Have you ever met or talked with someone and the way they look at you is profoundly different? I remember my very first day with my wife, Joanne. We went to dinner and the movies and had really nice time with conversation was easy. Afterward, I drove her home, and we stood outside of her apartment in a two-family house on a quiet street in Watertown, Massachusetts. It was one of those beautiful late summer evenings but what I remember most was that look in Joanne’s eyes when we kissed under a moonlit sky. It was a gaze that stopped my world and told me that she was nowhere but in that moment with me. I was thinking that it was far too early to be a look of love but it was a gaze that looked deeper than just into my eyes only and gave me a feeling I will never forget, as it sits front and center in my memory file and my heart. When I recall that moment with Joanne, I call it “the look”, but it was much more than that to me.
During Lent, we hopefully find time to stop and think about how Jesus calls us and has a plan us. When it comes to answering that call, I know I fall short in being willing to drop everything to follow – to truly love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength, and all my mind. I hold back more than a little and am always moved by how Simon, Andrew, James and John “immediately” dropped everything and followed Jesus when he “saw” them. In the Greek translation, the word used for “saw” means more of a gaze, a gaze that looked deeply into each of the apostles with a love for their true selves, a loving gaze they had never experienced before. We also see that despised tax collector, Matthew, changed when the gaze of Jesus overtook him and he suddenly had the courage to leave everything to follow Christ. It was “the look” that was more than just a look. When Peter had denied Jesus for the third time, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter…and he went out and wept bitterly.” He was changed and repented because Jesus knew him and still loved him. There are many stories of people that have had near-death experiences or experience of Christ and they describe seeing Jesus gazing upon them with a love that pierced their hearts with a sense of dignity, worthiness and unconditional love that changed them completely.
From the beginning, God gave us that look when he made us in his “image.” In Isaiah, we hear the words of our Creator, “… you are precious in my eyes … and I love you... be not afraid, for I am with you…I will not forget you.” We spend much of our lives hiding parts of ourselves that we find ugly or we fear are at risk of being rejected. True love is when we can trust enough to be vulnerable and totally seen by another and are still loved unconditionally. That freedom, that love, and that deeply affirming look changes us. God made us and can always see every part of us, looking upon us with nothing but a love that says, “You are worth a son to me.” For those of you that have been blessed to have children, you know not only that incredible feeling of love but that overwhelming desire to give yourself completely in love to that child. Attachment theory tells us that children have the felt experience of love, who they are, and how to connect with others from that loving gaze that they get from their mother and father. It is a gaze that is more than a look and it communicates more just a feeling but sense that one is seen with dignity, self-worth, and love - worth someone being truly present in that life changing moment.
So, what can we do this Lent with this understanding of that loving gaze that God has for us? St. Faustina talks about her experience with Christ as and she said, “I kept my gaze fixed on the Lord.” The real power in the gaze comes when we can not only be gazed upon but to return that gaze – being fully in that moment that lets us change little by little to have the courage to let go and trust our lives to God and his plan for us. Many people that have metwith Pope John Paul II, say they were most taken by his ability to be completely present in that moment with them, as if there was no one else in the world. A great gift we can give this Lent, and beyond, is to stop and be fully present in the moment with people in our lives. Let them know that they count more than anything else in the world to you at that moment (no multi-tasking or interruptions). The greatest gift you can give yourself this Lent would be to sit each day and be fully present with God and let him gaze into your eyes, into your heart, and into your soul long enough to know how deeply and unconditionally you are loved. It could change everything.