May we “taste and see!”

Sign reads: I am homeless + invisible.... I have invisiblemanitus! The sign is held up by an empty glove and surmounted by sunglasses and a hat.
Sign reads: "I am homeless + invisible.... I have invisiblemanitus!" The sign is held up by an empty glove and surmounted by sunglasses and a hat.

This photo of a homeless man with “invisiblemanitus” cleverly expresses the primary disease from which not the homeless, but the rest of us, suffer: defect of sight. Thomas Aquinas reminds us in Pange Lingua that in the eucharist, our ordinary senses fail us. (The wordplay of that verse is itself a theology: the Word of God efficit, makes; the senses deficit, fail; faith sufficit, suffices.)

I don’t think we’ve forgotten, in the present day, the failure of our senses or the need for faith. But I think that sometimes we forget what faith means and are struck by a hopeless nostalgia for what (we think) we can never have: the clear vision of God’s unalterable and saving truth, through our own eyes.

The early church mystagogues would scold us, as they did their contemporaries, for such despair. Faith, in their homilies on the sacraments, was not a desperate clutching at something that seemed impossible (“I shall believe it is the body of Christ despite the fact that it looks like bread, in defiance of my senses”) but was the gift of God that bestowed on the believer spiritual senses, which perceived in the bread and the cup the beatific vision of God and thus could affirm that the Eucharist was spiritual food and spiritual drink for eternal life.

For the early church, the Eucharist was a kind of discipline, a stretching of our own eyes towards the eyes of God, in which we practice seeing the body of Christ not only in the elements on the altar, but also in our invisible brothers and sisters. There is no magic required for such vision, but only unconditional love formed from gratitude for the forgiveness of sins.

Let us have hope and pray for such spiritual vision.

[For more on the spiritual senses and the eucharist, see Georgia Frank’s article, “‘Taste and See’: The Eucharist and the Eyes of Faith in the Fourth Century,” Church History 70:4 (2001) 619-43.]


  1. Thanks for the reminder about the invisible things. I am glad that the new translation of the creed changes “unseen” to “invisible” to emphasize that spiritual things are not just “unseen” because we don’t happen to notice them in everyday surroundings, but because they can ONLY be “seen” with eyes of faith…”sufficit” is a beautiful word, as you point out.

    But I don’t actually see many homeless people in Minneapolis lately. Seems like I see a lot more of them panhandling on street corners and exit ramps when we have a Republican president, and they are increasingly visible in the months leading up to an election. But I know from the Franciscans who work with the homeless here that they exist even now during the Obama administration and are helped a bit by the (woefully infrequent) contributions I make to the order. Perhaps the real story is that the truly homeless are not hearty enough to beg at street corners, and that many of the ones we see are activists and “professional” homeless. Perhaps the “real” homeless are too busy trying to get a job or take care of children.

    Anyone who frequents the Basilica in Mpls will recognize the woman who begs there 5-6 days a week. A local news outlet discreetly followed her one night and found that she lives in a house in N.Mpls and is probably not homeless at all. Once again, the senses “deficit.”

  2. “Unconditional love formed from gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins.” This is a very interesting philosophical approach to love (which I’d love to discuss face to face as this is giving me another angle I might have to think about engaging in my thesis.) This fits phenomenologically because he who is given a lot loves a lot (and being forgiven from many sins enables one to love more because one is given much forgiveness.) However, it makes think about whether there is a prerequisite for forgiveness, (on initial observation I’d want to say vulnerability and trust are the two prerequisites, but we can discuss this more at a later date.)
    I really like what you are doing with this piece too because a lack of sight and observation plagues society as a whole and pieces like this one help bring that gentle hit home message to everyone. We can know the needs of the world only when we open our eyes to search for its needs and use our intuition to guide ourselves in service to others, even if we’re not professionals. Far too often, we count on someone else who is an expert, and do not count on our own ability to love. Others can teach us ways to love, but each person has their own unique way to love which each must find. We may not be perfect in loving, but this is why we have the example of faith, and use our eyes and senses to try to love more every day. 🙂

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