Sunday Scripture readings, Aug. 22, 2021: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Jos 24:1-2, 15-17, 18 Psalm 34:2-3, 16-21
2) Eph 5:21-32 or 5:2, 25-32 Gospel: Jn 6:60-69
Immersing our senses into the 4D faith experience
A new trend in movie theater experience is 4D movies. Films in 4D combine familiar 3D movies with physical effects synchronized with the movie to engage all the senses.
If you’re watching a 4D film you might experience rain, fog, mist, bubbles, smoke, wind, temperature changes, scent and motion. Some movie theater chairs even include leg and back ticklers! I’ve never watched a 4D film and I’m not sure I’m ready to do so anytime soon!
Our senses are gateways to the world. We experience the world through sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Since we engage our senses routinely it’s easy to take for granted the capacity of our eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to touch, and our senses of taste and smell. Our daily human relationships rest on these capacities of our physical senses.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that we are created as a unity of body and spirit. As embodied spirits, we express and perceive spiritual realities through our physical senses. As social beings, we communicate through language, gestures and symbolic actions through the senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.
The same is true for our relationship with God.
Theologians speak of the “spiritual senses” as paths to our experience of God that correspond to our physical senses. We have spiritual senses to hear God’s word; to touch, smell and taste God’s living and real presence in our midst; and to see with eyes of faith the wonders of God’s love and mercy.
Our spiritual senses open us to God’s presence in the beauty of creation, the poor and the least of our brothers and sisters. So how often do we engage our spiritual senses to experience God?
The psalmist awakens our spiritual senses by singing, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” We join the psalmist in praying, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth.”
And we hear that God “has eyes for the just, and ears for their cry.” The transcendent God is not a physical being like us, yet the psalmist, speaking of God by analogy, uses the language of the senses!
In the sixth chapter of John, from which this Sunday’s Gospel is taken, Jesus has fed the 5,000, walked on water and declared to his disciples, “I am the bread of life.”
Now the disciples struggle to understand Jesus’ deeds and words. Their physical senses need to be purified and transformed to awaken their spiritual senses. And to help them come to faith in him, Jesus says, “It is the spirit that gives life. … The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.”
As we pray to see with eyes of faith, to hear God’s word with the “ear of our heart” and to touch the love of God in our love of neighbor, we join in singing with the psalmist, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!” as we pray in faith, “Speak to me, Lord.”
How do you “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” in the words and deeds of Jesus?
Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.