The eyes have it

One part of a bishop’s job description that I most enjoy is celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation. In the fall and spring, I’m on the road throughout the six counties of our diocese to anoint hundreds and hundreds of our young people (and a few not so young) with the sacred oil of the church called chrism.

Since every one of the seven sacraments of our church is an outward sign of God’s love, the outward sign of Confirmation is the chrism. That oil, reflecting the presence of the Holy Spirit, reminds those being confirmed of three things: (1) that God is calling them to stand up for Jesus in all that they do; (2) that God promises that He will remain with them to help in that task; and (3) that God loves them in that task.

During the Confirmation ceremony, I ask the candidates to renew the promises that their parents and godparents made for them at their baptism.

In that renewal, I ask the candidates to do three specific things: (1) to put aside all distractions; (2) to answer the six questions I will ask by responding to each with a heartfelt “Amen;” and (3) to look into my eyes, eyeball to eyeball, as I’m asking the question. The reason for the third request is the belief that, when a person looks into another person’s eyes, they have to tell the truth. It is pretty hard to lie when looking into someone else’s eyes.

Playing hard to get

Recently, I made my annual spiritual retreat, guided by my spiritual director. It was a weeklong exercise, mostly in the chapel at Capuchin College in Washington, D.C. That blessed week was void of most of what describes my life as a bishop during the other 51 weeks. Very little talking (except with God); spending lots of time in the chapel; putting aside my cellphone, e-mails and texting.

The retreat began on a tough note. I felt more the absence of God than His presence. Trying to talk with Him that first day seemed like one of those dreadful “conversations” we sometimes have, in which the other person responds to whatever we’re saying with one word: Yes. No. Maybe.

My frustration in not being able to connect with God translated into thinking that God was playing a game of “hide and seek” with me. Was I wrong!

The second day of my retreat began with the same mindset. God seemed to be playing “hard to get.” As I sat in the chapel, I was joined by another priest of our diocese, who was also making his retreat. My brother priest has a beautiful voice and very often shares it in songs that draw many people closer to God.

He has done so for me in the past. He did it again on that day of my retreat. He drew me closer to God.

As my retreat companion began to sing the song, “It Is Well,” a verse seemed to capture where I was at that moment:

“Far be it for me not to believe

Even when my eyes can’t see

Through it all, through it all,

My eyes are on You.”

And like a ton of bricks, there was the breakthrough. It was not God who was playing “hide and seek” with me. It was I who was disconnected from Him. It was like those times when so many of us are disconnected from each other, despite being in the same room or at the same table, because we are glued to our iPhones and iPads.

There I was, the second day of retreat, my mind roaming instead of fixing my eyes where they should have been — on Jesus, on Jesus on the cross.

“Through it all, through it all,

My eyes are on You.”

Finding God

Looking for some company, looking to see if Jesus’ first companions had the same experience as I had, I opened my Bible to search the Gospel of Luke. I found 53 people who could have joined in my song that day:

“Through it all, through it all,

My eyes are on You.”

There they were, searching for and finding God in the eyes of Jesus:

• There they were: Mary and Joseph, looking into the eyes of the newborn Savior, and all their fears of having said “yes” to God were now gone.

• There they were: the temple assembly, looking into the eyes of a 12-year-old Jesus, now able to look beyond what was coming out of His mouth.

• There they were: the Twelve, the apostles; looking into the eyes of Jesus, they could see how much He wanted their help as His disciples.

• There they were: the paralyzed, the blind, the sinners, the outcasts; looking into the eyes of Jesus, they were healed, forgiven, included.

• There they were: the 5,000 on the hillside; looking into the eyes of Jesus, they fed on five loaves and some dried fish, a meal of a lifetime.

And there I was: a simple modern-day apostle, looking for something without any luck until — I looked into the eyes of Jesus, the eyes of Jesus on the cross.

• Like Mary and Joseph: I saw my fears drift away, because I looked into His eyes.

• Like the temple assembly: I saw His words in the Bible as something far more profound than print on a page.

• Like the Twelve: I saw how much He really wants my help.

• Like the paralyzed, the blind, the tax collector, the prostitute, the immigrant: I saw how much He embraces me as David, the sinner.

• Like the 5,000: I saw Him again, not as simple bread, but as the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.

All because I looked into the eyes of Jesus, the eyes of Jesus on the cross.

And so, as you reflect on my reflection, my hope and prayer is that you can put aside your iPhone, your iPad, your agenda — and look into the eyes of Jesus, the eyes of Jesus on the cross. Whoever you are. Wherever you are. Whatever you do.

Learn, love, live

You have been hearing a lot from me, inviting you to be On Mission for The Church Alive! And you will be hearing lots more in the days, weeks and months ahead.

What we are about in On Mission is to grow the relationship Jesus wants us to have with Him. To let Jesus be for us more than a statue in church, or a particular pew in church, or a favorite story in the Bible, or a parish church building or a cherished Mass time.

My hope and prayer is that we truly deepen our relationship with Jesus, that we fulfill His dream of coming to learn Jesus, to love Jesus and to live Jesus.

Just as my brother retreatant helped me to look into the eyes of Jesus, I hope that we can do the same for each other in On Mission for The Church Alive! I pray that we can say, sing, pray to Jesus:

“Through it all, through it all,

My eyes are on You.”

And, in the end, what I hope is true for my Confirmation kids may be true for you and me:

Look into the eyes of Jesus, eyeball to eyeball. See there that He is calling you and me to stand up for Him in our words and deeds; that He stays with us through it all; and that He loves us. And meeting Jesus there, we can truly say: “The eyes have it.”