As I settle into married life and find a routine in my new home, I wanted to share something seemingly minute, yet very powerful, which I was pondering for a few weeks leading up to my wedding: the gaze of Jesus Christ.
What do I mean by that? Picture this, if you would. You are a bystander on the hill at Golgotha. Jesus Christ is an innocent man who has suffered innumerable spiritual and physical wounds over the past two days. His weakening body is hanging, dying, twenty feet above your head.
He knows every one of your sins, your faults, your failings. Yet, in his unending love and mercy, He remains on the Cross. He gazes upon your face. Are you able to look into his eyes?
I don’t know if I would have the courage to do so.
Several events kept this circulating in my mind. In one Pints with Aquinas episode, two grown men were talking about how humans are made uncomfortable by the gaze of others. One man even said that when he was a child, he disliked when his mother would gaze at him in love, telling her to stop looking at him. Why is this a common human experience?
Think of the first sin: what did Adam and Eve do once the shame of sin had come upon them? They hid from the gaze of God. They hid from Love itself. To me, our aversion to this kind of gaze is the truest example of our fallen nature.
So what are we to do? As I said, I don’t know if I personally am ready or worthy to return the gaze of Jesus, and perhaps you feel the same. None of us are deserving of this loving gaze. And yet, he wants us, small and sinful creatures as we are, to return his gaze. He thirsts for it. He thirsts for the return of our love. How can I bring myself to be humbled and obedient to what Jesus wants?
In a letter to her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, Saint Mother Teresa said,
Jesus wants me to tell you again … how much love He has for each one of you –beyond all you can imagine. I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus–one to one–you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel–but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus–not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? Ask for the grace, He is longing to give it. Until you can hear Jesus in the silence of your own heart, you will not be able to hear Him saying “I thirst” in the hearts of the poor.
Never give up this daily intimate contact with Jesus as the real living person–not just the idea. How can we last even one day without hearing Jesus say “I love you”?–impossible. Our soul needs that as much as the body needs to breathe the air. If not, prayer is dead–meditation is only thinking. Jesus wants you each to hear Him–speaking in the silence of your heart.
Be careful of all that can block that personal contact with the living Jesus. The Devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes–to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you. This is a danger for all of us. And so sad, because it is completely opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. Not only that He loves you, but even more–He longs for you. He misses you when you don’t come close. He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy. When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes–He is the one who always accepts you. My children, you don’t have to be different for Jesus to love you. Only believe–you are precious to Him. Bring all you are suffering to His feet–only open your heart to be loved by Him as you are. He will do the rest.Saint Mother Teresa
As I was sitting with this letter, pondering it in my mind and soul for several days, the Lord delivered a beautiful gift to me. One afternoon I laid down for a brief afternoon nap (which was significant to me, because dear St. Joseph usually received messages from God while napping or sleeping), when this scene unfolded in my half-conscious mind: I was alone with the resurrected Jesus. The wounds on his hands were visible. I was kneeling, bent over in His presence, but out of shame rather than reverence. He wanted nothing more than for me to meet his eyes, I knew. My head was in my hands, and though Jesus was gazing ever so gently and patiently at my face, I refused to look up. In some small, selfish way, I wished He would go away. “I am unworthy,” I kept repeating in my mind. And yet He never wavered. How could He even care this much about someone so sinful, so small, so undeserving of his ultimate sacrifice?
What happened next is remembered clearly. Christ the Crucified knelt down next to me, reached his hand to my face, and tried to lift my eyes to His. Still, I would not. Perhaps it was still shame preventing me from doing so. Perhaps I was frightened of the sheer magnitude of His love, this love that He was intent on giving to me alone. I knew his desire was for me to simply acknowledge this deep love.
Even then, I had to ask for the strength to raise my eyes. I was not capable of meeting his gaze, meeting eternal love, without his help. Only when surrendering myself completely, with no fear or reservations, could I bring myself to return the gaze of Christ. When I did, I stared into the face of utter perfection and loveliness. Not just Love itself, but a person. He is the love we all seek.
There is a beautiful repetition of this moment brought to life in the mass, especially in the Traditional form, when the priest and congregation beg Christ to make us worthy to receive Him in the Holy Eucharist. In saying, “I am not worthy,” three times in a row, we recognize that no one will ever be worthy to receive a sacrifice so pure. It is only by His command–and His goodness–that we are made worthy to do so.
One of the few things that Jesus said on the Cross was, “I thirst.” He did not merely mean that He thirsted for water, but also for souls to return his love. May I, and you, always see Our Lord with the eyes of our souls, and may we not lift up bitter gall, but the sweetest water we can offer Him.
I leave you with a parting “letter from Christ,” written by a co-founder of Saint Mother Teresa’s priest community. It is often attributed to her, but actually written by Fr. Joseph Langford, MC.
It is true. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be Me, I am there. I await even the smallest sign of your response, even the least whispered invitation that will allow Me to enter.
I know what is in your heart – I know your loneliness and all your hurts – the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations, I carried it all before you. And I carried it all for you, so you might share My strength and victory. I know especially your need for love – how you are thirsting to be loved and cherished. But how often have you thirsted in vain, by seeking that love selfishly, striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasures – with the even greater emptiness of sin. Do you thirst for love? “Come to Me all you who thirst …” (Jn. 7: 37).
I will satisfy you and fill you. Do you thirst to be cherished? I cherish you more than you can imagine – to the point of dying on a cross for you. I Thirst for You. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you. I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you – that is how precious you are to Me. I THIRST FOR YOU. Come to Me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation, and give you peace, even in all your trials I THIRST FOR YOU. You must never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, My desire to forgive, My longing to bless you and live My life in you. I THIRST FOR YOU.
If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you. I THIRST FOR YOU. Open to Me, come to Me, thirst for Me, give me your life – and I will prove to you how important you are to My Heart. Whenever you do open the door of your heart, whenever you come close enough, you will hear Me say to you again and again, not in mere human words but in spirit. No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake Come to Me with your misery and your sins, with your troubles and needs, and with all your longing to be loved.
I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to Me, for I THIRST FOR YOU …”Fr. Joseph Langford, MC