In his sermons on the sacraments, which we’re reading in the Office of Readings today, St. Ambrose shows a keen appreciation of the power and weakness of signs. They signify so much, but we find them hard to accept. “Is this it?” he hears his catechumens say as they approach the waters of baptism.
Ambrose calls on stories of the Old Testament: the Israelites saved as they flee from Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea, the cloud that guides them on their way–foreshadowing the Holy Spirit, the wood that makes the bitter waters of Marah sweet–the mystery of the Cross.
“You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes. What is not seen is in reality seen more clearly; for what we see with our eyes is temporal whereas what is eternal (and invisible to the eye) is discerned by the mind and spirit.” (On the mysteries)
Remember Namaan’s doubt as the Assyrian general stood before the healing waters of the Jordan, Ambrose reminds his hearers. There’s more here than you see or think.
Still, aren’t we like those whom the saint addressed? Maybe more so, for we likely look for proof from what our eyes see, schooled as we are in the ways of science and fact. We live in a world that tells us what we see is all there is.
Faith is a search for what we don’t see.