Between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension into heaven, “where were the disciples, where was Mary Magdalene, where were the apostles going to find Jesus?” Steeves said. “It was on Jesus’ terms and conditions that he would be visible to him, that he would appear.”
“So, we’ve got to figure out during this Eastertide too: Where is Jesus present, where can I find him in my life right now?”
Steeves recalled an image from the Old Testament, when the temple was destroyed, and God followed his people into exile and remained with them.
He drew a comparison to the coronavirus quarantine as “an exile away from the churches where we usually find [God].”
The theologian said we might think, “Where is God in me, around me, right now, so I can get in touch with him?”
And that is where the imagination can be useful in a very real way, he explained.
Though imagination is difficult to define, “Aristotle would say our imagination and our memory too are like a treasure trove of images that our senses and our imagination have invented from what we see around us,” Steeves said.
Our bodily senses can only experience the surface of things, he said, but “the specific task of the Christian imagination is to imagine the real.”
He pointed to a fundamental concept in Christian theology: revelation, which “literally means taking away the veil.”
“Our Christian faith recognizes that even during ordinary time, there’s always some kind of hurdle about us discovering God, and so revelation ordinarily comes through tradition, scripture, and the magisterium of the Church.”
One example of this is the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.
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During the Mass, Steeves said, Catholics use the imagination “to realize that beyond the veil of the bread and wine, God is present in the Blessed Sacrament in his body, blood, soul, and divinity.”
“The faith teaches me that Christ is really present in the Eucharist and using the imagination doesn’t mean that it is fake or made up – it’s very real – but I’ve got to go beyond appearances to realize that.”
According to Steeves, “the whole point of using the imagination in our faith is not to make up fanciful things, it’s how we can figure out where this invisible, un-hearable God is hiding so that our seeking for him, our search for him is going to actually be that which saves us and brings us to eternal life.”
Christians do this through using their imagination in prayer, in reading Scripture, in the liturgy, and in the sacraments, he said. “Also, in the way we can be imaginative in our charity on an everyday basis.”
Faith during a pandemic
The theologian acknowledged that just as it is not the same thing to speak with a loved one over the phone or through an app as it is to hug them in real life, neither is watching a livestreamed Mass the same as being physically present.