Brett Robinson

The bread becomes the body of Christ. The wine becomes the blood of Christ. To think and believe like a Catholic, one is called upon to make some extraordinary observations.

Despite the best efforts of our natural senses to move beyond the physical world, it is our metaphysical perception that ultimately helps us to see and taste our Lord in the Eucharist.

Jesus taught us how to do this when he shared the parables, short stories about everyday things that pointed to something eternal. Weaving together images of nature, he revealed something about the supernatural reality of life in God.

When asked why he used parables, he said: “Because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see.”

In an “overmediated” society, the risk of looking and not seeing or hearing but not understanding grows. Our senses fail us because they are overloaded, or they are so conditioned by the overstimulation, that they lack the ability to be still and receptive.

If there is one parable that captures our plight in the media age, it is the parable of the sower. Consider the first character in the story, the sower. To sow is to broadcast. The term “broadcasting” comes from agriculture, and refers to someone who throws seeds, casting broadly.

The seeds fall all over the place. It seems that the broadcaster couldn’t care less where his seeds are scattered. Many land on rocks; others among thorns. Not only that, the farmer fails to pass over the field again to drive the seeds deeper into the soil where they can take root. But God does not coerce us into receiving the word; it is a free choice. And it is a matter of our willingness to receive.

Who are we in the story? The ground. The primeval material that made our first parents, Adam and Eve: the earth.

To pursue the media analogy a little further, we are called to improve our reception. Just as a radio receives a signal by being properly tuned, our hearts must be tuned to Christ. This means more than calibrating our sight or our hearing. Those are our natural senses. Our Lord speaks to us at a much deeper level.

In his word, God speaks to the interior senses, particularly the imagination. That is where the images of the seed and field are brought into contact with our memories, thoughts and longings. Our longing for God is ineffable. It is hard to put into words. But when we hear the simple but beautiful story of a seed falling to the ground, dying and taking root to bear fruit a hundredfold, we are reminded of Christ, the Word made flesh, coming to earth, dying for us and taking root in our souls to bear his love to the world.

For Catholics, the imagination is not merely a place for fantasy and escape. It is the place where we integrate the things we know of the natural world with spiritual truth, but like the media that surround us, we must be properly attuned.

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Robinson is director of communications and Catholic media studies at the University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute for Church Life.