In his sermons on the sacraments, which he preached to some newly baptized, 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 them say as they approach the waters of baptism.
Ambrose calls on stories of the Old Testament: the Israelites were 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.
So we’re invited into an unseen world. Still, aren’t we like those whom the saint addressed? Is this it? Maybe more so, for schooled as we are in the ways of science and fact, we look for proof from what our eyes see. We live in a world that tells us what we see is all there is.
And now it’s a world made more unknown by the Covid19 pandemic; even our sacraments seem to be taken away.
Faith is a search for what we don’t see. God doesn’t take it away. Believe, God says.