Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Veritatis Visio... Part I


In the nineteenth chapter of Luke's Gospel, we encounter a man named Zacheus, perched in a sycamore tree. He has climbed into the tree to "see Jesus, who He was." Luke tells us that "looking up, [Jesus] saw him, and said to him: Zacheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide in thy house." Christ brings to Zacheus and Luke's audience the message that "the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."

One of the greatest homilies that I've ever heard focused on this same scriptural passage. It was given by the Rev. Shaun Mahoney of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and spoke of Christ's "optic on the world." Christ's vision was attracted to Zacheus, a man in the peripheral of his sight, if you will: a man who was lost. Father Mahoney exhorted his listeners to have the same unique vision. As evidence of the need for this unique "optic on the world," Father shared with us a story from the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, about a poor-house in England and the abject destitution that the author witnessed there.

The story, and the homily, left a burning impression on my heart and mind, and made this Gospel chapter one of my favorites. It has ever since had a stirring and haunting effect on me. Again and again, I have gone over in my mind the wonderful insights shared by Father Mahoney and I've extracted from and expanded upon them in my own meditation. It has frequently occurred to me that there is a paradoxical irony in Zacheus' location, perhaps even a literary parallel. Jesus sees with his merciful and wide vision a man perched in a tree, and calls him down in order to meet his salvation; and daily, we pass by Jesus hanging in his tree, in our tunnel vision missing those on the peripherals of our society: failing to encounter Christ in the poor and broken people of this world: failing to have His unique optic of mercy. It is interesting that this story follows directly a miracle story of Christ's curing a blind man. I like to muse that the recently cured blind man, following behind Jesus, taking in all that he sees with his restored sight, was probably the first person after Christ to notice Zacheus, because of the eagerness with which he would have been surveying the whole scene. Along these trains of thought, I prayerfully reflect and question myself: how often do I fail see Christ? Do I encounter him in others? Do I see myself honestly? Perhaps a restoration of my own vision is in order...

The vision of truth.

The name of this weblog comes from a prayer by Thomas Aquinas. But the Gospel story in question speaks more eloquently of what it means to have that vision of truth for which the Angelic Doctor prayed. The vision of truth sees God in all things, especially in His revelation through Jesus Christ. The vision of truth in turn sees Christ in others, as he extolled us to do. And finally, the vision of truth sees inside oneself with honesty and perception. These three visions, of Christ, others, and self, are presented in order in Luke's story.

... Vision of Christ
Zacheus's "low stature" demands that he "climb" in order to see Christ.
..... Vision of Others
Christ's own merciful eyes then catch sight of Zacheus in his odd predicament.
....... Vision of Self
And after coming down from the tree, knowledgable of others' accusations of him as a sinner, Zacheus declares himself to Christ and announces the penances and restitution that he has performed for his wrongdoing.

The three posts in this series, drawing heavily and gratefully upon Father Mahoney's beautiful homily and Nathaniel Hawthorne's horrifying story, hope to draw attention to our world's great need for such a three-fold vision of truth.

Vision of Christ
Stephen, being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.
It is often said that young children can only focus on one thing at a time. They have unilateral senses and emotions. That is why, if you wave a rattle in front of a child crying with discomfort, you can distract it to the extent that it seems to completely forget about whatever bothered it. Obviously, growing out of this limitation is a good thing. And yet, Jesus tells us that God reveals the mysteries of the kingdom to such as these, and hides them from the vision of men. What is it about this childlike vision that captures more of the truth than our mature sight?

The answer is that, like a child, we are called to see and sense only one thing: Christ. Yet not exactly like a child. We must see Him and encounter Him not in front of all else that comes into our line of sight each day, but rather, we must see Christ in these things, and see them through Him. The iconography of stained-glass has this as one of its important meanings. The image on the foreground captures our main focus and attention, but it is not opqaue. An entire world might be glimpsed behind these scenes, but this world will be shaded and colored uniquely due to our perspective. Similarly, we must learn to see Christ in all things, and to view all situations with the unique perspective given to us by our identity as Christians.

Zacheus' perspective from the tree, looking over the crowd, focusing on Christ, is this type of vision. He could not see Christ clearly through in the midst of the chaotic scene, due to his "small stature" and therefore had to rise above it. This is the unique vision of truth that one must seek in prayer and contemplation, in fasting and penance, and most of all in sacrament, if he is ever to transform his vision of others and of self. I pray that my readers and I, and all the world, may have this type of vision, and that the contemplation of Christ's image may illuminate every other sight upon which we cast our gaze.


Post a Comment

<< Home