Seeing With His Eyes. . .

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a homily with the theme “clear vision 20/20: seeing with the eyes of faith.” The homily was about developing a deeper sense of the mystical as we encounter our Lord in the sacraments, in prayer, at Mass, and in spiritual reading. I would like to devote this article to the idea of seeing with the eyes of Jesus. Let me  share a story from my own ministry and one from my wife’s life as a teacher to illustrate my point.

I received a call from the correctional facility, where I minister, asking me to visit a man with some mental health issues. He had asked to see a clergy. I was advised that I would need to visit the man through the visitor’s window (something I have never done before), because of his mental illness. I entered the facility and was directed to the visitor’s booth, where I was to wait for John.

John was escorted into the visitor booth. We exchanged a smile. John was a large man, with a somewhat threatening demeanor. I picked up the phone on my side of the window and immediately heard a busy signal. I realized that John had to do something to place a call so we could talk. I waited patiently as John pushed the buttons on the phone in frustration. He motioned for me to pick up my phone. I did, but all I got was a busy signal. and John tried again still no luck. He stood up and pushed the button to call for assistance. I could hear the jail staff person telling John how to dial the phone. He immediately became upset and raised his voice in frustration. The jail staff person told him that someone would be up to help him.

John had waited almost ten days for my visit, so he was quite anxious. It made sense to me that he was upset that the phone wasn’t working. For the next 15 minutes, John pushed buttons on the phone, motioned for me to pick up my phone, and then stood up and called for assistance. I could see from his body posture that he was getting more upset and more frustrated. I prayed for him and asked God to help us work out this technical issue. After about 20 minutes a jail staff person came to help. I felt my stomach knot up as this young man, much smaller than John, entered the visiting cell to assist. I could see John getting more frustrated, and I worried that John might physically harm the man who had arrived to help. More prayers…

The jail staff person tried several times with no success.  John had finally had it. In a huff, he stormed out of the cell and asked to be taken back to his regular jail cell. I felt so powerless to do anything in this situation. I was very aware of how this system had failed John. It was a simple request for a visit. Someone should have been able to find another way. Unfortunately, John’s patience ran out before anyone could offer another solution.

My wife, Anne, teaches in an inner city public school where many of the students come from difficult home situations. They bring their family problems with them to school: hunger, abuse, neglect, lack of income. Anne was called to the library to help with a student named Josh, who was having a “melt down” and wouldn’t leave the library. Anne approached the near-hysterical student and asked what was wrong. Josh hadn’t been able to finish coloring the picture he was working on in the library and was told to take it home and finish it there. Anne looked at Josh and asked him if he had colored markers at home. Of course he didn’t. He was upset because he wanted to finish coloring his picture;  it wasn’t an option to finish it at home, because there were no markers. Anne quickly found a set of markers and Josh was on his way out of the library smiling and happy that someone understood what he needed.

John needed someone to understand that he couldn’t negotiate the jail phone system without assistance. He needed someone to see through the eyes of Jesus to the pain and hurt that he carried. He needed someone to listen to him, and to be with him. Fortunately, I was able to go back to the jail and work out a better arrangement to see John.  That’s all he needed.

The student in Anne’s school needed someone to look past the tears and the tantrum to see that he had a need that he couldn’t manage on his own. A $2 set of markers solved what seemed to be a big problem. In truth, what young Josh needed was someone to see him as a person and identify his need.

All of us encounter John’s and Josh’s everyday in our world. We can choose to look at our neighbor through worldly eyes and miss an opportunity to be Christ to others.  Let’s learn to see through His eyes and not waste a chance to be Christ to another.

In His Light,
Deacon Tim


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