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The gaze of Jesus: Where a vocation begins

January 16, 2015
Sister Jean Evans, RSM

The Dutch master Rembrandt painted many images of Gospel scenes. Maybe you are familiar with the beautiful painting of the “Prodigal Son” in which the father embraces his young troubled son with great compassion and love. The image of Jesus above is one of Rembrandt’s paintings called the “Head of Christ.” This painting evokes something extraordinary in the glance of Jesus. It is not a composed, confident savior whom we see, but someone who looks deeply concerned by the other person or people whom he sees. This is the Jesus who attracted followers, who healed the sick, who forgave sinners. He saw people and they followed him (Mark 1:16-20).

Pope Francis is someone who has been touched by the gaze of the Lord. That powerful gaze can be the call to vocation today. One of his most beautiful reflections focuses on the gaze of the Lord and its effects on the heart of Matthew the tax collector. The Gospel story tells us: “As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him” (Matthew 9:9). The man who was to become St. Matthew walked off his job to follow Jesus.

Father Manuel Correia, a Comboni missionary tells us that the Gospel says nothing about the face of Jesus – his features, the color of his hair or eyes, but often speaks of his gaze. The way Jesus looked at people communicated feelings and emotions that words cannot convey. A simple glance and exchange of looks changed everything for Matthew as it did for all the Apostles, who left everything and followed Jesus.

In reflecting on this passage, Pope Francis explains that when Jesus saw Matthew he “saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him.” God didn’t just see Matthew as a sinner – a corrupt and uncaring official; but through the eyes of mercy, God sees him as a loved sinner someone who will respond to Jesus’ call to discipleship and mission. This particular verse is very personal and significant for Pope Francis because he sees himself as a recipient of God’s merciful glance. Taken from the reflection of St. Bede the Venerable, the phrase “saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him” forms part of the coat of arms first chosen by Jorge Bergolio when he was appointed bishop in 1991.

In fact, it was on the feast of St Matthew in 1953 that 17-year-old Jorge Bergoglio first experienced the loving presence of God in his life. After going to the sacrament of penance, Jorge felt his heart touched by God. Recalling this moment, Pope Francis says that with a gaze of tender love this “mercy of God” called him to religious life where he would follow the example of St Ignatius of Loyola.

The tender gaze of the Lord had a tremendous impact on the pope, as it had on Matthew. It changed his heart and his way of life. He was converted. Pope Francis says that as soon as Matthew felt that gaze of Jesus in his heart, he got up and followed Jesus.

Jesus’ gaze always lifts us up. It is a look that always lifts us up, and never leaves you in your place, never lets us down, never humiliates. It invites you to get up – a look that causes you to grow, to move forward, that encourages you, because the one who looks upon you loves you. The gaze makes you feel that he loves you. This gives the courage to follow him (Casa di Santa Marta, Sept. 21, 2013).

Recognizing and responding to the gaze of Jesus is only the first step in the following of Jesus. We are rooted in God’s mercy and sent on mission. At the end of the 2013 World Youth Day in Brazil, Pope Francis challenged the thousands of youth at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro:

“Go. During these days here in Rio, you have been able to enjoy the wonderful experience of meeting Jesus, meeting him together with others, and you have sensed the joy of faith. But the experience of this encounter must not remain locked up in your life or in the small group of your parish, your movement, or your community. That would be like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly. Faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love and confess Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and history” (cf. Rom 10:9).

Pope Francis gives us a mission for today to offer God’s joy and consolation to others, to the poor, to the distressed. But Pope Francis offers a word of caution, “Careful, though! Jesus did not say: ‘Go, if you would like to, if you have the time,’ but he said: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations!’”

A vocation begins with the loving glance of the Lord and ends with a mission to bring the mercy and consolation of God to all people, especially those who are vulnerable. Jesus invites young people to discover his love and mercy within themselves and to share it with others. St-Exupéry wrote that it is only with the heart that one can see rightly because what is essential is invisible to the eye. And so it is necessary to pray for purity of heart – to see with good sight, to see ourselves with God’s eyes, as God’s beloved children. That is the gaze that will purify, free and empower us to be a message of joy to others.    

Pope Francis reminds us: “All of us find ourselves before that gaze, that marvelous gaze, and we go forward in life, in the certainty that he looks upon us. He, too, however awaits us, in order to look definitively – and that final gaze of Jesus upon our lives will be forever!”

Mercy Sister Jean Evans is a vocations minister for the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community. She helps coordinate Taize prayer around the cross at Mercy Center, Burlingame. The Sisters of Mercy invites women to four Fridays of Evening Prayer and conversations about vocation, led by a team of sisters, Jan. 30, Feb. 27, March 27 and April 24 at Mercy Center. RSVP to Sister Jean at (650) 373-4508; email Jevans@mercywmw.org.

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