Domine, ut videam.
Physiologists, in reporting their experiments, tell of a curious phenomenon called psychic blindness, which occurs when a certain portion of a living animal's brain has been extirpated. The animal in this condition, although it sees, walks, or swims with perfect mechanical precision, appears to have lost its normal power of discernment. It makes no attempt to seize food placed within easy reach, and, if confronted by one of its natural enemies, manifests not a single sign of fear - a pigeon, for instance, walks into the very jaws of a cat without the slightest hesitation. In short, the activity displayed is merely reflex and unintelligent. The animal, although a good automaton, is nothing more. Though it can see, it is utterly unable to recognize or interpret. The objects within its field of vision present no familiar aspect, and hence convey no significance, to its dulled intelligence.
Now, something analogous to this phenomenon may be observed in human beings. The facts which suggest the analogy are all the more remarkable, moreover, because not induced by external interference with normal faculties. 'They occur in persons whose senses have been perfectly intact from birth. In other words, many of us are lamentably deficient in the power of intelligently interpreting objects thrust upon our notice; and, further, the very sense-powers we do possess are, to a considerable extent, deadened by disuse. What the human eye and ear are capable of, the red Indian has taught us; and the blind daily give us a wonderful object lesson on the powers latent in our fingers. Nay, without going to any alien or abnormal type, we may obtain as strong a contrast as we need by merely comparing an average citizen with one whose capabilities have been highly developed by training - with a watchmaker, for instance, or a gardener, or a pianist. There is no reason whatever for doubting - indeed, there is every possible reason for believing - that ordinary every-day persons are perfectly capable of acquiring what we have grown accustomed to consider the peculiar skill of the classes named.
This, if we stop to reflect upon it, will be found to imply such mortifying admissions that, for very shame's sake, we feel inclined to declare either that the gardener is more than normal or that we are less. For, from the undeniable truth that the average boy can become an average craftsman, we draw the evident implication of amazing dullness and idleness on the part of persons who are helpless as babes the moment there is question of fine observation or dexterous work. Universal possibility of sense-development, if it be true, argues the common man to be fairly saturated with unrealized potencies and inert faculties; and, though this may not appeal to us with any great force while we are adverting only to the question of manual skill, we experience considerable regret when we go on to reflect that probably we are perceiving but half of what God gave us power to see, and realizing only a trivial portion of what He wished us to know. If the eye was made for seeing and the mind for understanding, then certain faculties must have atrophied in the case of the many who go through life so unfamiliar with the beauty and truth and goodness which God created in order to lead men nearer to Himself. Shall we escape all penalty if we spend our days blinking out upon life, like great stupid owls that stare sleepily at things of deepest import to themselves? Evidently not; since even though we are not forced to answer for all our ignorance as for an avoidable and therefore imputable defect, yet we shall at least be punished thus far, that our souls will ever remain less perfect than God planned them to be.
True, it would be unreasonable to contend that a lesser good may not be forsaken in the interest of a greater; nor can it be reckoned a fault if beings of limited capacity pick out and choose from among many possible activities certain ones which are to be cultivated at the expense of others. Forest-rambling on gay spring mornings and meditation beside a starlit mountain-lake may become impossible exercises for innumerable souls enmeshed in the complexities of civilization. Yet even though their choice has been wisely made; and even though a greater has been substituted for a less; it still holds true that a lesser good has been foregone and that some unrealized possibility has to be lamented. Greater symmetry of development would have fulfilled the divine purpose more thoroughly, and would more truly have resembled the type eternally abiding in the Creator's mind; since, other things being equal, the man whose faculties are most perfectly cultivated must be the man most pleasing to God.
That this may be the more evident, let us direct our attention to activities intimately connected with the attainment of human nature's noblest aim, the knowing and loving of God. So many of us drift along the current, unconscious of the scenes we pass, that at least some measure of soul-blindness may be anticipated in almost every one. Few, if any, use senses, mind and will in the way and to the extent intended by the Divine Artificer Who, creating the human soul to know and to love Himself, gave it a body and an earthly life as helps in the fulfillment of this supreme commission. The world around us was made, be it remembered, to display the glory of God. In the shining of the stars He showed forth the light of His countenance, and He hinted at the ardor of His love through the blazing noonday sun. Far out in the dark abyss of endless space the testimonies of His omnipotence were flung, and His thought realized itself in the ordered movement of the myriad spheres. Light and color, harmony and form, issued from Him as rumors and shadowings of things beyond man's power to understand. In morning's sweet approach and evening's solemn close, in the glad return of springtime and the saddening change of autumn, men have learned something about their Maker. The radiant woods of October, the livelier plumaged birds of May, and the giant roses of June, each catch and reflect a single ray of His surpassing beauty. "Flock and herd and human face divine," clothed with mystery since first life stirred upon the face of the deep, in all the intervening ages have discoursed marvellously of God to those who care to listen. Yet how few consider the birds of the air or the grass of the field; how few inquire of these concerning Him who made them! How few, like Saint Francis, praise God to the dumb creatures, or commune, like Saint Augustine, with the stars of midnight while they speak of God! Who runs with weary feet and panting bosom in quest of holy truth, examining, sifting, comparing, striving to see if haply he may find more of God? And where is the constant soul that exercises heart and will in loving, as God loves, both man and bird and beast. Yet:
"He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small,
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all."
Let us confess it; soul-blindness hangs over us like an impenetrable cloud. And, because we are blind, much of the time we are unthinking and. unloving too - dull, cold creatures with the flame of life trimmed low and the waters ever at an ebb.
A walk through the fields with a botanist would perhaps arouse any one of us to a painful consciousness of limitation and ignorance. He sees so many things where we see so few; and in each of them he finds so much more than we could find. Myrtle and honeysuckle whisper shy confidences to him in a tongue unintelligible to us; sweet fragrance is breathed into his very soul and wafts him away to the land of dreams and poetry, where the flowers unfold life-histories before him like chapters from a creation-old romance. Meanwhile we ordinary mortals feel strangely awkward at the proximity of the new world thus suddenly brought to mind; and we begin vainly to lament that our eyes have been so poorly trained and that our soul is so helpless to see or to praise these wonderful works of God. In another way, the same truth comes home again, when we stand beside the astronomer as his telescope sweeps the jewelled night, revealing a whole universe of beauty and mystery unfamiliar to us; and again, when for the first time we look at the myriad life in the water-drop mounted beneath the biologist's magic lens. Over and over, we are borne down by the sense of our narrowness - being irresistibly impelled to contrast our own apathy with the keen delight of the artist before a line of paintings, of the violinist listening to the symphony, of the poet as he threads the forest or stands at the water's edge, lifted up in spirit by the amber beauty of the evening sky. Manifestly these lives are nobler than ours.
A far deeper reverence is awakened when we encounter souls who are sensitive not only to the beauty of Nature but to the personal presence of Nature's God. Such lives as these persons lead appear to be passed outside the limits of our world, up on the heights where essential goodness and truth and beauty dwell. For them, though called by many names, the great Reality underlying each partial manifestation, each individual appearance, is God and only God. His and His alone is the peace, compelling dawn and the blaze of sunset glory, the softened colors of twilight and the throbbing evening star; the tones of His voice echo in the wood-bird's song, in the river's chanting, in the music of ocean-wave; the dew is from Him, like the early and the later rain, like the snow enshrouding the lifeless fields, like the darker green upon the winter cedars, like the budding leaves that obey the impulse of returning spring; from Him are life and strength and love and length of days; from Him come penitence and hope and holiness and the glad assurance of eternal rest. 'There are some who keep mindful of all this; who are steadily sensitive to the sights and sounds that recall it; who go about through the livelong day without ever losing their consciousness of a divine presence, or forgetting the relationship of God to man. "Deus meus et omnia" rings in these souls like a ceaseless refrain chiming in harmony with the rhythm of heart-beat and respiration. Heaven's choirs are nearly audible to them; the glory of God is shining round about them; they are loving with a mighty love strong as death and deep as hell. Each created thing they meet brings them some new message concerning its source; brook and flower and star and stone and soul of man seem to have burst into this existence fresh from an upper world, not in utter nakedness, but "trailing clouds of glory." Meanwhile, within is a constant touch, like the reassuring pressure of a gentle hand, telling of One Friend who will never leave nor forsake His own. It is His mind that has planned, His will that has fashioned all. 'The senses perceive the moon's chaste light and the violet's fragrance, the falling waters, the lark that soars and sings; and at once the mind recalls how each of these shows forth the measureless goodness and love of God, for by grace divine it has succeeded in linking the thought of Him with every common object and every experience of daily life. By this means has the curse of blindness been charmed away; God has been brought again to reign visibly in His heaven; and all has been made right with the world.
In the secular branches of knowledge called science and art, progress is insured the moment men learn that their defects are remediable. It remains to be proved that men will display similar energy in regard to matters spiritual. One fears lest those who are striving so diligently to perfect their powers ot observation and appreciation, may be less enthusiastic about the corresponding development of spiritual sense and religious feeling; or, to take another point of view, one fears lest cultured minds - even it Catholic - that have been trained to fine mental accuracy may be content to remain very dull indeed with regard to things of divine import. The varying lessons of the liturgy may continue to pass unheeded; Prayer and Gospel and Introit, with their heart-stirring messages of resistless inspiration, may remain unfamiliar still; the majestic harmonies in which during long centuries the Church has chanted forth to God the strains of human plaint and human praise may swell and sink unnoticed. Methods of training will possibly have been perfected long years before attention will be turned to this spiritual aspect of life's opportunities. Only the few will know the suggestive symbolism of rite and ceremony; only the few will remember the history of God's saints; only the few will thrill with a sense of the deep meaning of the Morning Sacrifice - although in very truth a vigilant soul might mount heavenward up these steps like the visioned angels upon Jacob's ladder. But the 'blind " never see the rays of glory that are streaming in through sanctuary pane; nor watch the flickering altar-light rise and fall as it sighs out its life there in the dusk so near to God; nor read the divine romance writ on the faces beside the entrance of the dim confessional; nor feel hot tears well up as the white-robed little ones pass by on their way to learn for the first time how truly and tenderly Jesus Christ has loved them.
Life would be so infinitely richer to us did we but cultivate a keener sense of spiritual and religious beauty. Like the ceaseless play of solar light upon a planet, like the ever heaving central sea, God's love is pressing steadily on mind and heart and will at every moment, could we but realize it. Around us lies a whole world of creatures clothed with divine suggestiveness, appealing to us constantly, yet almost in vain, to draw from their measureless stores of love and wisdom and enrich our own. How different our days would be were we thus made wise, were God's ennobling shadow thus thrown across the swift-flowing current of thoughts and sensations on whose surface we are floating our lives away. As to the difficulty of so living, we may be sure it is not insuperable; a mind might embrace all this varied content and yet reserve sufficient energy for necessary practical affairs. The skilled pianist achieves an almost equal feat in his faultless execution of a thousand mechanical niceties while his attention is centered exclusively upon expression and technique. At the beginning of spiritual growth, we cannot measure the extent of our possibilities any more than the pianist could during the scale-practising period of development; yet we may very reasonably believe that our minds are going to prove equal to the task of performing what they were originally destined for and are now invited to win. Though not, like Adam, in possession of all the powers and privileges of integral humanity, still we are essentially sound and nothing needed for the attainment of spiritual excellence will be wanting to us.
But apart from the question of acquiring an adequate grasp upon the supreme realities, at least some sort of attention to the invisible world is as indispensable to spiritual fullness of stature as food is to bodily health. Life, in whatever form, must always be nourishing and renewing itself. When we have trained our senses to observe and our minds to interpret the thousand gleaming fragments that reflect God into our lives so frequently, then only shall we be capable of keeping the divine fires aglow within us. This purpose the whole world of matter has been created to subserve; and the whole wide realm of scientific truth as well; and the fruits of speculation and the conclusions of experience also; and the teachings of religion likewise - these last, of course, being by far the most proper and necessary nourishment of aspiring souls. By using them we shall grow in eternal life, in the knowledge of God and of His Christ - having learned loving sympathy for all things made, and acquired a habit of spontaneous and unselfish affection for whatever approaches within range of our observation and shows itself to be related to God. Thus we shall come to employ an entirely new scale of values, to interpret appearances as sensual men can never interpret them, to know the world to some extent as God knows it; and, at least in part, we shall finally win back man's primeval power, and set creation right again by putting it beneath the feet of Him who hath restored it all.
Why should such a habit of mind seem too much to ask or hope for? Surely faculties were given to be developed and exercised, and in their exercise to lead us Godward; surely truth is given to be made fruitful and not to be hidden in a napkin; and the very fact that our souls respond instinctively to this sublime ideal is sufficient proof that the means to attain it will not be wanting, that its pursuit is an obligation rather than an impossibility.
Inspiring hope! Passed through this magic change, all things become stepping-stones to God - as from the beginning, indeed, they were intended to be. For the ultimate end of all the various elements of this great universe is the same. Through the whole world, from worm to star-dust, one controlling purpose runs. The "flower in the crannied wall" holds the secrets of God and furthers His ends no less truly than the storm-lightning which flashes across the heavens to lose itself in extra-stellar space; and the deepest significance of each is in the message it bears concerning its Source, from Whom every being, created or uncreated, sprang. All truth again, whether imparted by the simplest statement of the smaller Catechism or by the sublimest doctrines of the Summa Theologica and The Ascent of Mount Carmel, has the same generic end - it is a means of divine union and it is intended to be studied, pondered, lived. Never will creatures fully effect their ultimate purpose until, swinging the soul of man out beyond the stress of finite longings into the calm haven of rest, they bring it to safe anchorage at last in the deep, peaceful truth of God.
It may be noted here, that most of us should attend far more than we do to the spiritual significance of revealed doctrine. On the portals" of our mind beat steadily the great dogmatic teachings of the Faith - the Eucharistic presence, the Commemoration of Calvary, the Communion of Saints, the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit - and what do they not suggest? Yet commonly we give little heed while they cry out; and we see naught though they flash wonderful visions before our eyes. Almost at any point we could strike away from the common walks into the thick clustered truths, with the certainty of coming upon paths that lead to rich and pleasant pastures. Once this fact has been brought to our attention, once the stimulus that dogma gives has been carried up over the threshold of consciousness, a new world will be revealed, and there, according to individual taste and need and ability, each man can wander at will.
An instance of these precious opportunities is our chance to become familiar with the person of our Blessed Savior by means of painstaking study of His life. Ordinarily verse and chapter that have been falling on our ears since childhood remain quite empty of significance for us, or recall only hazy allusions to far away and faintly pictured events. A relatively trifling amount of care would change this state of things altogether and put us in possession of a spiritual treasure. Had we an accurate idea of the general sequence of the lite of Christ and a little knowledge of Judea and Galilee, so that at will we could reproduce the Gospel story in a rich and suggestive setting, the words and things encountered from hour to hour would recall sacred memories; white-walled town and blue lake-water, grassy plain and stony wilderness and roadside-well, palm and fig-tree and thorn-bush and field of corn, would bring holy thoughts to mind. Imagination would leap up at the very mention of Thabor or Genesareth, Capharnaum, Bethsaida, or the Mountain of Temptation. When dull at times of prayer, we could retrace the steps of Christ's pilgrimage, going over again in spirit whatever has been recorded concerning Him. So, for example, we could spend a fruitful hour musing upon the first year of His ministry: how in January He was baptized, and after the Temptation returned to Galilee to do " great things" at Capharnaum and to change water into wine at Cana; how at Jerusalem, during the Passover, He drove the hucksters from the Temple, and comforted Nicodemus, and preached in the southland for many months; how, later, He journeyed north, meeting the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well, and after His repulse from Nazareth went to Capharnaum to live near the 'ruler' son He had raised up; and then, how in the months preceding the Pasch, He traveled about, calling disciples, freeing the possessed, healing the fever-stricken woman, aiding the disheartened fishermen, curing the sick man, the paralytic, the leper. Fill in these rough outlines, and how gloriously suggestive a series of pictures we obtain! Similarly the two following years provide a store of spiritual nourishment for a lifetime.
If we have never yet attempted any exercise of this sort, then we lack a very precious aid to holy living. On our lips, the blind man's prayer might find fitting place - Domine, ut videam! Lord, that I may see - that my senses may become keen, my mind open, my heart aflame; that I may be alive to the deep meaning of all that comes from God; that Christ may be a familiar figure to my imagination; that I may live over again with Him the scenes of His earthly life; that His consoling words may re-echo in my ears and His teachings penetrate my soul!
After all, what is "meditation" but just such an intent study of Christ's life and teaching carried on methodically and directed to the immediate awakening of the soul's deepest emotions? What is "affection" but the steady upward flight to God of fire-tipped arrows of human longing? What is "contemplation" but the absorbed attention of a lover who has forgotten self in the vision of the Beloved? If in the natural order faculties can be developed by persistent striving, why not likewise in the spiritual? Truly there is no bar to our indulging in such an aspiration. Beyond a doubt we can grow delicately sensitive to the impact of God's being upon ours; we can thrill with a lasting consciousness of the indwelling Holy Ghost; we can nourish eyes and soul upon this wondrous world that the Father has created and the Son of Man reconsecrated by His bodily presence. The glowing rainbow, the sheen of starry waters, the gorgeous skies of summer, the neutral tints of autumn, the field of fragrant blossoms and the blue above the trees can move us to prayerful mood; the swelling of ocean-tide and the menacing rush of angry storm-clouds can recall the majesty of God; the smiling lips of innocent childhood, and the graver beauty of maturer age alike, can arouse within us new reverence for the great Unseen that we have learned to look upon as very close and very dear. "Domine, ut et ego videam"; for then will life resemble what it might have been had not the first man sinned and cast away his race's splendid birthright.
If it be given the pure of heart to see God, conversely it is true that those who see much of God will be pure. Fineness of spiritual discernment and nobility of conduct are reagents. The spirit always throbbing with love and faith and admiration, can scarcely stray far from the heights where alone a satisfying view of beauty and truth and holiness is obtained. So, too, the contrite soul, swept by consuming fires of shame, is likely to discover that its once commonplace world has become radiant with hitherto unsuspected splendor, and to be moved to cry out: "This only I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see." So again in the desolation of an awful grief the suffering soul perceives that the pain is but "the shade of His hand outstretched caressingly"; and understands that comforting words have been spoken from heaven, though to the bystanders it seems only to have thundered. For whosoever is used to the sight of God is enabled to dispense in part with the tedious processes of logic and to exchange cumbersome demonstration for intuitive perceptions which distinguish easily between good and evil, truth and falsehood, light and darkness. Amid the saddest gloom such a mind discerns that the hand which strikes is a divine one, and that the words of chiding have been uttered by the dear voice of God. Therefore he presses on unerringly while others pursue their devious ways unenlightened, having heard a noise indeed, but having comprehended nothing and seen no man. And if paradoxically it happens that the pure of heart themselves do sometimes turn away from God's revelation, we have only to investigate and we shall surely find that the truth from which they shrink has in some way been distorted, or made unlovely, or shorn of those accompaniments of graciousness and holiness which belong to it by right divine.
Since the possibility of sense cultivation has been realized whole races of men are rising up, trained to do what previously only genius could attempt. Mayhap in the spiritual order likewise, education is destined to achieve startling results. People are coming to appreciate so truly and to regret so keenly the missed, opportunities of life, and educators especially are growing so vehement in their denunciation of neglect, that a general reawakening seems not far off; and when it comes, conditions may be so largely amended that only in rare cases here and there will it be true that human lives are but half lived. With the application of scientific methods, individuals will be studied more accurately and latent powers developed more carefully, so that the child - thus runs our hope - will develop abilities far beyond what has been possible in the past. In the coming age, therefore, the race should be more capable and more worthy of lifting its song of praise to God; for surely, acquaintance with visible things must draw men on to thought and knowledge of invisible things; and surely, other conditions being equal, none can be so pleasing to God as the man of perfect culture.
This gleaming prospect, however, leaves an attendant shadow of regret in souls who seem to have learned the lesson vainly because too late. Yet indeed to none is it utterly useless, since for none is improvement altogether impossible. Although in youth we have not been trained as we now wish; although age or other circumstances make it at present impossible to recover faculties long withered away; still undoubtedly all of us can profit by the discovery of truth, no matter how tardily discovered. In some measure we can live our lives more fully; to some slight degree we can develop sensitiveness to God's Self-manifestation in created beauty, in the reign of changeless Jaw, in the goodness ennobling all who look upon it. We can learn to contemplate Nature more reverently, and with livelier memory of its divine significance. We can pay worship - as to the things of God - to all that the genius of man has made, to all the gracious forms that vest crude matter with loveliness, to all the coloring that dazzles and the sounds that enrapture us - for all are, as it were, but so many aspects of God toned down to the measure of our capacity, their wondrous fairness revealing a faint suggestion of that ravishing Beauty whose inmost essence even for our own sakes, it would seem, must remain for all time wrapped round with light inaccessible.
- text taken from by Father Joseph McSorley, C.S.P.