I love art… I studied art and art history in college, and one of my favorite artists is a guy named Caravaggio.

There aren’t many paintings by him in existence. And even fewer are available to see here in the United States. Most of them are in Italy.

Recently I had the chance to visit the Detroit Institute of Art. And I had absolutely no idea that they had a painting by the one and only Caravaggio… and guess what?

I walked right past his world famous painting!

I had NO idea! I was BLIND to this painting’s presence!

Can you imagine how sad and disappointed I was when I got home and found out what I had done? I overlooked a very rare work of art, because I was not aware. I was not informed and prepared.

I think this is what Jesus is warning us about in our Gospel this weekend. He wants us to be AWARE of the reality of the great gift that has been entrusted to us: The gift faith!

He says that we need to “Gird our loins and light our lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.”

Now what if we walked through life… what if we came to Church, and we were sort of unaware and blind to His Presence, like I was blind to that Caravaggio painting’s presence?

What a tragedy! In fact it would be the only real tragedy: To miss out on… to pass by Jesus.

But as Jesus said in the Gospel: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”

If that is true, then what has the Lord done to make sure we don’t walk past him… that we don’t overlook Him?

Well…. We’re doing it right now.

We are celebrating the Holy Mass. Jesus gave us the liturgy because He knew that we as weak and frail, human beings — as embodied souls — we need to encounter God through our bodies. We need concrete and visible realities in order to access the much deeper, invisible Divine mysteries. 

That’s what makes the Incarnation of Jesus so central — the Invisible God became visible for our sake. He entered into OUR experience!

What all of the patriarchs, the Old Testament figures of ancient ages “saw …and greeted… from afar” — as our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews said — that MYSTERY has become intimately close in the Person of Jesus Christ. He became actually visible. Actually here. Actually human!

We heard in our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews that 

“faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

Well the Catholic understanding of Faith is ALWAYS sacramental. Faith is always rooted in the encounter with God that we can have through the means of visible, tangible realities!

As Pope St Leo the Great once said so well, “whatever was visible in our Savior has passed over into His mysteries,” which is just another way of saying — has passed over into the Sacraments and the Liturgy of our Church.

So we need to ask ourselves: Can we see Him here at the liturgy? Are we aware that He is INTIMATELY close to us right now? Do we have eyes of faith in order to see Him and hear Him?

Or… do we sometimes kinda only see an empty reenactment of some ancient ritual that has very little relevance, no tangible meaning for us today? 

Is it just a cultural tradition that we hold on to for some vague reason? Maybe… because our family has “always been Catholic?”

Are we ready, instead, to see Jesus appear suddenly on the altar in the Holy Eucharist? Are we alert and vigilant to His arrival? Would we open up the door to our heart as soon as He knocks, as our Gospel put it? 

Or could we go through the entire Mass without recognizing Him?

Romano Guardini, a leader in the Liturgical Movement of the early 20th Century, once said that what we need most of all is a “liturgical education.” What he means by that is that we need to be shown how to see and how to feel and how to make the sacred signs ourselves.”

So in other words: We need someone to bring all of the beautiful symbols of the liturgy to life for us. We need to learn how to “read” the liturgy — not like a mathematic, intellectual syllogism — but more like how we learn to interpret a painting, or a poem.

That doesn’t happen automatically! It’s a conversion of the heart, mind, and will.

And plus, we 21st Century folk happen to have a lot working against us on this front…

Our secularized, hyper-analytical, hyper-scientific perspective has made it a LOT harder to see Christ in the symbols of our Church. And therefore, it’s much harder to believe. Much harder to have faith!

The philosopher, Charles Taylor, suggests that given our modern, secular “lens” that we all see through to some degree or another, “the divine action has [in many ways] become opaque.” We live in a sort of “disenchanted” time, when it’s simply assumed that science has explained everything — or eventually will — and that there IS no “mysterious beyond.” No “meaning” …really… in these signs and symbols of life that can only be seen with the eyes of faith.

We’ve all probably experienced this. There’s a kind of disappointment that marks our time, and we’ve all likely felt it. Life is not magical. There’s no transcendent meaning out there to discover. “Nothing really matters to me,” as Freddy Mercury once sang in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’…

Sadly, symbols are not as powerful as they used to be… because we don’t really look for them anymore. We tend to pass them by unaware.

Ancient people, like the Israelites, could understand symbols much more easily. They were trained to see their meaning!

We hear about this in our first reading today from the Book of Wisdom: 

“The night of the passover was known beforehand to our fathers, that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, they might have courage… For in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice and putting into effect with one accord the divine institution.”

The Israelites were very alert to the Presence of God and they awaited the fullness of their salvation by faith. They were aware that in the liturgical sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, they were celebrating and making present the mighty works of the Lord! These rites had profound meaning — they actually DID something… ACCOMPLISHED something.

That’s why we’re here at Mass today:

The gestures, the images, the bodily postures, the rituals, the sacred things that we see, taste, touch, and smell when we come to the Mass:  Bread and wine, holy oil, water, incense, candles, music, the altar, the priestly vestments… All of that! It’s all supposed to work together to make Christ present! They’re meant to be the vehicles that allow us to meet Him and know Him!

I wonder if a lot of us come to mass having very little idea of what all of that stuff means? Or maybe even if we do know what it means… it’s still hard to see it in action.

Maybe they think they just need to have blind faith?

But that’s not Catholic! 

Our faith is not blind — it’s sacramental. True, “we walk by faith not by sight.” Yes, “faith is evidence of things not seen.” We don’t see God perfectly face to face quite yet. That can only happen in Heaven. 

But as we walk along in this valley of tears, we have beautiful signs and symbols, handed down to us from Jesus and the Apostles, that help us to see Him even now. These symbols “knock” at the “door” of our soul, so that we can quickly open up to the Bridegroom when He comes!

So get ready. Gird your loins and light your lamps!

He’s here. In the Eucharist, He comes to us.

Don’t miss Him!