“For God, to gaze at is to love.”
—St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle (B) St. 31, no. 8
My husband Bobby Angel (Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger Fellow of Parish Life at Word on Fire Institute) and I have been very late to the party in watching The Chosen series on the life of Jesus and his followers, but we’ve been enjoying it immensely. There have been quite a few times in the series when actor Jonathan Roumie portrays the loving gaze of Christ profoundly, but one such moment triggered in me a flood of memories, taking me back nineteen years to my own conversion when I first experienced that gaze—what I call the “healing gaze of love.”
Anyone who has experienced a conversion of mercy knows it. It’s the gaze that makes you fall flat on your face and lets the floodgates of tears and snot open wide. It’s the gaze where one experiences (either for the first time or in a moment of renewal) an overwhelming experience of God’s unconditional love and mercy, causing the cry of the heart to be united with that of the Psalmist:
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him? (Ps. 8:3-4)
Or, reframed for our modern ear, consider this chorus from one of the rock band NEEDTOBREATHE’s latest songs that aches with awe and humility: “Who am I to be loved by you?!”
As seen with the biblical characters in The Chosen, that healing gaze of love changes everything, as it did in my life as well. Not only does it bring the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7), but to borrow from words attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, this love “will decide what will get you out of the bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.” Because of that gaze, I (and many before me) have accepted the invitation to “Come, follow [Him],” and our lives have never been the same.
As human beings, our first encounter with that “healing gaze of love” is from our parents. As St. John Paul II said in Familiaris Consortio, the unconditional love of our parents is “the visible sign of the very love of God.” Although a newborn baby cannot remember the events of his or her first years of life, they absolutely know the security of being loved and gazed at as being good for their own sake—just for their mere existence. And as a toddler begins the phases of immense meltdowns (trust me, my kids go through those stages too), the look of love from the parent when all has calmed down lets the child know that he or she is still loved, even when emotions run amok and get the best of them (because it happens to us as adults too).
Maybe some of us have encountered Christ through that healing gaze of love from a friend or mentor who called us out, reminded us of our worth, or inspired us to something more, something greater than the mediocre or sinful life we were living. Or maybe some of us received that healing gaze of love from our spouse, who gazed at us with unconditional love and prompted us to think, “Me? Are you sure? You actually love me even though you know the worst parts of me?”
St. John writes that “we love, because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19), which causes me to think that we can only love others to the extent that we have allowed God to love us. You’ve probably heard the saying “Hurt people hurt people and healed people heal people,” so as disciples of Jesus called to evangelize and heal the Body of Christ (John 17) with the saving love of God, it is of utmost importance that we allow God’s healing gaze to transform our lives, make us new creations, soften our hardened hearts, and propel us to make a gift of self to those around us, even if that involves just a simple smile to those whom we see in passing. As St. (Mother) Teresa of Kolkata would say, “Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”
We cannot give what we do not have, though. We cannot help heal the Mystical Body of Christ if we don’t allow God to heal us. We cannot love ourselves or others properly if we don’t allow God to love us. And for those who are parents, if we are to show our children God’s love, we must allow ourselves to rest in God’s healing gaze and remember that we are secure in His love, “for thou alone, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8).
There is a profound quote that expresses this point, which is usually attributed to St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Watching The Chosen may have reminded me about the first time I experienced the healing gaze of Christ nineteen years ago, but more importantly, it reminded me, inspired me, and encouraged me to always be the healing gaze for my children, my husband, and every person I meet, so they too can encounter God’s unconditional, healing love through me.