Friday, September 12, 2008


Thursday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time
With Open Eyes


Readings: 1 Corinthians 8:1b-7, 11-13; Psalm 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 23-24; Luke 6:27-38
Pictures: CC KM (Benny)

Aiyah, close one eye, lah! This is a phrase familiar to many Singaporeans. It’s used typically in situations wherein someone is perceived to be doing something that’s against the rules, or at least something inappropriate. Maybe the person in question is new to a particular organization and hasn’t learnt the way things are done. Trying to be kind and understanding, the longer-serving colleagues might, at least initially, overlook his/her mistakes. They will close one eye. It’s such an apt phrase, isn’t it? It captures quite accurately what is going on. Although fully aware that the rules are being infringed, one chooses to excuse the mistake, at least in this particular instance.

Even so, it may perhaps be necessary to reflect a little more upon how our use of this phrase might affect the way in which we approach mercy and forgiveness. For we may well think that to forgive others – let alone to love our enemies, as Jesus exhorts us to in today’s gospel – entails closing one or both our eyes to their faults, ignoring the hurt that they may have caused us. Consciously or not, we may tend to distinguish between knowledge and love in a less than helpful way. For it may seem, very often, that when we allow ourselves to dwell more deeply upon the extent of the wrong that has been done to us, we find it that much more difficult to forgive. Messy feelings get in the way. Wouldn’t we be better able to forgive, and even to love our enemies, if we closed our eyes? At least in such situations, knowledge does often seem to defeat love. Indeed – albeit referring to a different situation – in today’s first reading, doesn’t Paul say that knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up?

Still, we also realize all too quickly that such self-imposed ignorance is far from easy to achieve. Try as we might, the painful memories linger far longer than we wish. The difficult feelings continue to ebb and flow in ways beyond our control. Worse, those who somehow succeed in bottling these up, often do so only at great cost to their own mental and emotional health. In seeking to close their eyes, they end up imprisoning their hearts. Could this be a sign that we need to re-evaluate our understanding of the process of forgiveness? Could it be that love and compassion involve more than closing one’s eyes?

Two considerations might be helpful. The first is the need to examine what the phrase to close one eye refers to and what it leaves out. One closes an eye not to one’s own spontaneous reactions – one’s thoughts and feelings – but to the other’s mistake. And one does this without denying the wrong that has been done. After all, one only closes one eye. More than that – and this is the crucial aspect that the phrase leaves unexpressed – we are able to close one eye, we are able to excuse the wrong, only to the extent that we are first willing and able to open all our eyes – those in our heads as well as in our hearts – to the whole situation. In the example given earlier, the colleagues are willing to overlook the newcomer’s mistakes precisely because they allow themselves to know and to appreciate, what it’s like to be a newbie.

And there is more. The fullness of knowledge that underlies and aids the process of loving to the point of forgiveness, of loving even one’s enemies, is underscored by Paul in the first reading: If one loves God, one is known by him. It is also beautifully expressed in the words of Psalm 139: O Lord, you have probed me and you know me… God knows each and all of us - the wrongdoers and the wronged - to our very depths. God sees both the light and the shadow, the good and the bad. And in that fullness of knowledge, God continues to cherish and to delight in us. Isn’t this the keenness of sight for which we need to pray? Isn’t this the love that alone is able to fuel our attempts at forgiveness?

How are we being invited to open our eyes today?

5 comments:

  1. Dr Lee Wei Ling, Director of the National Neuroscience Institute, is locked in debate with the AG Chambers over the recent trial of retail magnate Tang Wee Sung who, in desperation, bought a kidney from someone whom he lied under statutory oath to be a distant relation of his. I was intrigued by the arguments put forward by both sides and I'm beginning to be a fan of hers. The bottom line of Dr Lee's arguments is that justice should be tempered with mercy. Close one eye?

    I close one eye whenever I watch a horror movie. When the movie gets real scary, I close both eyes and sometimes shut my ears - even today! On September 11 2001, as I sat shell shocked in front of the TV, both my eyes were wide open. I even rubbed them to assure myself that I wasn't dreaming. Seven years down the road, have the horrific events of 911 opened our eyes to God's action in our world and our lives?

    Wouldn’t we be better able to forgive, and even to love our enemies, if we closed our eyes? But when you open your eyes again, they'll still be there! Grin. I have found it personally helpful (but difficult) to (i) diminish the 'I' and (ii) see with the eyes of Jesus. I have found that if my 'I' is not larger than life, then the hurt when wronged doesn't go deep and so it's easier to forgive.

    Thanks, Fr Chris, for your two take-home points.

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  2. There is a bigger story and there is a smaller story.
    Often, I see my world-whether blessings or hurts through the eyes of MY smaller story, and act to make MY life better.
    Nothing wrong in self-preservation and self-care until one is locked in one's smaller story of hurt and could not find a way out.
    The eyes and heart that has closed up for fear of being hurt again is also not able to be OPEN to enter God's bigger story of love and beauty, change and transformation.

    The truth of the bigger story is that our 70-80 years (or less) on earth is a mere speck in the whole plan of God that spans eternity, and yet, small as we are, God has created all of creation for each one of us to enjoy AND He desires to know each of out hearts intimately.

    But He can only win our hearts if we keep (at least one of) our eyes open and connected to our depths and look out for Him appearing in delightful ways that often catch the waiting heart by surprise.

    Have we peeked out of our shell lately to catch a glimpse of his love?
    How about this weekend when the mid-Autumn full moon beckons :)?

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  3. I just had a lesson today about seeing what is often obscured. Even with two eyes, I failed in my attempt.

    IF 1 = 5
    2 = 25
    3 = 125
    4 = 625
    5 = ?

    If your answer is 1, then it's the correct one.

    How often do we reflect instead of jumping into a situation? Even with the best of intentions, I often fail whilst trying to close one eye.

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  4. Thanks, Fr Chris, for helping us understand the process of forgiving with clear-sightedness. Just hope my mind will inform my heart soon.

    A few days ago, I happened to read what the late Bishop Fulton Sheen has said on the same topic. According to him, the reason for forgiveness is ignorance - our ignorance of others and of ourselves. (Similar reason as yours actually.)

    "How little we know of [others'] motives, their good faith, the circumstances surrounding their actions... We know nothing about the inside of our neighbor's heart and hence we refuse to forgive...

    "[Yet] we say others would forgive us if they understood us... Can we not be as ignorant of their motives, as we say they are ignorant of ours? Does not our refusal to find an excuse for [them] tacitly mean that under similar circumstances, we ourselves will be unfit to be forgiven?

    "...we are ignorant of our true condition that we fail to realise how badly we stand in need of pardon... the offences for which God forgives us are out of all proportion to the offences our neighbours commit against us... [and the whammy] Judgement is a harvest where we sow what we reap."

    This is almost like what someone has once said of the pointing finger. Whenever we point a finger at anyone, let us not forget that three fingers are being pointed back at us!

    Lord, please open the eyes in our minds and hearts to the whole situation. When we can't, grant us the faith to trust in your love and omnipotence to bring good out of any situation!

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  5. Gosh. Anon 3, I see now why 5=1. This is missing the obvious! Sometimes we could be too smart for our own good! Need to remember occam's razor.

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