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Metaphors of the Faith and Preparing to Meet God

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 19, 2023

Throughout our lives—and at the grand finale in our twilight years—we take rest from intellectual efforts and academic rigors. We look to relax, fill the void of free time, and enjoy our leisure. Electronic gadgets help compensate for failing eyesight and hearing. And thank God for pain-killing medication. But the prospect of a fully-aware senior citizen with an endlessly blaring TV is disturbing.

Metaphors of faith provide rest for our intellectual pursuits and crowd out excessive and dangerous entertainment. Holy metaphors occupy our memories and imaginations and sustain our hope for eternal life. God's creation provides us with countless metaphors. The ancient Jews could not think of a good purpose for houseflies, so they concluded they were incarnations of the devil. (They named Lord of the Flies—super fly—“Beelzebub.”) Even those noisy critters that come out every 17 years remind us of the terrible creatures of apocalyptic chastisements in the Book of Revelation. The Scriptures use a dove as an image of the Holy Spirit. Why not think of birds as incarnations of the angels?

Jesus is the Master of the metaphor. The Kingdom of God parables help us to identify our elusive destiny. The scattering of seeds, the growth, or the choking off by weeds provides vivid images to help us understand the obstacles to faith. The richest metaphors are the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and the wine of the wedding feast. Simple bread and wine foreshadow the first Mass on Holy Thursday and every Mass since.

Contrary to the cliché, the Catholic faith is never blind. In the Gospel, we hear about Bartimaeus, a blind man, begging by the roadside. To the annoyance of the disciples, he pesters Jesus until he receives a hearing and pleads: “Master, let me receive my sight.” (Mk. 10:50) Jesus responds: "Go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Mark 10: 52) Bartimaeus, at last, has the eyes to see Jesus clearly and to follow Him. Faith opens our eyes to Jesus, and the things of this world nourish our belief.

Scientists fitted the famous Hubble telescope with corrective lenses to see deep into space. After astronauts retrofitted the Hubble, the stunning images from the distant universe, including pictures of glorious energy bursts, reminded scientists of “the Eye of God.” Faith is like corrective eyeglasses that help us see the guidance of God’s loving hand.

Communication with spaceships provides another image of faith. During Apollo 13's infamous (turned heroic) mission to the moon, an explosion crippled the spacecraft. The astronauts returned to Earth because they closely coordinated with NASA's Mission Control despite the damage. Faith in Jesus and His Church is something like that. The Church's traditional teachings infallibly guide our wounded souls toward our heavenly destination. The familiar image of the Church as the "bark of Peter" provides a similar metaphor for our safe haven in the stormy waters of life.

Metaphors that stir our memory and imagination, however, fall short. Traditional formulations such as the Creed and magisterial definitions fine-tune our faith with precise doctrinal assertions that require intellectual effort. The Incarnation reconciles God and man in the Person of Jesus. God elevates human nature above all other creation. The dogma of the Incarnation not only reveals Jesus, but affirms our irreplaceable human dignity. God became man so that man might become God – incorporated into the Mystical Body of Jesus to love as He loves us. The Incarnation, Redemption, the Eucharist, and our incorporation into His Mystical Body are realities, not metaphors.

Metaphors do not provide the precision of intellectual creedal definitions, nor does the poetry of the Scriptures and Catholic devotions (such as images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary’s Immaculate Heart). But metaphors complement doctrinal assertions and, like relaxing and watching TV, give rest to our souls.

When we in faith accept a Catholic dogma enhanced by metaphors, we see divine mysteries with greater clarity. St. Patrick helps us begin to understand the Trinity using a simple shamrock. Dogmas of our religion—– augmented by metaphors—are "windows to the infinite" (Flannery O’Connor’s beautiful metaphor). With eyes opened by metaphors, we more easily grasp the power of the written word and doctrinal formulations.

It is not uncommon for those experiencing a sense of harsh abandonment and suffering to conclude, falsely, that they lack the strength to endure a crisis of faith. Although the culture underestimates willpower, willful resolve alone cannot sustain faith. The pain of the Cross with the sorrowful Mother at the foot – and the glory of the Resurrection—are mysterious Christian paradoxes. Grace-filled images and metaphors – such as the rising sun—bolster our resolve. The morning sun sustains hope in the final victory of the Resurrection.

In Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, the comical antichrist, the street-preacher Hazel Motes, blinded by his own hand, resolves to spend the rest of his life in penance, meditation, and contemplation. Not realizing that Motes has become a mystic, his landlady encourages him to cash in as a blind preacher:

“You could get you one of them seeing dogs. People always pay to see a dog… Why don't you start preaching again?”
“I can't preach anymore.”
“I don’t have time.”

The gateway of his sight – now closed by self-inflicted blindness—gives way to the metaphors of his memory and imagination and prepares him for entry into the eternal life of Jesus.

With every sunset, when our bodies call for rest and remind us that life is short, we can become armchair theologians and, with God’s grace, even mystics. As our eyes dim, the images of life fill our minds with metaphors of faith. With prayer, the myriad of metaphors reminds us of the promises of Christ with hope—and prepare us to meet God where “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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