THE FAITH OF FOOLS
... and the Painted
is much like a painted tunnel set upon the face of a granite wall, and
we are invited to run into it — full speed — not knowing
whether the dark opening is an illusion, or if a tunnel, how deep it
is, and whether it bends immediately to the right or turns sharply to
the left. We do not know if it falls precipitously down or steeply curves
up ... if it is not an illusion at all. We have no idea how wide it
Some have told us that
it is a real tunnel. Others have told us that it is just black paint
artfully brushed on a solid wall. We only really see the wall around
it. This we believe to be real. We have approached the wall and knocked
our knuckles against the granite face on all the sides surrounding what
appears to be a black opening, and after a few vigorous attempts we
find our knuckles sore and because the surface is uneven, bleeding.
Someone comes along and
asks us to instantly run at the black opening. We are told that depending
on the speed at which we run, we will enter the more deeply into the
tunnel ... which for all appearances and in all probability is just
a painted surface. We can walk carefully toward it and very, very slowly
approach what appears to be a dark opening. This way, if it is an illusion,
the injury to ourselves will be minimal. If we rush at it full speed
and the apparent opening is just that — “apparent”— we will be seriously
injured, and what is more, look like fools in the effort. After all,
we had been warned by others, in fact, by many others, that it is an
illusion created by a clever artist, much like the three dimensional
drawings we have seen on the sidewalks of large cities, skillfully drawn
by enterprising artists. There “appears" to be depth, and we are amazed
at the skill, and may even, for all our realization that it is a carefully
crafted illusion, blench before stepping over the outer periphery of
This is a most apposite
metaphor for Faith, and Christ is either a clever artist or we are simply
credulous fools. It may be both. Perhaps the skill of the Artist depends
heavily on the gullibility of the fool. Moreover, most of the fools
are not the literati, the well-educated, the scholars, those
who know the real state of affairs in the world, and hold multiples
degrees to attest to this. They clearly are not willing to be fools.
So what of the rest of
us? What of those who, like us, stand in perplexity, hesitation, and
even doubt before the “painted” tunnel? All of them, all of us, have
inadvertently walked into brick walls and know the penalty of our inattentiveness
… and we walk away, ashamed that we have shown ourselves fools.
Let us further suppose
that it is widely rumored that many have actually run into the painted
tunnel — and are never heard from again! What are we to make of this?
What has become of them? Is it good or bad? We have no way of knowing
— even if such rumors have some apparent substance to them.
What is more, we have known
some people who have in fact run into the wall and immediately recoiled
off it, suffering greatly, and coming away “the wiser”, knowing from
experience that the tunnel is an illusion, and who can even show you
the scars of that regrettable encounter.
Even if the “painted” tunnel
is not an illusion as some maintain, although they themselves
only believe it without actually having run into it head on and at full
speed — it appears to be of an unpredictable nature. Sometimes it proves
to be an opening, and sometimes not. In fact, some have claimed to enter
it — and to have returned! While we cannot verify that they have in
fact entered it, it certainly appears to be the case that, in a different
way, their lives, too, have been changed as a result … much like those
who bounced off the wall.
Why would this “opening”
be of such a nature that for some it proves to be, in fact, a real opening,
while for others it turns out to be an illusion? Why do they return
from their encounter with the painted tunnel with such strikingly different
— even totally conflicting — accounts?
We — who are merely spectators
of this drama — really have no idea, still less assurance, of the likelihood
of our own experience with the painted tunnel, which all of us at least
see, and will never know, cannot know, until we ourselves participate
in the drama. We behold alike the wounded and the healed as a result
of their encounter with the “tunnel”. We stand on the sidelines, observing
this bizarre spectacle, hoping to attain to some certainty, one way
or another, through the experience of others. Again and again we fluctuate
between believing that the tunnel is real and that it is painted. We
watch one limp away, and we disbelieve. The next moment we watch another
return, made whole, and we believe. The one thing we do not doubt is
that the painted tunnel will change us, one way or another, and that
we can only find out which way if we run into it.
There is another unique
characteristic of the tunnel: as we grow older the opening looms larger.
It is not more real or less real, more apparent or less apparent; it
is just … more obtrusive.
This, in turn, reveals
something uniquely characteristic of us: a growing reluctance to run
into the wall. It is not so much that we fear being injured as a consequence,
as we fear discovering that it is only an illusion after all, a mere
painting, very old, but nevertheless very vivid.
Why is this? Because even
our doubt contains within itself at least the latency of belief. We
do not doubt what we do not believe, or what we know is not the case.
We only doubt what, for all its improbability, is yet the possibility
of being real. And this is to say that doubt itself contains an implicit
acknowledgement of the very thing doubted. Even if belief is suspended,
it is not entirely abandoned. It is a comfortable position. While we
forfeit any possible benefit of belief, we incur no penalty that would
result from a validated disbelief. In other words, we are more comfortable
without the consolation of finding that our belief corresponds to a
reality, than we are in possibly finding that our disbelief corresponds
to a reality — that there is nothing, that the tunnel is a painting
on an opaque and impenetrable wall, that it is an illusion only, beyond
which there is nothing. Better to implicitly hope there is something
and find oneself pleasantly surprised that it is indeed the case despite
all improbability … than to relinquish hope altogether in finding that
there is nothing.
The problem with this approach
is Jesus Christ. He does not ask you to take a stand. He requires you
to take a stand. Not on the issue, but on Him. The issue after all,
at least if you are a Catholic, is inseparable from Him. You cannot
stand on the sidelines. One way or another you will be forced to come
to terms with the tunnel. And the way you approach it is very likely
the measure you enter into the life of Christ.
You can pass it by altogether,
fearful of what it will require of you if you enter the tunnel, or of
finding there is nothing if you merely collide with it, with what was
the possibility that there was nothing and finding out that
there really is nothing, and living with that realization.
You can also approach it
tentatively, cautiously, carefully, seeking at every step to verify
something of the reality of the tunnel before moving a step closer until,
sufficiently assured, and with great apprehension, you make the final
“actus fidei”, or “act of faith”, and fall forward against
the black opening that may yet still be a solid wall — and breathe a
sigh of relief that your modicum of faith, yet imbued with doubt, did
not fail you.
Or you can run into the
tunnel full speed in the face of all improbability and against all the
palpable evidence that it is just a painted tunnel on an unyielding
surface — and enter the depths of the Heart of Christ Himself.
Ah, yes, you ask … nevertheless,
what of those who ran and recoiled off the wall? We would be dishonest
if we cannot answer this. This, ultimately, is at the heart of the mystery
of Faith itself which, were it possessed of certainty, would not be
faith. God alone knows the depths and the motives of the human heart.
There is no “methodology” to Heaven. Indeed, none of us are assured
of our own salvation which, St. Paul tells us, “we work out with fear
is certain: you will know nothing of it — and very likely suffer greatly
because you wish to know nothing definitive of it — whether it is real
or an illusion — until you throw yourself against the wall.
Boston Catholic Journal
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