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How well do you see?

Many of us wear glasses. Others may need glasses to read. But that’s not the seeing I am asking about. I am asking how many of us see beyond the facts in front of us.

Seeing beyond the facts.

Over a quarter of a century ago, I took a colleague who worked at St. John’s University to see the virtually abandoned building that housed St. John’s University 100 years earlier. Some of the blackboards still had the last lessons written on them. The laboratories still had equipment on desktops. But there was no sign of life as we walked through the corridors.

I will never forget walking through with Mary. She seemed to have virtual reality glasses on. She saw beyond the facts to things I did not see. I was fascinated by how she saw each room could be used differently. She saw how it would look tomorrow if the space were converted.

She saw beyond the facts… and dreamed of the possibilities.

What Jesus saw

Over the years, it dawned on me what attracted those who left everything to follow Jesus. As they listened to him, they began to be caught up in the imagination of what could be. Not only their lives but all lives would be transformed.

In the Sermon on the Mount, they got a glimpse of a world they had not imagined, a world turned upside down. It was a world envisioned by Our Father. A world where there would be no divisions by class or anything else. Each would see in the other a sister or a brother. This would be the sign of being true disciples.

Jesus invited them to see beyond the facts and enter into the dream of our Creator. He invited them to see the world through his eyes.

Jesus invited others to change their way of thinking.

Jesus called for a transformation of lives. But he also showed them what that transformation would involve.  On the night before he died, he summed up this transformation. “Do this in memory of me.“ Wash one another’s feet. The next day he gave the unthinkable example of forgiving even his brothers who were putting him to death on a cross.

What Vincent saw

Standing in that tradition, Vincent saw a world that his contemporaries never saw.

Faced with misery others would say “That’s just the way it is”. But he knew that there was something wrong with what he saw… especially when viewed against the vision and mission of Jesus bringing Good News to the Poor.

He saw a world beyond the facts on the ground.

Vincent asked himself if there was a better way of bringing good news to those who were suffering. St. Vincent dared to imagine. He imagined a different world, a world where sisters and brothers would care for each other, especially for the weak and the wounded. All would wash one another’s feet.

Vincent imagined what it would look like to take Jesus’ prayer, Our Father, seriously. He treated everyone, even and especially the forgotten people on the margins, as his sisters and brothers. 

With clarity of vision, he also knew he was just one person. In his “Christ imagination,” he also saw clergy, laity, and women uniting in God’s vision.

With this imagination, he shaped the supposed “influencers” of his age, clerics, and tapped into previously unrecognized resources for ministry – laity, and especially women. 

Vincent triggered each to ask, “what must I do?” for my sister and brother in need.

Do I see beyond appearances and care for each of my brothers and sisters?