Off the Eye Chart

The first time I became aware that I needed glasses came in eighth grade. I remember the day vividly. I had just made Union Federal, a team in the Pittsfield (Mass.) Babe Ruth League. At our first practice, the outfielders assembled in left field at Clapp Park, waiting for assistant coach Fran Reardon to hit us fly balls.

One after the other, we took our turns. When it came to mine, I waited for Fran to hit. He launched an arcing fly, one that I normally would have easily put away. This time, though, I badly misjudged the ball. It sailed over my head. This happened several times. The only balls I caught came after turning routine plays into circus grabs. Needless to say, I made a bad first impression on coach John Goswell.

It became my first serious brush with rattled confidence. That night, badly shaken, I wondered how I could miss those balls, since I had been an excellent fielder. When my troubles continued in the playground at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School the next day, I knew something was wrong.

Out of the Doghouse
What does a nearsighted kid do in a spot like that? He goes to mom, naturally. My mom, then a nurse, diagnosed the problem. By the end of the week, I was in an optometrist's office, reading the eye charts. Soon after I had a set of black horn rims, like Peter Asher of "Peter and Gordon." With corrected vision, I began to shine in practice. It took me a while to get out of Coach Goswell's doghouse, but gradually, I began to impress and earned a reprieve from the pine for a stint in the starting lineup.

Myopia, too, can creep into a person's spiritual life. Without realizing it, we can begin to misjudge people, events, and circumstances. We get a bad break, and what once was a piece of cake becomes a struggle. It baffles us. What we don't realize is that we need "corrective lenses."

I once had a dear friend who lost her 20-20 inner vision. Fay, we'll call her, had had a rough ride with men. After her boyfriend of several years left her, she was unable to accept that. After a year refusing to believe the relationship was over, her outlook began to change. Once warm and friendly, she became disagreeable and bitter.

She remained a Catholic but lost her spiritual receptivity, leading her into a type of religious fundamentalism where she tried to control everything. She worshipped "by the book," counting on an internal calculator that I couldn't see the number of prayers and pieties she "offered up." She knew about Divine Mercy but used it strictly as devotion. How else could she have prayed so many Chaplets without it changing her heart? She remained displeasing and aggrieved.

Divine Mercy: A Way of Life
When thinking of Fay recently, I was thrown back to Rome and the World Mercy Congress, to plenary talks given by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria and Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka. In the first teaching of the congress, Cardinal Schönborn emphasized that Divine Mercy must first be a way of life before it is a devotion. If not, he said, it would amount to little or nothing. When mercy transforms the heart, actions change. As we receive God's mercy, we become merciful. Only then do the devotional aspects of the message make spiritual sense.

Archbishop Ranjith mentioned an interreligious conference organized by the Catholic, Buddhist, and Hindu leaders of Sri Lanka in August last year. They convened the conference in response to a horrifying surge in ethnic violence.

"It was a very difficult problem to solve," Archbishop Ranjith said, because of the selfishness and fear caused by ethnic hostility. "The shared virtues of goodness and mercy were therefore very important in helping us."

The enemy of mercy is "the anger of selfishness and the rejection of human dignity," Archbishop Ranjith said. This is not just an economic or political problem, but also a spiritual one. The problem, he said, is that spirituality often becomes poisoned by fundamentalism, which perverts "true religion in the way it links the concept of religion to power." He called on all faiths to reject fundamentalism and the literal interpretation of sacred texts, because such rigid approaches "allow no reason for the mercy of God to enter the heart."

Keeping the Lenses On
It reminded me of how Fay's life and spirituality had changed from something warm and open to a cold, self-righteous fundamentalism. Rather than having clear sight to deal with her problems, she groped in nearsightedness, misread the situation, and mistakenly became convinced that clinging to her inner turmoil - an act of selfishness of which she was not even aware - was somehow for her to preserve her sense of self-identity. No amount of reason could convince her otherwise.

After the Congress, for some reason, I began thinking of my awful butchering of fly balls during my first practice with my Babe Ruth League team. First that day at practice and then Fay: I couldn't figure out why both had popped up. Now I know.

Just as I needed corrective lenses to help me see 20-20, so we need God's mercy. Divine mercy is like a pair of glasses to correct one's inner vision. Through our faults and imperfections, all of us suffer diseases of the inner eye. Only Divine Mercy, accepting it from God and sharing it with others, can help us see properly.

Over the years, I lost track of Fay. The last I heard, she had gone to California, gotten pregnant out of wedlock, and had an abortion. She remains in my prayers, and I place my confidence in the limitless mercy of God, that He will one day help her "come home." My playing days are over, but I still wear glasses. My days of striving for sainthood are still in play, however, and I will never take off the corrective lenses of mercy.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of "Dan Valenti's Journal" for

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