Maybe when we get that overwhelming “I have enough on my plate” conviction, the temptation that suddenly arises can be to make a season like Lent into a minimalistic “practice.” Doesn’t it make perfect sense in all practicality? For Christ in the desert, after fasting forty days, wasn’t it time to finally eat? Wasn’t the offer of “bread” sensible? But it wasn’t. It was Satan’s distortion of the “daily bread” given from the Father. In this mid-Lent stretch, it helps in those critical moments to remember again this scene from Jesus’ life – when He kept his gaze on the Father and waited on His will, His time, for what He truly needed.
This ‘gaze’ is at the very heart of Lent itself. By not constantly seeking my needs, to fill my hunger for that food, for this entertainment, the emptiness that follows is the perfect space where we can stop with the frenetic and seek the presence of God, the presence that satisfies the deepest hunger of the soul. By turning mind and heart from self to God, we can come as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est to that freedom of seeing with the eyes of Christ, [where] I can give to others the look of love which they crave. This gaze of love that God has for each of us, that creative gaze that first saw all that He had made and it was very good, is at the essence of who we are. Pseudo-Macarius, in a homily from the early centuries of Christianity says, The Lord installs himself in a fervent soul, he makes it his throne of glory, he seats himself there and dwells there. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of the four Living Creatures harnessed to the Lord’s chariot. He says that they had countless eyes. In the same way the soul that seeks God – rather I mean the soul that is sought by God – is no longer anything but gazing.
How many times in the Gospels did the gaze of Christ penetrate someone with a look that revealed who He is – Love. There was the rich young man whom Jesus looked at with love. There was that unimaginable moment where Christ looked at Peter after his denial. Certainly Jesus must have gazed at the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery, the thief on the Cross. We can be sure that He eternally gazes on us because He cannot NOT be forever present to His sons and daughters. As St. John of the Cross wrote, for God, to gaze is to love. It was the experience of this Gaze of Love that gave the Saints their great ‘secret.’ For us to give God everything, to give him more than a minimalist Lent to begin with – takes precisely this – His love. St. Therese writes of her own first-hand knowledge of God. In her own words: I know how much He loves the prodigal son; I have heard His words to Mary Magdalene, to the woman taken in adultery, to the Samaritan woman. No, there is no one who could frighten me, for I know too well what to believe about His mercy, about His love.
Like the above mentioned Saint-friend of ours who was edified by hearing her newly-wed cousin speak of her affection for her husband, so too for us, our family visits can let us glimpse anew God’s immense love for us. Right after the new year, many of our families come to visit. Seeing our loved ones again after months apart makes this “gaze of love” hit home in a striking way. Watching siblings with their newest munchkins, or spending some time with a newly wed couple, manifests something of God’s unshakable love for each of us.