What's in a Gaze?

The following is Vinny Flynn's introduction to his latest book, Mercy's Gaze: 100 Readings from Scripture and the Diary of St. Faustina, published by Marian Press:

"O Eternal Love, You command Your Sacred Image to be painted" (Diary of St. Faustina, 1).

So begins the Diary of St. Faustina, written by a simple, uneducated Polish nun, who was destined to become the first saint of the Jubilee Year that ushered in the third Christian millennium.

It seems fitting that her Diary should begin this way, for the painting of Christ as He appeared to her - known now throughout the world as the Divine Mercy Image - reveals to those who look deeply the entire message of mercy that comes from the 600-page Diary.

Why did the Lord appear to her and command that this image be painted? The clue comes in an easily overlooked phrase in Faustina's dramatic description of this first major revelation recorded in the Diary. The Lord has just appeared to her, dressed in the white robe of the priesthood, with His right hand raised in blessing and His left hand holding His garment open in the area of His Heart, from which gush forth red and pale rays as an endless fountain of mercy. Faustina writes: "I kept my gaze fixed on the Lord" (Diary, 47).

Filled with "awe, but also with great joy," Faustina says nothing, but simply keeps her gaze fixed on Christ. The Lord doesn't immediately speak to her either, but only "after a while" tells her to paint His image. He first gives her time to contemplate in her mind and heart what she is seeing with her eyes - to look as Our Lady looked, pondering in her heart deeply so that she could enter more fully into the mystery of Christ's love, in complete trust and surrender to His will.

Pope John Paul II (now blessed), who referred to St. Faustina as "a sign for our times," considered this type of contemplative gazing so important that he proclaimed it as the agenda of the Church for the next thousand years. "To contemplate the face of Jesus," he wrote in his encyclical on the Eucharist, "and to contemplate it with Mary, is the 'programme' which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 6).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also stresses the importance of this gazing upon the Lord, connecting it with the daily conversion we all need. "The human heart," it tells us, "is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced" (1432).

How can looking at Jesus convert our hearts? Because when we really look, we also see the Father and come to understand His plan of mercy for all.

Jesus is the "image of the invisible God," writes St. Paul (Col 1:15). Who's the "invisible God"? The Father. Jesus Himself makes this clear when He explains to the apostles, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9).

According to Pope John Paul II, this is why Jesus came - to show us that God is a Father who is "rich in mercy. ... Believing in the crucified Son means 'seeing the Father'" (Dives in Misericordia, 1, 7).

What's all this have to do with converting our hearts?

"Conversion to God," John Paul continues, "always consists in discovering His mercy, ... [and] is always the fruit of the 'rediscovery' of this Father, who is rich in mercy" (Dives in Misericordia, 13).

So, when we gaze upon Christ as He is represented in this image - not only with our eyes but with our minds and hearts - we "rediscover" the Father. We recognize that it's His hand raised over us in blessing, His mercy gushing forth from the Heart of Jesus. We come to know who Christ is, who the Father is, and who we are called to be, and we are progressively transformed into living images of mercy.

Christ didn't command this image to be painted so that we could simply hang it on a wall and glance at it now and then. We are not supposed to just look at this image; we are supposed to become it.

As St. Paul explains, "All of us, gazing with unveiled faces upon the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory" (2 Cor 3:18).

Saint Faustina's spiritual director, Blessed Fr. Michael Sopocko, in recounting her instructions for the painting of the image, emphasizes that it should be painted in such a way that our gazing upon it also reveals to us the compassionate gaze of Jesus.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) also speaks of this gaze of Christ, explaining that communicating with Christ demands not only that we gaze on Him but also that we "allow him to gaze on us, listen to him, get to know him" (God Is Near Us, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003, p. 97).

This gazing upon Christ - and receiving His gaze - changes us, transforms us, bit-by-bit, healing our hearts and enabling us to entrust our lives to Him. It is this double gazing that I invite you to experience as you read this book. Don't attempt to consume it quickly, all at once, but sit for a while with each entry. Ponder it to make it your own and allow it to touch your life. Take the time to contemplate the face of Jesus. Get to know Him and listen in your heart to what He wants to say to you today through Sacred Scripture and the Diary of St. Faustina.

Looking upon Jesus in this way and seeing how He looks at you with love, may you come to recognize and embrace the mystery of the Father's mercy - the love that is greater than all sin, greater than all evil; the love that can reach the darkest corners of the world and heal all our brokenness; the love that we don't deserve and can't earn, but that is freely given; the love that can fill us to overflowing, transforming us, like St. Faustina, into living images of mercy for others.

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