Our five senses never directly show us the most important realties, but one way of getting closer to them is by reading. I’ll illustrate this by comments I heard a blind woman make in a radio interview.
She had lost her sight when very young, but could still remember how things look. For instance, if she was buying a dress and the shop assistant told her it was blue, she could visualize it to some degree.
Then she remarked, rather wistfully, that her memory of the appearance of things was fading with the years. Her visual memory had once been much more vivid, but with no fresh stimulus from the outside world her memory of those early sights was slipping away. She knew she had once been able to picture colours much more vividly and sharply, but now they were blurring and fading.
Our position concerning the invisible world of faith, and of the world as known through philosophy, is rather like that of a blind person concerning the visible world. Indeed, it is more like that of a person born blind, for we have never seen it.
When we receive Holy Communion the reality present in the host is Someone unseen. The body of Jesus Christ, living and glorious, is there, together with his blood, his soul, his divinity. But what do we see? A round white shape that looks like bread.
It is a fact (a frustrating fact) that all the biggest realities escape our senses: we cannot see, hear, touch, taste or smell them. We can’t see God, or the divine grace by which we live with his life, or our soul, or the angels.
That is one reason why prayer is difficult. If we could actually see the one to whom we are praying, it would be so easy! It is a reason why the moral law is difficult, too. God’s laws about how we should live are realistic laws; they are laws that are reasonable for the kind of being that man is, living in the kind of universe he does, and under a loving providence of an infinitely holy God. But because they escape the senses, the fundamental realities tend to seem unreal. As a result some find inexplicable, for example, the Church’s insistence that to miss Mass deliberately on Sunday, for no good reason, is a mortal sin.
Although we can’t directly experience the most important things, we can make them more real to ourselves. As the Epistle to the Hebrews says: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” (Heb. 11:1). If we learn to see everything in the light of the God-given virtue of faith, enlivened by love, the invisible world will become much clearer to us, and we will feel much more at home with it.
But for this a knowledge of doctrine is vital, because doctrines are statements of reality. And an important way of increasing such knowledge is by careful reading, especially of the works of the saints and the great theologians.
No doubt the blind woman made a point of visualizing the things she had seen before losing her sight, so as to keep the memory of them from slipping away. We can make the invisible things more real to us by meditating on them with the aid of the ardent minds who have left us the written record of their thoughts.