No two stories of conversion are the same, but they are often a matter of sight. When Jesus appeared to Saul on the Road to Damascus, Saul was knocked to the ground, “… and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9: 8,9). For his part, Zaccheus climbed a tree to see Jesus from a new perspective. The disciples on the road to Emmaus had to have their eyes opened to see Jesus in the stranger they spoke to. And so on throughout Scripture.
When Christ opens our eyes, we do not see a new reality; we see reality for the first time. Yet many of us lose this vision in the daily struggle of working and living in the world. Jesus himself warns his disciples that something as small as the “cares of this world” can choke out the seed of the Gospel once sown in our hearts. For this reason, our eyes must be fixed on that vision of the truth about who we are and where we are going. In “The Greatness and Littleness of Human Life,” St. John Henry Newman explains how our vision can be clouded and how we can recover it.
Disappointments, reverses and unexpected troubles can be the occasion for this loss of vision. Daily we are met by the fact that our dreams, our talents and our potential are delayed, held back or cut short. We can envision our future, but we cannot bring it to pass. Our tools break, we get sick, we lose money in what should be a sound investment, we just can’t cut it at our job, or someone is blocking our upward mobility. “Thus we are ever expecting great things from life, from our internal consciousness every moment of our having souls; and we are ever being disappointed, on considering what we have gained from time past, and can hope from time to come. And life is ever promising and never fulfilling; and hence, however long it be, our days are few and evil.”
Even for those who face few or none of these obstacles, death brings it all to nothing. We know in our hearts that we were meant for immortality, but we are mortal. We grieve when anyone dies before their time, but we grieve at every death, because they are all untimely. Newman explains further: “I say the word ‘disappointing’ is the only word to express our feelings on the death of God’s saints. Unless our faith be very active, so as to pierce beyond the grave, and realize the future, we feel depressed at what seems like a failure of great things.”
In this keen observation Newman also shows us how to keep our vision. We must have an active faith that can see through – not over, or around or in spite of our difficulties – to our final home. “We should remember … that we are immortal spirits, independent of time and space, and that this life is but a sort of outward stage, on which we act for a time … We should consider ourselves to be in this world in no fuller sense than players in any game are in the game; and life to be a sort of dream, as detached and as different from our real eternal existence, as a dream differs from waking; a serious dream, indeed, as affording a means of judging us, yet in itself a kind of shadow without substance.” We need not make light of our lives so much as make much of the next life. Our vision becomes clearer when we remember that the imperfections of the present hint at perfection in the life to come. “The one desire which should move us should be, first of all, that of seeing Him face to face, who is now hid from us,” Newman says.
This kind of faith remains active even as we go about our daily work and lives. In his sermon “The Christian’s Hope,” St. Josemaría Escrivá encourages his listeners, “… keep on lifting your eyes up to heaven as you go about your work, because hope encourages us to grasp hold of the strong hand which God never ceases to reach out to us, to keep us from losing our supernatural point of view … I am convinced that unless I look upward, unless I have Jesus, I will never accomplish anything.”
As in every story of conversion, and continuing conversion, it’s Christ who brings the light. He opens our eyes if we ask him to. Our prayer can be as simple as that of the blind man who, when Jesus asked him what he could do for him replied, “Lord, that I may see.” We ask for the same, and that we may never lose our sight.