Confronting a 2,000-Year-Old Challenge

woman sitting outdoors beholding the light

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:

  1. How will I respond to God looking at me and loving me, even in my imperfection?
  2. How do I feel when I realize the Divine is gazing at me—that God is beholding me?

My Response

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?

8 COMMENTS

  1. Very touching, moving! I’ve always struggled with loving not enough. But still God lovingly gazes at me – encouragingly, inspiringly, leading me on to the Light – that gives life in its fullness, with much joy, hope, and peace. For His greater honor and glory.
    Thank you Rebecca.

    • Hi Claire,
      Thank you. Yes, isn’t it wonderful that He loves us despite our humanity? I love how Ignatius helps us to realize this. AMDG.

  2. Loved your article, as always. In your bio I noticed that you’ve worked in “domestic refugee resettlement.” What is that?

    Keep writing!

    Cordially,

    Lorraine Bourgeois

    • Hi Lorraine,
      Thank you so much for your kind words.
      “Domestic” refugee resettlement is the process of aiding refugee individuals as they arrive inside the U.S. (as opposed to those who are still in camps outside the US). There are a number of “voluntary agencies,” mostly faith-based, that work in partnership with the U.S. Department of State to help refugees as they arrive in the US. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB MRS) is one of these agencies. As such, they have offices in many Catholic dioceses around the country which are tasked with assisting individuals in the transition to life in the US after they have been fully vetted and approved (documented) for resettlement in the US by the government. The goal of all refugee resettlement services in the US is to aid these individuals/families to become self-sufficient and contributing members of society as soon as possible (usually within 30-90 days) after arrival in the US.

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