“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe’” (John 20:27-29).
I can’t remember why I was in such a hurry. All I know is that I was practically sprinting through the shopping center when a sign in the distance caught my eye. I squinted.
Wait, did the sign really read “Totus Tuus”? Was Pope John Paul II’s motto – a Latin phrase meaning “totally yours,” and signifying complete self-giving to God through Our Lady – actually being displayed on a placard in a store window? Was that two-word summation of Marian devotion, taught by St. Louis de Montfort and adopted by JPII, sanctifying a small corner of a decidedly non-spiritual shopping center? Could it be?
Excitedly, I cut through a throng of shoppers to find out. As I neared the placard, I was surprised to see that it was hanging above a clothes rack bursting with pink tulle and rainbow-hued taffeta.
That’s when I realized that the sign didn’t read “Totus Tuus.” It read “Totally Tutus.”
What was it that had caused me to misread the words? It wasn’t just the visual similarity between “Totus Tuus” and “Totally Tutus.” It wasn’t just my certifiably poor eyesight. It was also the simple fact that we humans have a tendency to see what we want to see.
Ever since JPII’s 1979 visit to New York, when I stood in a crowd of thousands as the popemobile cruised down Fifth Avenue, I’ve felt a kinship with that well-beloved pope. So, there at the shopping center, I’d have been thrilled to learn that the not-yet-canonized Pope John Paul II was being boosted by motto-marked merch. I had wanted to see a “Totus Tuus” sign, so I “saw” it.
But there are signs that no amount of wishful thinking can help us to perceive, and those are the signs that we most want to see: supernatural assurances of God’s presence and lightning-bolt revelations of His providence. And when those signs don’t materialize, our faith can be challenged.
There used to be a 99-cent store in midtown Manhattan, not far from where I’d stood to catch a glimpse of Pope John Paul II. When I was working in the city, I used to drop into the store on my lunch break. Of the many purchases I made there, I can remember only three: a tote bag silkscreened with a picture of Cat Stevens, a colorful fish plaque that my mom hung above the kitchen stove, and a small vinyl banner stamped with an image of a bluebird above the words, “Faith is the bird that feels the light, and sings while the dawn is still darkness.”
My mom displayed the banner in our hallway, and she often repeated its saying. There were many times that Mom herself would’ve loved to have received a sign: a sign that her marriage would heal; a sign that her wayward daughter would find her way home; a sign that an illness wouldn’t be painful, or chronic, or costly. Although the signs never appeared, Mom’s faith remained solid. She knew that the dawn was coming.
We are sensory beings, so it’s only natural for us to want to bolster our faith with sensory experiences: signs, wonders, and maybe an all-out miracle or two. But faith is for this earthly realm, while sight is reserved for eternity. We are truly blessed if, having seen God only with the spiritual eyes of faith, we can exclaim with Thomas the Apostle, “My Lord and my God!”
“For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
“The Catholic Storyteller” is a monthly column by Celeste Behe, a parishioner of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Hellertown. Find her online at www.CelesteBehe.com.