Ordinary Time 11, Year A
- May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened (Eph. 1:18)
“It will be very easy to draw up notebooks of complaints, full of things that are not going very well in our church,” says Cardinal Carlo María Martini, S.J. (“Teaching the Faith in a Postmodern World,” America [May 12, 2008]). “But this would be to adopt an external and depressing vision, not to see with the eyes of faith, which are the eyes of love.”
To observe only that the crowds Jesus saw were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd, would simply be, in my opinion, to complain and adopt an external and depressing vision. But the observation, seen in its context, is clearly more than just a chronicling of a negative complaint. The observation, after all, is preceded by the account that Jesus made the rounds of towns and villages, “teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.” It is also followed by the injunction: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” The observation, then, which explains, in the first place, why Jesus was moved with pity, is also, in the second place, an invitation to see even—nay, especially—the saddest of situations with the eyes of faith and love, lest we may be completely overwhelmed and give up when things are do not appear to be going right.
To see with the eyes of faith and love, then, is to discern God’s providence not only in situations of light, grace, peace, health, life, but also in situations of darkness, sin, violence, sickness, death. As the account of Jesus’ genealogy already teaches, God can write straight with crooked lines. Or, as Pope Benedict XVI puts it, Jesus’ genealogy “with its light and dark figures, its successes and failures, shows us that God can write straight even on the crooked lines of our history” . Such history, Father Robert P. Maloney, C.M., also points out (“The Genealogy of Jesus: Shadows and Lights in His Past,” America, [December 17, 2007]), “is not a linear series of events leading to predictable outcomes. It involves sin and conversion, success and failure, heroes and villains. But God is at work in it, making crooked ways straight and rough ways smooth.”
The proclamation that God is at work in history, guiding us through the joys and sorrows of life to the light and glory of Jesus, challenges us, needless to say, to trust God deeply. Adopting a faithful and loving vision means, therefore, trusting “God to be with us and for us, even in the midst of the darkest moments in our lives” (cf. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., “A Loving and Caring God,” America [June 9-16, 2008]). Life darkest moments, war, terrorism and poverty do not constitute the last words. For, as Pope Benedict XVI teaches also, our pilgrimage as God’s people , “with its ups and downs, its paths and detours, leads us finally to Christ,” in whose person and life is revealed, says Father Maloney for his part, the truth that God’s love ultimately prevails.
God’s love prevails and is not overcome by human beings’ repeated infidelity and lack of trust. Rather, it overcomes infidelity and distrust with fidelity and trust. To see, then, with the eyes of faith and love is to be convinced that God believes in us and trusts us enough—notwithstanding our unworthiness, our smallness, our stubbornness of heart—to bear us up on eagle wings, bring us to himself, and choose us, so that, hearkening to his voice and keeping his covenant, we may be his special possession, dearer to him than all others, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. To have a faithful and loving vision is to view ourselves to be worthwhile because of the worth God’s love confers on us “in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” To see with the eyes of faith and love is to see our being freely chosen not as a motive to separate ourselves with pride from others but as a responsibility to avoid becoming like lost sheep lest we occasion others’ being lost and blaspheming God’s name.
Our God-given worth is, of course, a matter of grace. We have received it without cost, and without cost we are expected to give it to others. The test, I believe, of our having truly received without cost is our giving without cost. In other words, if we are not flowing over and giving freely, could it be because we have not really availed of what God offers without cost, nor understood and appreciated God’s grace and gratuitous generosity?
To see with the eyes of faith and love implies, therefore, readiness to be sent to preach the good news of the kingdom of heaven and engage others in the same task. It is adopting St. Vincent de Paul’s vision that discerns no better assurance of eternal happiness “than by living and dying in the service of the poor, in the arms of providence, and with genuine renouncement of ourselves in order to follow Jesus Christ.” It is being convinced, as St. Vincent was, that “all things work together for good” for those who love God (Rom. 8:28), even as they struggle to help the starving, the poor, those afflicted with sickness, death, uncleanness and all kinds of evil, not at all surprised at anything, for “God will do everything for the best.”
Or to put the previous paragraph in Cardinal Martini’s terms, to see with the eyes of faith and love is: not to be surprised, much less, frightened by diversity, but to discern in it opportunity for grace; to take risks by embracing Mt. 16:25 (“Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but the one who loses his life for my sake will save it.”); to befriend the poor and put them at the center of one’s life “because they are the friends of Jesus who made himself one of them”; to nourish oneself with the Gospel, “for the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (Jn. 6:33).
No merely external and depressing vision here, for sure. The mystery of faith we proclaim affirms, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”