I stopped at my parish church one bright afternoon recently to pray for a while and rest in the silence. As I entered the church, I pulled off my sunglasses to see more clearly in the softer light.
I’m not good at quieting myself. I’m the nervous type, moving around a lot throughout the day, listening to music, stopping to glance at a newspaper, running through mental lists of what I need to do and where I need to go. Quieting my preoccupied mind and shifting into prayer gear is difficult. I don’t stop at church because I’m pious. I often stop in when I need something and want to pray to my heavy-hitter saints for their intercession.
A long time ago I did a story on Dan Daniel, a radio disc jockey whom I had been listening to from age 13. He was a broadcaster of rare talent, a man of integrity and warmth and humanity, and he also was a faithful Catholic. He told me that he often stopped at church to pray, but he could not recall ever stopping to ask for anything. Instead, he thanked God for his blessings.
I am the opposite number of the late Dan Daniel. I’m always asking for something. In my own defense, I’ll add that I often pray for a blessing for someone else, like recovery from illness or coping with a setback. And of course I pray for my family and friends. But I also have my own intentions, and I never hesitate to bring them to the Lord and his Mother and my heavy-hitter saints.
So I moved purposefully around the church that day. I stopped at the side altar where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle beneath the statue of the Sacred Heart, and the altar where the statue of Mary is, and the shrine with the statue of St. Anthony, with St. Lucy in the stained-glass window behind him. I soaked up the peace and the stillness and the silence, and said my prayers and presented my requests, and then I turned to go. I put on my glasses, and the instant I looked through them I was startled to see that the entire church had darkened.
The beautiful white marble in the sanctuary, the cream-colored walls, the very air lost their brightness. The sudden darkening shook me for a second, and then I realized what had happened. I had put on the same glasses that I had removed: my sunglasses. Nothing in the church had changed; I was the one who had made everything look dark. I almost started to laugh.
The momentary dimming of my vision brought an instant insight: What we see depends on what lenses we are looking through. Sunglasses worn indoors distort whatever we look at. Clear lenses worn outdoors in bright sunlight leave us squinting and perhaps unable to see much at all.
Popular expressions make the same point: “She sees the world through rose-colored glasses,” or “He’s got a jaundiced eye.” The lenses in our minds can distort our view of the world just as much as the lenses in our eyeglasses.
As this year draws to its close, we have more than enough to look at with our mind’s eye. The pandemic continues, and our patience grows thin. Social disorder and political polarization have damaged our public discourse and left us a divided nation. What are we to do? Perhaps we can do what the blind beggar did when Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The beggar replied, “Lord, please let me see.”
We can use our mind’s eye to see the suffering we can help to ease, the hungry people we can help to feed, the anger we can help to calm, the understanding we can foster.
I know what I need to do. When I’m tempted to react with anger if someone disagrees with me, when the problems seem too big and the solutions too complicated, I’m going to ask myself, “Are you sure you’re not wearing your sunglasses in church?”