Spiritual Vision

Recently, I rediscovered Romano Guardini. In my undergraduate studies a professor had handed me a copy of his work The Lord. For the past 7 years it collected dust on my shelf, until this past January when I went on retreat to prepare for my diaconal ordination and brought it along with me. I fell in love with his presentation of Christ and how real he makes the person of the Lord. In the years between being handed the book and picking it up, many of my intellectual heroes have cited Guardini, including professors at the seminary and men like Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis (who wrote a thesis using Guardini) and Bishop Robert Barron. Pope Benedict XVI said “Guardini taught that the essence of Christianity is not an idea, not a system of thought, not a plan of action. The essence of Christianity is a Person: Jesus Christ Himself. That which is essential is the One who is essential.” Reading through The Lord, I discovered a beautiful gem on spiritual vision that has been feeding my prayer into Lent during this Year of Mercy.

Throughout His teachings, Our Lord says some rather puzzling things. For example, He says He has come that “they who do not see may see and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39) And again in His famous Sermon on the Mount He declares, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)

All of us are blind. If only we would have the humility to acknowledge it! For when we compare our earthly way of seeing things to God’s view, we see the limits to our vision. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

To see something is to take into oneself its form. But how easy it is for us to filter what we take it. Of course ideological filters can exist as well as particular ways of seeing based on our nurturing. But also just as true is that influence of concupiscence on our way of taking in reality. And no one understands this more than Christ. He sees our tendency to be blind and desires to give us sight. We do this so often with other people, alienating them because of interior judgments we make against them. In this case we become enablers of the throw away culture the Holy Father is constantly condemning rather than agents of true Christian humanism. It’s worth quoting Guardini at length, because of the profundity of his insight:

 To see another human being as he really is means to lay ourselves open to his influence. Thus when fear or dislike moves us to avoid him, this reaction is already evident in our gaze; the eye caricaturizes him, stifling the good, heightening the bad. We discern his intentions, making swift comparisons, and leap to conclusions. All this proceeds involuntarily, if not unconsciously. Seeing is a protective service to the will to live. The deeper our fear or distaste of a person, the more tightly we close our eyes to him, until finally we are incapable of perception or the profound German word for it, Wahrnehmen: reception-of-truth. Thus we have become blind to that particular person. This mysterious process lies behind every enmity. Discussion, preaching, explanations are utterly useless. The eye simply ceases to register what is plain to be seen.

Pope Francis has called for this Lent during the Year of Mercy to be one of greater intensity and purification. To pray for the grace to see every human person with the eyes of faith and to have our vision rooted more in reality and supernatural vision, to be receptive to the truth, would do wonders for making the world more just and more merciful. Maybe Guradini will help you in examining your interactions with others. I know his insight has awakened me.