IF YOU KNEW ME, JESUS SAID, YOU WOULD ALSO KNOW MY FATHER...THE ONE WHO SEES ME, SEES MY FATHER. These words of our Lord, spoken to one of his most intimate associates, invite us to a carefully focused reflection on what it means really to see a person. In fact, the paradoxical nature of this statement requires that we examine our own experience with a particularly attentive concentration if we would enter into the purpose of our Lord's words. Like so many other seemingly ordinary happenings, the act of seeing who a particular person is, proves to be more mysterious and filled with significance than we are accustomed to assume.
Jesus himself was sharply aware of the radical role of the senses in shaping human attitudes and behavior. He knew that our manner of seeing and hearing especially, contributed decisively to the formation of character and of our sense of identity. What we hear when another person speaks to us, or when we are alone in the fields or the forest, not only conveys information to our mind; it also exercises an influences upon our soul. The sounds and words we take in have the capacity to alter our feelings, our mood, our imagination, the images that we carry within, and give rise to thoughts and longings corresponding to their content. The same holds true of sight with its own specific power to determine the various movements of our soul and the thoughts emerging into consciousness. There is a reciprocal influence of the mind, the imagination, the affects of the soul, our desires and aspirations, moving in the opposite direction, that filters and colors in proportion to the intensity of significance we attach to the outer stimulus, what we take in. What we see and hear, then, depends greatly not only on what is presented to our sight or hearing, but on the dispositions of our soul and the inclinations of our heart.
We can fail to hear what another really is saying to us if we are not sensitive to the inner world from which his words proceed. Similarly, we can miss observing in the demeanor or in the behavior of another the true significance of a particular expression or pattern of behavior that unfolds before our eyes. Until we learn to see another with the eyes of heart, precisely as a person, that is, another in his or her own self, independently of our own needs, bias and preferences I cannot hope rightly to see the fuller significance of any word or act of his. What is most truly the self in all the uniqueness of transcendent individualilty, always will remain in part elusive to the mind. Only by a kind of connaturality, a sympathy deriving from a likeness at the level of the spirit can we rightly assess and value another; only then do we know the other as person.
How often Jesus had to complain that those with whom he met, among whom he lived, to whom he spoke and taught failed to perceive the true significance of his message and to know his person. "For this reason I speak to them in parables: For looking, they do not see, and listening they do not hear [Isaiah 6: 9, 10].' (Mt. 13: 16.") Our Lord goes on to give the cause for this disastrous insensibility, again employing the very words of the prophet Isaiah:
For there is fulfilled in them the prophesy of Isaiah which says: With your hearing hear and do not understand, with your sight look and grasp not, for the heart of this people is gross and their ears too heavy to hear, their eyes are closed lest they should hear with their ears and see with their eyes and gain understanding in their heart and be converted and I should heal them. (Mt. 13: 14, 15).
In spite of their privileged position and the revelations given them, even Mary and Joseph were unable to see clearly into the depths of his spirit and recognize there the full meaning of his relation to the Father. "Son, why have you behaved this way?... Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be taken up with my Father's affairs? (Luke 2:48, 49).
To be able to see who Jesus truly is we must know him in his life with the Father. This relationship is hidden to the eyes of the body, but is manifested to the eyes of the heart when the heart is purified by faith and that love of God and man which has become selfless by the self-denial involved in the practice of justice, kindness and mercy. In the Easter liturgy the risen Christ is often portrayed by the Scriptures we hear and in the Eucharist we receive his glorified body. By contemplating in him the light of his divine glory and striving to imitate his practice of mercy and justice, may the eyes of our heart be so purified that we might come to know him in all truth and in knowing him behold the Father whose image is reflected in his beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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