“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision”. Powerful words coming from Helen Keller. a woman who lost her sight and hearing before her second birthday.
Sight is a function of the eyes and allows us to see physically. Vision, on the other hand, is in the mind or the mind’s eye. It is a proactive portion of our imagination and helps us plan, think, and be strategic about our goals.
Some 30 years ago, I took a colleague who worked at St. John’s University to see the virtually abandoned building that housed St. John’s University in its early years.
Some blackboards still had the last lessons written on them. Laboratories still had outdated equipment on desktops.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 dusty artifacts I saw. I was fascinated by how she saw each room could be used differently so many years later. She saw the reality… and dreamed of how the building could be brought to life.
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.
In the Sermon on the Mount, they got just 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 of Jesus.
Jesus invited them to see beyond the dust and enter into the dream of our Creator. He invited them to see the world through his eyes.
Jesus called for a transformation of lives. But Jesus 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 those who were putting him to death on a cross.
What Vincent saw
Standing in that tradition, Vincent saw a world that his contemporaries did not see.
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 realities others saw.
Vincent asked himself… was there 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 “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.