VERBUM DOMINI

Seeing with Saints

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We all must think about heaven now and then. It’s helpful to take the perspective of the angels, to peer upon our problems from the clouds, to measure them against eternity. There are days when we lift our eyes in exasperation, calling out for a better, fairer or easier world. But knowing we will not find it here, we may be tempted to despair. Thinking on heaven is a strategy to renew our hope and shore up our confidence, St. Paul admonishes us: “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel” (2Tim 1:8). Occasionally, to maintain stamina, we must anticipate the rest and peace of the blessed.

Jesus knew that he and the disciples were in for a rough time. But they didn’t want to hear about it. After Jesus predicted his passion, Peter said what the others were thinking “God forbid, Lord!” We see a fragility here. They want everything to go well. They can’t stand the idea of Jesus hurt, let alone dead. To reassure them, to sustain them, “Jesus took Peter, James and John...and led them up a high mountain.” There “he was transfigured before them” (Matt 17:1-2). What a change of perspective! Tortured with thoughts of him in agony, they now see him in glory. It is an aid to their faith, a strengthening measure, that turning their eyes to heaven they might shoulder the things of earth.

But the long view is about more than endurance. When Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah on that mount, they speak about his passion (Lk 9:31). The scene on the ground will be gruesome and crushing, a total defeat. Peter and the disciples will see it “as human beings do” (Mt 16:23). But Jesus and the prophets are eager for it. They hunger for it like a long-awaited and glorious victory (Lk 12:50). Peter invokes God’s mercy to prevent it (“God forbid” literally translates “God be merciful to you”). He can’t see that in the passion God’s mercy will triumph. Thought a ‘failure,’ it is God’s conquest. The view is different from heaven.

Seeing things with the saints isn’t to see them from a distance (pace Bette Midler). The heavenly perspective isn’t comforting because it’s removed and safe. Rather, it’s up close and personal. Seeing with the saints is to see God at work even in the most tragic, for none are more active in the world than he. Even in cases where one can’t see his hand, it is enough to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2Cor 5:7). Rose-colored glasses do not shade the eyes of faith. Rather, they read by the light of heaven. Theirs is a piercing vision that always finds love at the bottom.