One middle school field trip that I will never forget was to a science museum in New Jersey. Among all the traveling exhibits and hands-on displays was one darkened room that I found even more intriguing than the planetarium: the “Touch Tunnel.” This was a long, winding tube through which museum patrons would crawl, for the ceiling was only a few feet high off the floor, as the path twisted and turned. The one catch—and the main attraction for many—was that the inside of the tunnel was completely dark. One had to rely mainly on the sense of touch to navigate the convoluted path.
After I waited on the longest line I had ever seen at a science museum, I entered the tunnel with several of my classmates. There, I found the specter of total darkness to be foreboding. Yet by keeping my left hand on the wall and my right hand on the floor in front of me, and maintaining a steady pace by listening to the motions of the person in front of me, I was able to pass through the tunnel and reach the light of day on the other end. Without any available data from the sense of sight, I had to take heed of the other senses. However, even this was not enough—I had to know with certainty that the tunnel was safe, and that it would eventually come to an end. Simply put, I had to trust that the museum curators would not lead their guests to an untimely death in some dark abyss, but rather wished for the enjoyment of their guests.
Just as we find ourselves in situations in which our senses fail to tell us what we desire or need to know, so are our own powers of reason deficient to explain everything presented to us, or even how to direct our lives. Yet, just as the knowledge of a safe conclusion to the journey can spur us on to move forward boldly through the darkness, even more so can faith. It is, after all, the “evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1), which provides us with the certainty necessary to overcome the gloom of doubt and face the unprovable. For example, as St. Thomas Aquinas writes about the presence of God under the appearance of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist, Praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui; let faith be our support when our senses fail. In other words, faith is a kind of seeing in the dark.
Far from mere blind submission of the intellect, faith calls us into a relationship with the all-knowing God, who loved us into being and wishes for our ultimate happiness. More trustworthy than any museum curator or haunted house operator, on account of His endless knowledge and boundless love, God continually offers us the free gift of faith and leads us through any darkness we may face. Yet we often wish to know this by our own devices, and want to be sure before placing our trust in God.
St. Augustine, whose feast day we celebrate today, had precisely this quandary as a young man. After he relocated to Milan for a new teaching job and began to hear the preaching of the bishop St. Ambrose, he wished to believe the powerful words that he heard, but hesitated because he wanted to be sure before he moved forward:
He did not say anything that I felt to be a difficulty; but whether what he said was true I still did not know. Fearing a precipitate plunge, I kept my heart from giving any assent, and in that state of suspended judgment I was suffering a worse death. I wanted to be as certain about things I could not see as I am certain that seven and three are ten. I was not so mad as to think that I could consider even that to be something unknowable. But I desired other things to be as certain as this truth, whether physical objects which were not immediately accessible to my senses, or spiritual matters which I know no way of thinking about except in physical terms. (Confessions, VI.6)
Yet, when Augustine found himself in a moment of darkness and desolation, God reached out to him through the Scriptures. Inspired to cast off his former ways of vice and to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14), Augustine turned to God, trusting Him with all his mind, heart, and being, and became one of the Church’s greatest writers and preachers.
Let us follow the example of St. Augustine and place our trust in God, who has revealed Himself to us through the Scriptures and especially through the Son, Jesus Christ. Let us fully and freely accept His gift of faith, which gives us a way of knowing the divine Truth when our own powers cannot avail. As Pope Francis writes in Lumen Fidei, “For those who have been transformed in this way, a new way of seeing opens up; faith becomes light for their eyes.”
Image: Ivan Aivazovsky, Azure Grotto, Naples