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.
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.
But he said there are still ways people can use their imagination to get more out of Mass through a screen.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
For example, while listening to the Scripture readings: "How do the metaphors in some of those readings, the Pauline analogies, the poetry from the Psalms, the biblical stories from the Old Testament, Jesus' parables, how do those strike my imagination and help me increase my faith, increase my hope, increase my charity?"
Imagination, he continued, can also help us grow in virtue both during the Mass and throughout the week that follows, when we might make a special effort to pray for a particular intention from the prayers of the faithful or to help someone who is sick or suffering through a visit or phone call.
In thinking about how to encounter God and feel a part of the Church – even when attendance at Mass is impossible – Steeves encouraged asking: "What is going to be the most helpful thing for me?"
"Is watching Mass [through a livestream] helping me, or is it making me more frustrated?" he said.
He also gave ideas of other concrete ways to find God during this time, such as praying with Sacred Scripture, reading theological writings, reading the stories and writings of the saints, and praying traditional prayers like the rosary and litanies.
He also suggested things which incorporate your senses, like burning incense, listening to hymns or sacred music, and meditating on a piece of art.