By: Fr. Paul Scalia
In Lumen Fidei the Pope examines the virtue of faith through the familiar images of seeing and hearing (cf. LF, 29-31). Scripture often uses these two human senses to describe the life of faith. Seeing the mighty works of God leads to faith: “They saw and believed” (cf. Jn 2:23; 20:8). At the same time, belief leads to and serves as a kind of sight: “If you believe, you will see the glory of God” (Jn 11:40).
Likewise with hearing. Our Lord’s exhortation, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mt 11:15) indicates not just a physical hearing but an interior one. The “ears to hear” are the interior disposition to receive God’s Word, to believe. When Saint Paul says, “faith comes by hearing” (Rom 10:17) he means not only the auricular reception of sound waves from a human voice. He means, again, an interior hearing – receiving – that leads to faith. To believe means to hear properly.
We also use these analogies in our own colloquial speech. The phrase, “I see what you mean” does not indicate that we spy a thought bubble over someone’s head. It means that with the mind’s eye we perceive the meaning of the person’s words. When you say to someone, “I hear what you’re saying” you do not mean that as a statement about your auditory capability. You mean that interiorly, with the mind, you have received what the words conveyed.
So seeing and hearing are analogies for the intellectual, spiritual grasp of truths – but not only analogies. Because we are body and soul, the manner in which we see and hear physically affects our capacity to hear and see spiritually. Our interior capacity to see and hear depends on how we use our physical eyes and ears. Constant external sights and sounds handicap our ability to see and hear interiorly. The interior capacity requires an external detachment or silence.
Which is precisely what our culture denies us with its non-stop sights and sounds. The flat screens everywhere, the nose always pointed down at some device, the eyes darting around to different images, the constant music in restaurants, in stores and – why? – at the gas pump. Some time ago this evil invaded even that most hallowed place in our nation: the baseball park. No longer do you have nice down time to visit between innings or batters. No, there is constant music blaring and videos on the Jumbotron. Is nothing sacred?
We know that these things distract us from one another. They likewise distract us from God Himself. We need that interior capacity to look and listen for Him, so that we can see and hear Him. With constant external sights and sounds, our interior senses atrophy…and we fail to see or hear Him.
This is the case most of all in prayer. Our Lord said, “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Mt 6:6). It seems quaint, to think that one’s room could be a refuge, a quiet, hidden place. Now in fact every room must have at least one device affording not only the possibility of our contact with the outside world (already a distraction to prayer), but also permitting (inviting?) the outside world to contact us – and disturb our prayer.
Faith is not an easy thing. It shocks us out of comfort and bids us take up our journey as pilgrims. Thus the Pope describes Abraham’s first encounter with God as “disturbing” (LF 8). Abraham heard and obeyed, and that set him on a difficult journey. Given that difficulty, we are inclined to distract ourselves – to put on music, to watch another video – lest, having seen His truth or heard His voice, we need to change.
Given our fallen nature’s inclination to distractions and our culture’s indulgence of it, we need to carve out room in our lives to see and hear Him. Practically speaking, this means establishing fasts from technology. What does this look like? It could mean establishing start and end times for use of technology in the day (e.g. no internet before 8AM and after 9PM). Or setting aside an hour (at least!) with no technology. Turn off the radio in the car and be silent. Turn off the background music. Do not watch videos for one day. Such fasting is not so much getting rid of some thing but freeing up space in our minds for some One. It is freeing up our ability to look and listen so that we can see and hear Him.