When it comes to matters of faith, the saying, “seeing is believing” has it backward. It’s only when we believe that we are able to see. It explains why it’s difficult to convince non-believers that God is real and that proof of his love is everywhere.
When it comes to God, first we believe and then we see. To do otherwise is to remain blind and wounded creatures of our own making.
In “Therese of Lisieux: Nietzsche Is My Brother: A Play,” written by Carmelite Sister Bridget Edman, an imaginary dialogue takes place between St. Therese of Lisieux and the philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche who infamously proclaimed: “God is dead.”
The saint is portrayed after her death, when upon hearing of his lack of faith, she appears to him and invites the professed atheist to come and pick roses with her — roses that have no thorns.
In response to her invitation Nietzsche replies, “I will only pick roses with thorns.”
Puzzled by his answer and apparent refusal of her offer, Therese asks, “Why do you want to hurt yourself?”
Sadly, this is the irony of souls who long for happiness and wholeness, yet in rejecting God, they hurt only themselves. Further into the dialogue, Therese tells Nietzsche that she loves him, but he refuses to believe her. The saint looks at him and calls him poor, which riles him more because he needs to be seen as strong.
Yet, it’s Therese with her childlike simplicity who reflects serenity and gentle strength. This is the great paradox of love that is transformed in God.
In some way, we are all a bit like Nietzsche in that we find it so very difficult to believe that God could love us. When we parade our sins before God as if they will keep him from loving us, our lack of faith in his divine mercy denies a simple truth which is that God loves us not because of who we are, but because of who God is.
No liturgical season depicts God’s love for humanity more than the drama that portrays the Paschal Mystery. As the curtain comes down on the scene of Jesus in the Lenten desert, we do well to pause before it rises for the next act to begin.
During the intermission, we might ask: “Do I believe that when Jesus took bread and wine, blessed it and shared it with his disciples, it became his Body and his Blood in anticipation of the sacrifice on Calvary?”
Do I believe that as the most perfect high priest, Jesus, who spent his life seeking the glory of the Father, would consummate his love on the marriage bed of the cross?
And can I trust that Jesus, knowing his hour had come, surrendered to death in order to glorify his Father?
Glory is a biblical word associated with the majesty and power of God. So, when the curtain is raised and the Passion begins, do I believe that the glory of God was made manifest when Jesus entered his agony in the garden?
When the second act begins, am I able to watch the Christ crowned with thorns and still see the honor and glory of God shine forth?
From Jesus’ arrest to his being lifted high on the cross, the sacred drama reveals a king like no other. As the curtain falls, the lifeless body is placed in a tomb and the tomb sealed on a night like no other.
And so, we wait in darkness, keeping vigil during the midnight hour because Love became man and died for us. The stony sepulcher becomes a fortress daring us to believe as night cast a shadow on a borrowed grave that sheltered the corpse of God.
Sentinels stand guard with swords raised lest the sleeping God awake and punish their executioners. But no, this is not the way of God.
This is the paradox of divine love — the fullness of love which humans can ponder but never fully accept unless they believe. Faith reassures them that this is not the end. No tomb can conceal the glory of God.
When the veil is lifted and the final act begins, the glory of God shines, blinding all who insist that seeing is believing. The Savior’s wounds, now radiant, have rent the veil of unbelief, dispelling the night of darkness.
The risen Lord invites non-believers to touch the wounds in Jesus’ hands and place their hand into the side from which living water and saving blood poured forth.
As the curtain descends on the final act, like the first disciples, our mission to spread the Good News begins anew, because Jesus, the Eternal Now, has risen from the dead. We know this as surely as if we were present at the graveside on that first Easter Sunday.
All who believe understand that believing is seeing!
Barbara Hughes is an author, retreat facilitator and spiritual guide. She lives in Virginia Beach and can be reached at [email protected].