Have you ever wished that you had been born in Ancient Israel and had been of the age to see Christ in person? Can you imagine being a disciple of Christ and witnessing all those miracles from turning water into wine, to multiplying the loaves, to exorcising demons, to healing the sick and perhaps even the transfiguration of Christ our Lord? Do you believe that if you had left everything and picked up your cross to follow Him and after witnessing countless miracles that you would have doubts about the divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? We are apt in this age to believe that we would be irrevocably convicted by this irrefutable evidence of experience, but we need look no further than the example of our first Pope to learn of the reality of the situation.
In Mark’s Gospel 14:27 we learn that Christ foretells of the “scattering of the sheep.” Our Lord said to the Apostles: “you will all fall away; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” Peter, being convicted in the presence of the Christ, spoke bravely when he said “even though they all fall away, I will not.” But Christ corrected Peter’s misapprehension by telling him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But Peter vehemently protested: “if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” In spite of Christ’s foretelling, all the disciples said the same thing. If we had been there we too would no doubt have proclaimed our fidelity to Christ, and we too would have been wrong.
How is it that the man we know as the first pope, the “rock” upon which Holy Mother Church is built, the very man to whom our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ handed the keys of the Kingdom, how is it that he collapsed into cowardice even after witnessing the public life of Christ? The answer is simple, but obscured in this empirical age. The Venerable Bede tells us that “the Lord foretells to His disciples what is about to happen to them, that when they have gone through it, they may not despair of salvation, but work out their repentance, and be freed.” This is universal, that by the flesh we all fall, but in falling it is for us to get back up. We might ask how.
There are at least three ways of knowing and they occupy a hierarchical structure of importance. There is the most basic way to know, by the experience provided by our five senses. This is verifiable by repeated experiments and an examination of data to make reliable predictions about the nature of the physical world. Although this is a fine way of knowing, it is not the finest, nor is it even the second best, but perhaps it is the lowest way of knowing. Unfortunately, this way of knowing has captivated this age as the best way of knowing and many people contend that this is really the only way of knowing and in general we rely on our experiences to determine what we do and do not know.
A second way of knowing is by the cultivated use of our intellects as we attempt to use reason rightly. This is known historically as philosophy, that seeking after wisdom by speculative understanding. Often times we must attain to universal truths from abstractions while contemplating truth goodness and beauty. Although this kind of knowing is not confirmed by the five senses it is a more powerful way of knowing. By the right use of reason, we are able to discover the principles of being capable of providing deep insights that the empirical science can never discover, but is able to verify.
The third and by far the best way of knowing is by revelation inspired by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is embodied by the Wisdom of the Saints who live the best human lives. One graced by the gifts of infused knowledge and virtue by the Holy Spirit possess the most comprehensive form of human knowing. In the order of knowledge, revelation subsumes philosophical knowing and in turn, philosophical knowledge subsumes empirical knowing. In reality, a proper understanding of philosophy and empirical science do not contradict revelation, but confirm it.
If we look back at St. Peter who fell away from Christ in his most desperate hour, despite his protestations that he would stay with Christ to the bitter end, we must realize that he was a man gifted with the most direct experience of Christ in the material sense. He was witness to countless miracles, healings and unending wisdom. He was present for the most brilliant exposition of revelation ever gifted to man. His direct experience with Christ surpasses all imaginings, and yet, in spite of all this experience, he denied Christ three times.
We rely in this age almost exclusively on the five senses, our experience and then our own interpretation of the data. We are deceiving ourselves if we really believe that by experiencing Christ in a physical and material way that we would acquire by that experience an unassailable faith. Faith is a supernatural gift from God infused by the Holy Spirit to souls who submit their wills to the will of the Father in imitation of Christ. Let us not trust our five senses and instead put our trust in the Lord and His revelation that we may come to believe without wavering or falling as did our first Pope.