By Bridget McCartney Nohara
What does it look like to be “conquered by the fire of Christ’s gaze,” as Benedict XVI described?
In the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s passing, I am particularly drawn to his writings. This Lent, I hope to be led closer to Jesus through the words he spoke to the young people of Madrid in 2012. He told them, “When a person is conquered by the fire of his gaze, no sacrifice seems too great to follow him and give him the best of ourselves.”
What does this look like, to be conquered by the fire of his gaze? Here are some practical ways I’m trying to achieve this.
Through His Eyes
In my prayer life, I can forget that Jesus is the God-man. The fully divine aspect seems easier to grasp since I cannot see him. But the fully human aspect? How quickly I forget! Jesus was a human, just like us. Longing to develop a deeper relationship with him, this truth about Christ’s humanity serves as a powerful tool for reflection.
One of my favorite reflections for meditative prayer is asking the Holy Spirit to paint for me an image of the divine gaze in human form. Using a sacred image to jump-start me, or perhaps solely from my own imagination, I seek to interpret the shade and shape of his eyes, conjuring up what might be unique characteristics of them. Then I try to let his eyes meet mine. God created us human, so he knows how much we speak with our eyes! A single glance can say far more than pages of words might. In addition to still art forms, The Chosen series is another excellent way to practise this form of prayer, as it portrays Jesus living and preaching among his apostles. Practising this form of meditation can be deeply bonding with Jesus as we allow him to communicate to us through his humanity.
To Love Another
In “Les Misérables”, Victor Hugo poetically wrote that “to love another person is to see the face of God.” In seeking the gaze of Christ, we may find it in the faces that surround us.
Do you want to give the best of yourself to Christ, as Pope Benedict describes? Then give yourself to others in loving service. The stunning reality about loving people is as simple as this: Love begets love. As we perform acts of love, we become more aware of the beauty of the people in our lives and, thus, Jesus tenderly reveals himself.
The actions themselves can be simple; the shift is often in our disposition. Disciplining myself to see others’ needs in the first place can be hard, but it is a worthy effort. Little things such as taking the smaller portion, listening rather than speaking, and volunteering for the task no one else may want to do are all ways to turn the focus away from us. In my morning offering, I try to invite the Holy Spirit to illuminate where I might be called to serve that day and trust that I will be guided.
State of Grace
The sacraments are the closest we can be to Christ on Earth. What better way to live than to live in a state of grace?
Just as spending quality time together is required to develop authentic relationships, it is the same with Jesus Christ. Frequently receiving Communion, seeking forgiveness in confession and communing with him in Eucharistic adoration are all ways to invest in the relationship. The more we spend time with him, the more we get to know him; and in getting to know him, we will inevitably fall more in love with Jesus.
I find that simply being in a church — particularly a beautiful one — can bring me closer to this gaze of Jesus. The art, structure, tradition and, of course, the presence of Jesus all contributes to the mystical beauty that draw me deeper into prayer. This Lent, let’s flock to and fill our churches.
This penitential season, I pray we find ourselves more conquered by this fiery gaze of truth, beauty and goodness as we accompany Christ to Calvary. As a result, may we be more willing to sacrifice for Christ, becoming a more perfect companion to him, and thus becoming more prepared to deny ourselves and follow him.