The post-communion song at a wedding I celebrated recently was titled: “If you could see what I see.” The singer ardently wishes that his beloved could see herself as he sees her, because she is so beautiful, authentic and good, but then comes to realize that she can only come to see and know herself through his eyes and perception, as long as he keeps telling her who he sees and how that feels to him.
Today’s Gospel is the moving narrative of the man born blind who is healed by Jesus. Last week was the woman at the well; next week is the raising of Lazarus. These three narratives from John’s Gospel are models of conversion, using the images of water, light and new life and serve as profound reflections both for the catechumens preparing for baptism and the entire Church in this season of Lent. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly heals blind people, not only of their physical disability but, more to the point, their lack of spiritual vision.
Our world today is becoming increasingly visual, from posting pictures on Facebook to streaming video on the Web to visualized conversations that are texted. Yet, we can easily remain on the superficial plane of the exterior of things, accepting at face value what we rapidly perceive, but never lingering long enough to dig below the surface of the images that others present to us. Depth perception requires prayer, silence and reflection.
If we just skim along the top layer of Catholicism, the Eucharist becomes a sentimental symbol, the Scriptural stories of Christ become like bedtime tales, and the moral life a naïve and unreachable ideal. If our heart and spirit is not moving ever more deeply into the vast mystery of God, our religious practice quickly becomes an empty ritual that we eventually put in a drawer along with our faded First Communion pictures and broken childhood rosaries.
I know when I am giving prayer short shrift in my life because I stop seeing, truly perceiving the miraculous truth, stunning beauty and overwhelming goodness that surround me. When I go on retreat at New Melleray Abbey, a Trappist monastery in rural Iowa, having stepped away from the ceaseless routine, I immediately see everything in a different light. The sunrise becomes a cosmic event, filled with pulsating light; the birds in the trees are performing a symphony better than any concert hall can offer and the food tastes spectacular because I am actually taking the time to enjoy it.
In reading the lives of Saint Camillus and Saint John of God, two remarkable servants of the sick, I have always been fascinated and inspired by their ability to literally see Christ in the people they served, the more repulsive the better. Their spiritual vision of the Lord in the suffering has a palpability to it, a tangibility that saves it from being a pious thought. The saints loved so astoundingly and sacrificially because they saw the world from God’s perspective. Standing in the dazzling light of Christ, they saw life and death, good and evil, the beauty, tragedy and possibility of the human person in such vivid colors, that they felt their experiences with a passion that we can barely comprehend, and thus did the heroic and bold thing.
Is my vision improving this Lent? Is Sunday Eucharist a consummation of God’s love in my soul? Do I see the beautiful possibilities in the people around me or only their problems and faults? Underneath the thousand details that make up the surface of my life, am I embracing a deep interiority of prayer that, every once in awhile, leads me to the very heartbeat of God? Am I coming to literally see Christ in the poor, the sick, the Mass, the Gospel, the rising of the sun, and my own little life?In the first reading, Samuel anoints David as king, much to the astonishment of his family. Then he says, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” Through faith, prayer and the sacraments, Jesus gradually heals our vision, to see as He sees and then to become an extension of His love and presence in the world.