Recently I was in church for a weekday Mass when I had a bit of a shock. My eyeglasses were not in my purse. I had worn sunglasses when I drove to church, but now I wanted my regular glasses and they weren’t there.
I can see without glasses, but anything that’s more than a few feet away looks fuzzy. So even though I was sitting up front, the sanctuary and the altar and the priest were less than perfectly clear. Besides that, I often serve Mass on weekdays and I was due to serve that day. I knew it was unlikely that I would do anything really clumsy, like pour water on the floor at the lavabo, but again, things wouldn’t look as sharp as usual. And I was worried about finding my glasses.
The story ended happily. I served Mass with no complications, no spills and minimal eyestrain. After Mass I found my glasses in my car. I’d unintentionally left them there overnight. They were unharmed and I was none the worse for an hour of visual fuzziness, but I resolved to keep track of them at all times.
The experience made me reflect on eyesight: how much we depend on it, how easy it is to take it for granted and what it means to use it well.
No one needs to be persuaded about the importance of vision; all it takes to make the point is to shut your eyes. So many of the things we do automatically would become much more difficult, if not impossible, without the ability to see. When I walk down the street or drive my car or read a book or watch a movie, I don’t usually remind myself, “I can do this because I can see,” but it’s worth remembering.
Thankfully, blind and sight-impaired persons have more mobility and more opportunities for recreation and other activities today than before, due in great part to advances in science, medicine and technology. Good vision—even from behind a pair of eyeglasses—is a great blessing.
The best way to be grateful for the gift of sight is to use it well. There is a centuries-old Catholic practice called “custody of the eyes.” It means to use one’s eyesight to look at what is good and moral and virtuous, and to look away from anything that is base or immoral or could lead to sin. Considering the many unwholesome, if not pornographic, images in the media these days, custody of the eyes ought to be talked about and encouraged.
We can’t “unsee” what our eyes have looked at. The images we see are stored in our minds. That’s what I told my niece Megan once when she was annoyed because her mother would not let her see a particular movie. I said that I have a disturbing image in my mind from a TV movie I watched. It wasn’t pornographic or immoral, but it was upsetting. I seldom think of it, but it’s there, and there’s no way I can scrub it out.
An old saying calls the eyes “the window of the soul.” A clear window lets in images from both sides. Our eyes can reveal what is within us. Now turn it around: Why should we let anything into our souls that would damage them or plant evil in them?
All four of the Gospels contain accounts of Jesus restoring sight to blind persons. One of them was Bartimaeus, the beggar of Jericho who was shushed by the crowd but cried out to Jesus all the louder. Jesus asked what he wanted, and Bartimaeus replied, “Master, I want to see.”
The more we guard our vision and use it for what is good and true, the more we can expect to see eventually what Bartimaeus must have seen that day in Jericho when the blindness left his eyes: the face of Christ, looking at him in compassion and love.