failings are many times just seen as part of our indelible nature and should simply be accepted.
That has happened again and again from ancient times to the present day. Too often, heavenly edicts are softened or set aside to accommodate earthly realities. Moses instituted divorce, Jesus told the Jews, “because of the hardness of your hearts.”
In modern times, widespread practices contravening moral strictures have led governments to legalize them, and major segments of humanity to accept them and even hold them up alongside the age-old ideals.
Witness the moves in many countries to accord same-sex unions the same status as marriage between man and woman. Or worst: treating the nurture of an unborn child to birth, and his or her murder in the womb as equally valid choices under the law.
In sum, what we are taught to believe to be man’s rightful nature and behavior, is set aside because of what we see in his acts and life. Instead of holding fast to our faith in what God intends for us even though we do not see it fully realized now, we embrace the failings we now see and declare them morally right.
Seeing man’s sinfulness destroys belief in his godliness.
Testing and strengthening belief
In a weekday homily, Fr. Dennis Soriano, parish priest of Our Lady of Pentecost in Loyola Heights, said that as soon as one resolves to do or be good, obstacles arise to one’s resolution. Put another way: once we believe and strive for the goodness in us, we see the dragons of sin rearing their heads even more.
When increased effort and determination are supposed to pave the way toward greater faith, hope, charity, patience, mercy, diligence, piety, and other virtues, one’s resolve is tested by difficulty, temptation, failure, and sins.
In short, when we believe and strive for greater goodness, we see even more stumbling blocks, from the lures, pressures and threats of the world, to our own selfishness, hedonism, pride, sloth, avarice, and disobedience.
And like St. Thomas, we will doubt our belief in God’s call and His power enabling us to respond and rise to His righteousness and sanctity.
As the apostle did, we must turn our gaze away from ourselves and toward Jesus, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God.”
Then together with Him, we shall overcome the world.