Come and see
Everything we know about the world begins with the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. So the question might be asked which of these senses can we do without. If you think that is just an abstract boring irrelevant philosophical question, then you are probably less than sixty years old. The rest of us are in the process of losing our sight, our hearing, our taste buds, our sense of touch and smell. I think most of us old folks would say that what we most want to hold on to is our sight and hearing, unfortunately often the first of the senses to fail. It is not just the physical inconvenience of losing these senses; it is that these senses are closely connected with understanding. Ordinary language bears this out: when we get something we say “I see” and “I hear what you are saying.”
The readings this Sunday also bear this out. In the first reading the boy Samuel hears his name called and thinks it is Eli calling. “Samuel did not yet know the Lord”. Finally Eli says, if the Lord calls again, say “Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears”. This is typical Old Testament experience of God. God, unlike good children. is not seen but heard. Moses hears the voice from the burning bush; Elijah hears but does not see ‘the still small voice’; the prophets invariably say “hear the word of the Lord’.
But in St John’s Gospel something has changed: Phillip says to Nathaniel “come and see”. From the very beginning St. John tells us what his gospel is about: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God’ but this Word is not just to be heard but seen: “and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known”. Very nearly the first words out of Jesus’ mouth in the fourth gospel are “come and see”; In the part of the Gospel just before this Sunday’s reading John the Baptist sees Jesus and tells his disciples “ Behold – Look—there is the Lamb of God.” Andrew and Peter follow Jesus and he asks them ‘what are you seeking’. They reply “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus says “come and see”. Philip in the Gospel this Sunday is simply quoting what he has heard from Jesus.
This is the perennial pattern of our lives: first we hear, then we see. The pattern is repeated in our worship, in our spiritual life and in end of our lives.
First, then, in the Mass: we hear the Word but this is not the end of it. We must go on to see the Word in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. I remain blissfully ignorant of what the congregation is doing during the Canon of Mass; it is one of the advantages of east-facing celebration. I suppose I take it for granted that Fr. Rogers taught everyone what to do. But it never hurts to remind you that the priest is showing you Jesus, when he lifts up the host and the chalice. The appropriate response is adoration. Some make the sign of the Cross; some repeat quietly the words of St. Thomas the Apostle, when he saw and touched the resurrected Body of Christ: “my Lord and my God”. But what everyone should do is see that the Word of God is not something that we have merely heard about, something that someone a long time ago experienced but still the Word is made flesh, still he has pitched his tent with us. In that brief moment at least we can forget ourselves and simply gaze on the mystery of God’s love and mercy and truth and goodness. No wonder in the Middle Ages people would shout at the elevation “heave it higher, Sir priest”. The sadness of the age in which we live is that men cannot or will not or do not know how to worship and adore.
Second, the spiritual life is the journey from hearing to seeing. Jesus says “ For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it”. We reproduce in our own lives the longing of the prophets and patriarchs to see the salvation which Jesus brought and brings. Every time we hear the Holy Scriptures read we are being given clues so that we can find that salvation in our own life. The Bible tells us what God has done so that we will be on the lookout for what God is doing right now. The Exodus, the Return from Captivity, the manager, the parables Lost Son, Sheep, Lost Coin, the Beatitudes, the poor, the merciful, the sorrowful, purity, peacemaking, the Cross and Resurrection, open the Book anywhere you like, it is all there for everyone to see in their own life, troubles, sorrow, joys, defeats and victories.
But we have to be willing to see and as well as hear.
Finally the end of our all striving after and searching for God is the beatific vision. We do not hear much about that these days but traditionally this is the way Christians have talked about what shall be in the end and shall never end. St Augustine says that in heaven we shall not believe but see. One of the annoying aspects of life in this world is that we have to have faith. In other words we have to live with some uncertainty. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” But God has planted in our very nature the desire to see him, to know the ultimate explanation for everything, which is God. We desire to know all that can be known about all that is. “Nature makes nothing in vain.” As St. Thomas put it: “Man is not perfectly happy, so long as something remains for him to desire and seek”.
Jesus asks “what are you seeking?” A good question to ask ourselves so that we may hear him say:
Come and see.