Recently I came across one of my favorite passages in the Gospel of Mark, the Parable of the Rich Young Man. In Mark 10:21, we learn, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” I love that line, because in these seven words I find hope for all of us imperfect people. “Jesus looked at him,” and knowing everything that was in his heart and soul, knowing that this person did want to follow him but would not be able to let go of his attachments, he still loved him. Jesus didn’t tell the man to go away because he wasn’t ready yet. He didn’t judge him. He simply looked at him and loved him.
It strikes me that St. Ignatius may have been a lot like this rich young man, who, in Luke’s account of this interaction, was noted to be a ruler (18:18). Ignatius, of noble blood, also struggled with the decision to let go of his attachments, including his wealth, privilege, status, and ego. And, while that process of letting go of attachments turned into a lifelong quest on his part, by the time he wrote the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius had clearly accepted the invitation to follow Jesus and must have experienced that divine look of love in a visceral way.
In fact, the experience of that divine gaze is a critical element of the Spiritual Exercises. In the Contemplation on the Incarnation, Ignatius invites the retreatant to observe imaginatively the Trinity gazing down with loving mercy upon a world mired in troubles before the Incarnation (SE 101–109). He also directs retreatants to consider reverently the ways in which the Lord “beholds” us as we approach him (SE 75).
In this usage, “behold” is more than simply seeing or looking at something or someone. This connotation of “behold” involves a positive response to the object of one’s sight. It invokes a sense of that person or thing as being beautiful, pleasing, bringing joy, and attracting the gaze. We behold those we love. The late Jesuit Anthony deMello got to the heart of the matter when he said, “Behold God beholding you…and smiling.” God looks at us and loves us.
Today, we are confronted with the same 2,000-year-old challenge that the rich young man faced. This challenge can be distilled into two questions:
- How will I respond to God looking at me and loving me, even in my imperfection?
- How do I feel when I realize the Divine is gazing at me—that God is beholding me?
To be seen, gazed upon, beheld, can be disconcerting, even scary. To know that my imperfect heart is known, yet still embraced. The challenge stands, To accept that Love. To allow Love to know me, lead me. How will I respond to being looked upon and loved? Dare I return the gaze? Can I take in that Love? Do I soak it up—or do I resist? If I feel resistance, what is it in me that is resisting? Is it too much love? Am I being called to increase my capacity to accept this Love? Am I being challenged to see myself through the eyes of the One who beholds me? I wonder. How will I go on if I accept this Love? How, then, shall I live? I decide. The world needs more love. I shall savor the Love, store it up and let it flow over as I behold the world and all I encounter today. How will you respond?