Rev. John P. Cush is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn. He serves as Academic Dean and as a formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State. Fr. Cush holds the Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor of Theology and U.S. Catholic Church History. He has served as a parish priest, high school seminary teacher, and as a Censor Librorum for his Diocese, as well as a theological consultant for NET TV. Fr. Cush is a regular contributor to the Brooklyn Tablet and the Albany Evangelist.
The films of the late director, John Hughes, have shaped an entire generation of people and beyond and, most likely, even if you do not recognize his name, you probably have seen or at least heard of one of his films. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Parenthood, Uncle Buck, these are among his most famous films. I have to admit, betraying my age, that I watched The Breakfast Club when it first was released on VHS and I was in the seventh grade! I truly believed that the experience of those five young people, spending their Saturday sitting in detention, was what high school was like! Little did I know that I would attend a prep seminary high school and we certainly had nothing like the experience of Molly Ringwald and Emilio Estevez.
One of the key movie tropes used by John Hughes and, nowadays, often parodied by other filmmakers, is when the nerdy, tomboy-like girl takes her glasses off and puts down her ponytail, and all in the room can see just how really beautiful she is. As corny as it is, it is a moment of moving beyond just seeing and being to really perceive, to go beyond the immediate first glance, and to really take in the reality of what is occurring before the viewer.
Bishop Robert Barron, in his book, And Now I See, one of his earliest works from 1997, states that Christianity is, above all, a way of seeing. Christianity, the way of the Lord Jesus, is a way of perceiving reality, of seeing with the eyes of Christ, of judging with heart of Christ, and then of acting with the hands of Christ in the world. The spiritual life, in many ways, is really all about that, moving from that first glance judgment to a deeper perception. It is really all about moving from beyond the blindness of the world to a deeper sight, indeed an insight into the transcendent beauty of the Lord.
Recall in the First Book of Samuel (1 Sam 16) when the prophet is sent by the Lord to anoint the new king. Samuel is sent to the sons of Jesse; the only catch is that the Lord does not indicate which of the sons of Jesse will be the king, now that Saul has gone astray. Like the high school jock in a John Hughes film, he, and for that matter even Jesse, can’t see who’s really in front of them; son after son comes before Samuel and none of them are the right one for the Lord. Each time that he’s ready to anoint, the Lord tells him that he’s got the wrong guy.
The initial quick glance, the instinct to go with the strongest is wrong; the instinct to go with the oldest is wrong; the Lord requires not just sight, but indeed insight, not just seeing, but true vision in this case. It’s like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade trying to figure out which of the chalices is the true Holy Grail; the simplest one is the correct one; In Samuel’s case, it is the runt of the litter, it’s the littlest brother, it’s the son that Jesse doesn’t even bother to bring in from the flock that is the correct choice. It’s the youngest son, David, who is not the strongest, not the most handsome, that becomes the greatest king of Israel, who becomes the one who slays the giant Goliath with a single stone, who becomes the one who is the divinely inspired writer of the Psalms. It is from his line that one day, in the course of salvation history, does the true Messiah come.
The great and wise prophet misses the mark because he judges only by appearance. In the Gospel of John (John 9:1-41), the Pharisees are the ones who are blind, not the man healed by the Lord Jesus. Even the formerly blind man’s parents are blind to the truth; “Go, ask him yourself,” they state, so frightened of the power of these blind Pharisees, that in their own blindness, they deny their own flesh and blood. And it is the formerly blind man who, in his simplicity, states: “All I know is that I was blind and now I see.” They are all blind, all not perceiving the miracle that has taken place right in front of them, all not recognizing the Messiah in their midst, he who in himself is the true miracle, the sign of the Father.
A question for us: are we blind? Are we so set in our preconceived notions, in our personal biases, in our preset views, our first impressions, which granted are lasting impressions, that we are blind to the transcendent beauty in front of us? I know that I do it and my blindness can lead me to see the glass as always half-full; I know that I can do it and see the dark cloud, not the silver living. And I know that this can limit the true perception that the Lord had in store for me in every moment of my own salvation history.
Have we become so blind that we don’t perceive the image and likeness of Christ, the all-beautiful one, the Christ in whom we are blessed to be created, in others? Have we become so blind that we can no longer see the image and likeness of the all-beautiful one in our own selves?
We need the Lord this day to heal the darkness of our minds and hearts so that we can see the beauty of everyone, including ourselves. We need the Lord this day, through the Eucharist, to wipe the salve on our eyes, to send us to Siloam and to give us the perception to see God in all things.
Thomas Merton, in his work, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966), describes an experience like this:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. ...
This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.
Pray with me for this gift of perception.