When I first applied to the diocese to enter the seminary, I underwent a series of psychological tests (yes, like you, I’m surprised I ‘passed’ them!). Anyway, one of the tests revolved around my perception of things. Besides the usual Rorschach inkblot tests, the examiner had sketches that represented two or more images…the idea was that I was to look quickly and state what I saw. Then, I could look longer and see if I saw anything else. “Look again” he would say, as if I were a fool and didn’t know what I saw. “Look again”…and sure enough, there was another clear image, and sometimes a third. I still enjoy visual perception tricks and puzzles, because they challenge my brain to be open to something else.
Look again. In our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, we have images of the desert and the steppe, places of very limited vegetation or no growth at all. In an instant, they are transformed with color, life, blossom and song. We have, as well, feeble hands, weak knees, and frightened hearts: in an instant, they become robust, secure, strong and courageous. First we have the blind, the deaf, the lame and the mute…in an instant, they now see, they hear, they leap and they sing! And what is this instant comprised of; what is it that can accomplish the reversal of such miseries and misfortunes? Rather, who is it? It is God who comes into the midst of it all with power and might, his own glory wrapped in vindication…with whom all things are made aright. So, we look again to see him and all that He accomplishes…by His presence.
Look again. In our gospel, while John is imprisoned, he sends his disciples to Jesus with the question, “Are you the one…?” Instead of answering clearly and plainly, the Lord Jesus invites them to witness the fruit of His works and then to decide aright. The Lord is inviting them to take in all of their sensible environments and experiences and thus be awakened in faith and love. He’s calling their attention to not merely His works, but His heart, His merciful acts done in love, His care and comfort brought to those downtrodden. Most importantly, Jesus draws his listeners into Himself and who He is as Lord. He’s drawing them to place their whole existence into dwelling with Him, feeling and being with him in every sense, every fiber, every pore…to “look again” and see Him for who He is.
All of us could be well-served to adjust our perceptions every so often; to be open to witness something or someone anew. By doing so, our perceptions might be clearer, more revelatory, more lasting, more accurate and more fully complete.
So, for example, let’s consider this Eucharist in which we are presently engaged. When instructed by Christ to, “do this in memory of me”, how do you perceive this instruction? Christ, in the offering of His own sacred Body and Blood, does so by becoming poor and vulnerable (basically, allowing Himself to be crucified). Now, in the memory of the Church, we offer this sacrifice of our own: we seek to have re-presented for us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the poverty and vulnerability of the Lord Jesus. At the same time, we offer the fruits of our very lives. We come with repentant hearts, we come with our imperfections, our fears, our struggles, even our holy desires…and we approach the Lord in order to be strengthened, to be made full, to be satisfied and encouraged in Goodness.
Now, we know that the word Eucharist means ‘thanksgiving’, an action and an attitude. So what is to be our response once satisfied, once fed, once nourished by our impoverished and vulnerable Lord? St. Augustine says, “we should rejoice”. And from that rejoicing, we become the very body of Christ, and we are then schooled in the ways of the poor, the vulnerable, the outcast and the different…the “less” in our midst. To do something other would betray the vulnerability of Christ, the poverty of our Lord.
As I have been reading Pope Francis’ exhortation “Evangelli Gaudium”, my perceptions about certain aspects of the Church’s teachings are being honed as I “look again”. This week, I focused on Francis’ reflections concerning the inclusion of the poor in society. At first, I was very pleased by his counsel, but later I found myself questioning “how” and even sometimes “why” we must always and everywhere seek to respond to the poor and the “less”. One of my thoughts: “the lazy may be the poor…and am I responsible to those who choose to be lazy and thus poor?” Another thought: “how can I, just one person, serve best the needs of the poor?” And another: “someone driving to the CoNSERNS-U Christmas Shop in a Cadillac SUV should not be getting free Christmas gifts” But I finally had to admit, by grappling with theoretical instances of “the poor”, I was myself trying to excuse my responsibility for poor people, the love and care that I am called to share with men and women and children who have nothing and, because of whatever and any circumstance, they have not, when I still have. And that last example: I give to charity as an act of solidarity and mercy…I trust in a mercy shown, not a mercy withheld. And why must I—and we—serve the poor? We must do so because Christ did; we must do so as we become this body of Christ; we must do so because we have become poor and vulnerable in order to receive God’s own gift of mercy. You see, we must care for the poor because God cares for the poor…all of us.
I struggle, too, that I don’t know how to respond globally, or locally, or even well; Francis admits he does not have THE answer to such problems in societies; both of us admit that nothing will ever be perfect on this side of heaven; economists warn that our views might not be fiscally sound, wise or advisable. But this does not preclude us from taking our own personal steps toward being merciful; these do not exempt us from ourselves becoming poor and vulnerable, from offering the sacrifice of our own comforts to mercifully aid one and another who have nothing. I am responsible to share mercy because mercy has first and foremost been shared already with me.
Not only am I reflecting here on economic poverty, but also a poverty of spirit, of which we’ll reflect on next week. For now, it’s enough to “look again” to see how the presence of Jesus Christ and our faith in Him must impact and affect all that we are. That presence is—even today—growing closer and calling us into greater intimacy with Him. That is the purpose of Advent, is it not? …to see our need for the One who is coming, who has come, and who will come again?
May the Lord Jesus come again, to bring us a deeper perception into His love, His presence, His mercy, His very life. May we come to see Him in the vulnerable, the poor, …the less among us.
May the Lord Jesus come, and abide with us. Amen.