07 Apr Looking Into the Eyes of Jesus
by Veronica Dudych
For a short while before I joined Madonna House, I was a member of a Byzantine monastery, and there we mounted icons as a source of income.
One of our Sisters was asked to mount a print of The Bridegroom, which depicts a thorn-crowned Jesus, eyes downcast, hands bound with ropes, reed in hand.
We tried to attach an appropriate prayer or scripture passage to the back of the icons we mounted. This Sister had trouble choosing one this time, and asked for suggestions.
Praying about it, I recalled a verse from the Song of Songs, which is a dialogue of love between the Bridegroom and his bride. The Bridegroom speaks:
“You ravish my heart, my sister, my promised bride. You ravish my heart with a single one of your glances” (4:9, Jerusalem Bible).
Each time this verse came to mind, I’d be taken back to my pre-monastic apartment, where, meditating on the poem which includes this verse, I glanced up to a large crucifix hanging on the wall. From the cross, Jesus seemed to be saying those very words to me.
In the depths of his pain and suffering, he looks at each of us, consumed not by his Passion, but with his passionate love for us!
We know in our minds that Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection are the greatest demonstration of love conceivable. But do we recognize this love when we look at a crucifix? Do we see it radiating from his eyes? To us? To me?
If only we could bear to face—to believe—the immensity of this love for us! To believe that we are so loved by him that he tells us so from the cross, seeming almost to ignore the excruciating pain he is suffering.
On the most human level, we all know the great communicative power of eye contact. Truly to see that depth of love in anyone’s eyes compels a response.
So, how do we respond?
When I see someone who loves me that much, suffering and in pain, I’ll want to assuage his pain somehow. Before Jesus ascended the cross, he told us what to do:
In a parable in the Gospel of Matthew (ch. 25), Jesus blessed those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, visited the sick and imprisoned, summing it all up with the words, Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me (v. 40).
Our founder, Catherine Doherty, and St. Teresa of Calcutta shared a deep awareness of the Mystical Body of Christ and of the obligation to assuage his pain in its many forms in our brothers and sisters in need.
There are so many people in the world who experience pain—physical, spiritual, emotional pain. In fact, everyone in the world experiences some form of pain or suffering in his or her life: from the homeless person wondering where to get something to eat, to the Queen of England; from the man who is laid off from work and has a family to support, to the CEO who has everything but a friend he can confide in; from the youth searching in vain for the meaning of life, to the nursing home resident waiting for a visitor who never comes; from the terrorist, to the one who survives the attack; from you to me. Do we recognize Jesus in them?
There are times when we can fill the needs of others to some degree, and when we can, we should in all haste. But in situations where we don’t have the wherewithal, what can we do? Remember, the depth of his love compels some response.
Can we believe that our merest glance in the Lord’s direction in the person of “one of the least of these” can take away some of his intense pain and anguish? I do.
You might say that a kindly glance is a “mustard seed” of love. But if a mustard seed of faith can move mountains, what could a mustard seed of love not do?
Even if we don’t have food to distribute or money to give to a beggar on the street, we shouldn’t simply walk by without acknowledging his or her presence. We can at least afford him the kindness of meeting his eyes with compassion for his situation and respect for his dignity.
Christ stands before us in that person, and if we have no more than a kind look to give, Christ will accept that as a gesture of love all the same.
In those days at the monastery, I met and conversed with a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, Fr. Robert Stanion (now of blessed memory). He shared with me a dream he had, in which Jesus stood so close to him that he could see himself in Jesus’ eyes. He mused:
“God, who is so close to us that we are reflected in his eyes, is also so close that we reflect him in our own. So the compassion we can give others is the glance of Jesus, the acceptance of the other as he or she actually is, with the potential to become what God desires. A reflection of and an outpouring of love, which sets free … ”
As Christ stands before us in the other, he also stands before the other in us. So the love we give, in the smallest way, is Christ’s love. And, great Mathematician that he is, he multiplies our love as he did the loaves and fishes, to feed multitudes.
Jesus wants us to look at him, not simply to show our love for him—to assuage his pain in our brothers and sisters—to ravish his heart—but first of all so that we can see his love for us.
The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus looked at the rich young man with love (10:21) as he told him what he still lacked to gain eternal life. The rich man left sad, for upright as he was, his eyes were not on Jesus, but on his many possessions.
On a later occasion, Jesus looked at Peter as a cock crowed, causing Peter to repent with bitter tears, of his three-fold denial (Luke 22: 60-62). Peter, who knew the Lord’s love and forgiveness, walked away sad, but returned to become the leader of the Church. He had his eyes on Jesus.
When we pray, do we look at Jesus? Or do we close our spiritual eyes and allow ourselves to be distracted from what he is trying to say to us?
Our attention is much better when we look at the one who is speaking to us. When we pray, do we venture a glance at Jesus? Perhaps face him directly, even if only for a moment?
Are we able to gaze into his eyes at length? Or are we afraid of what we might see in his eyes? Reproach? Condemnation?
No, we’ll only see his love for us, “an outpouring of love, which sets free and gently challenges to growth and openness and responsibility” (to finish Fr. Stanion’s musings).
Our love for him would flow naturally, irresistibly, if we truly felt his love deep within. It did for Catherine and for St. Teresa. Once they knew God’s love for them, they were unstoppable in loving him back in the poor, in whatever way they could.
If you let him, the Bridegroom can ravish your heart, too.