A bold statement! How can we claim to see with the eyes of Christ? We are weak, sinners. We live in a different time and place, two thousand years after Jesus Christ. Yet this is what Pope Benedict says in his encyclical “God Is Love.” About loving our neighbor, he writes: “Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave” ( 18). Following the Holy Father’s lead, we might try to understand and retrieve this part of our Christian tradition.
Where is Jesus? We often speak of the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst, especially in other persons. A key text that points to that presence is Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me.” When we reach out to others in compassion and love, it is Christ we are touching. Mother Teresa saw this clearly: “Every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the only one person in the world for me at that moment.”
We often hear that the goal of the spiritual life is union with Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life. We join our lives to Jesus through word and sacrament, through prayer and action. We move to the Father and to his kingdom as followers of Jesus Christ. But is there another even more intimate way to speak of our relationship and union with Jesus? Is there a way that lessens the separation or distance between us and Jesus, so that we begin to feel and say with St. Paul, “I live, now not I; but Christ lives in me” (Ga 2:20)? Can we not dare to say, as Pope Benedict does, that we are “seeing with the eyes of Christ”?
Can we be bold and daring enough to say that we are to put on the heart and mind of Christ? That we reach out with the hands of Christ? Are these words true, or are they mythical, oversimplified piety? There is a story about a statue of Christ in a church. It was wartime, and the church was bombed. The statue stood, but the arms of Christ, reaching out, were broken off. Rather than remove or replace the damaged statue, someone put a note on it: “He has no hands but ours.” Is this just a pious tale, or does it express a deep insight into the Christian life?
Christian Tradition Speaks This Way
St. Paul certainly saw his own life and the Christian life as intimately joined with Jesus Christ. We live die with Christ, in him, through him. The Pauline writings use these and similar prepositions about 165 times to describe our relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul explains that we are slowly, gradually being transformed into the likeness of Christ (1 Co 3:18). Writing to the Christians at Philippi, he urges them to put on the attitude or mind of Christ: “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus” (Ph 2:5). All of our thoughts are to be "captive in obedience to Christ” (2 Co 10:5). With even greater boldness he says, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Co 2:16). The Christian, through the power and reality of grace, gradually assumes the shape, the form of Jesus Christ.
Saints live and model the Christ-life in their own day and age. We find a strong expression of how we put on Christ in a few words of St. John Eudes. He writes of the Christian’s relationship to Jesus:
He belongs to you as the head belongs to its members; all that is his is yours: his spirit, his heart, his body and soul, and all his faculties. You must make use of all these as your own, to serve, praise, love, and glorify God. You belong to him, as members belong to their head. And so he longs for you to use all that is in you, as if it were his own, for the service and glory of the Father.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1698)
How This Might Apply to Us
The phrase “imitation of Christ” is a hallowed one in the history of Christian spirituality. It often refers to the classic book of Thomas ? Kempis. What might it mean in light of what we have outlined above? Can we see our lives not simply as an imitation of Jesus Christ who is out there, over against us, but as one with us, cooperating with us, working in us in every good deed that we perform? Can we see, think, act, with the eyes, mind, hands of Christ? Can this become a way of envisioning our lives? Here are a few examples.
The eyes of Christ and our eyes. Jesus observed and learned lessons from the birds of the air, the lilies of the field. Jesus observed, and pointed out to the disciples, the great generosity of the widow who with her two coins put in more than all the rich men. Jesus saw with eyes of compassion the needs of the sick and the blind. Are we open to seeing the needs of others, and to seeing as Jesus saw? Or do we have a beam in our own eye and so fail to see the good in others, fail to see the needs of others, with the eyes of Christ?
The mind of Christ and our mind. Jesus was one with his Father. His Father’s thoughts of truth and peace-were in the mind of Christ. Jesus emptied himself and thought of the good of others. Do we let Jesus enter into our minds and reshape our attitudes, our way of thinking? Do the needs of others have more weight than our own needs and desires? Does the truth prevail in our words and our conduct, or do we compromise and bargain with the truth?
The heart of Christ and our heart. Christ says, “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened. I will give you rest.” His heart went out in compassion for the crowd, hungry for food and for the word of life. His heart went out to the lepers. His heart was pierced on the cross, so much did he love us. He wants to transform our hearts into his own. From hearts that can be cold and insensitive, isolated and stubborn, he wants our hearts to become warm like his own, overflowing with love for his Father and for all God’s children.
The hands of Christ and our hands. As a youth Jesus assisted in the carpenter shop in Nazareth. In his ministry Jesus reached out with a healing hand, a hand of friendship and blessing. Children came to receive his welcome and blessing. His hands shared food with his disciples and with the crowds. With his hands he washed the feet of Peter and the other apostles. Do we extend a clenched fist or the open hand of friendship? Do we let Christ work through our hands as we go about our daily tasks in the home, the workplace, the market? Do we see ourselves as instruments of his work, his care and concern?
The feet of Christ and our feet. Jesus went about doing good. He continued steadfastly on the journey to Jerusalem, knowing that it would lead to suffering and death. He carried the cross to the hill of Calvary. In our walking and travels, are we instruments for the spread of the gospel and for works of charity?
The ears of Christ and our ears. We sing with the Psalmist that “the Lord hears the cry of the poor.” Jesus heard the blind cry out for help, the cry of the Syro-Phoenician woman for assistance for her child. Do we fill our ears with unnecessary noise and entertainment so that we have little time to hear the call of the child, the friend, anyone in need?
The words of Christ and our words. Jesus spoke words of love and words of power. He spoke with authority. His words often evoked faithful, beautiful responses such as Peter’s words “Depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.” Jesus’ words gathered apostles and followers, and captivated the crowds. Do our words echo the words of Christ, so that Christ can be said to be speaking in and through us? Do others hear the words of the gospel, good news, in our conversation?
The prayer of Jesus