2022 Quiquagesima – Seeing True

27 February 2022
Ken Kubo, Candidate and Seminarian

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” – I Corinthians 13:12

We have truly come through dark times, and dark times still lie ahead. As the current spectre of the latest coronavirus surge fades, the shadow of armed conflict rises again in Europe on a scale not seen for decades. We have, for the moment, traded horsemen from Plague to War. Part of our current darkness is the lack of information – or the abundance of contradictory stories without proven facts. The media is a shrouded lens, making the truth difficult to see. Now, we only know in parts, and it is difficult to assemble the parts into a picture that makes sense. Whatever is the truth, our own history reminds us that strife between close kin leaves scars that are slow to heal. Let us continue to remember those victims of this conflict on both sides and pray earnestly that peace will again prevail on earth.

Recall that during the time of Our Lord’s earthly ministry, Judaea was a conquered realm. The government was imposed on them by Rome, and even if a ruler had the same blood as the conquered, he ruled only by the grace of the conquerors. Uprisings were dealt with swiftly, since Rome had far greater military resources. Yet the children of Israel still held out hope for their promised Messiah who would lead them out of bondage. During the season of Lent, we will retrace the rise of that Messiah and the fulfillment of their prophesies – just not in the way they might have expected. Their sight was darkened by the preconceptions of what the Messiah had to be and do. The Apostles were reminded what the prophets required, and were still surprised when events unfolded just as Our Lord said – even though everything had to happen as it did. Even in this day and age, our understanding of God’s will is imperfect. In part, our intellect is unable to hold the complete picture of the complexity of the Infinite, and being human, our understanding is colored by our own expectations and desires.

Recently, to expand the bounds of human knowledge and as a Christmas present to the scientific community, NASA launched its James Webb Space Telescope. Parked over 900,000 mi from earth, it is planned to spend the next 20 or so years scanning the heavens. For it to reach this destination and function correctly, hundreds of operations had to occur flawlessly. There was a narrow path to success. Everything had to happen just as it did. The primary mirror of the telescope is made up of 18 separate sections. Initially, each mirror acts independently, so the first images returned of one distant star were 18 separate points of view. Over time, the mirrors will be focused to work together as one large reflector, resulting in a single clear view of the target.

We are at the end of Gesimatide, the season where we prepare for Lent or perhaps to prepare to prepare for Easter. As with the Webb telescope, we will attempt to focus our sight so that we can more clearly discern that Light that shines in the darkness. We have to acknowledge that this is a work in progress, not just in Lent but throughout our Christian lives. I have spent over three decades as a Christian, the last ten as a seminarian, and I’m still finding new perspectives and new questions to ask. All those converge on the same subject though. There is one Easter promise, one Light that shines forth to lead us from sin and death to life and eternal love. Eighteen mirrors won’t turn that into 18 different Lights! Part of our journey in this life is to improve our focus so that all these different viewpoints of the Divine become part of one understanding of our singular deity. We cannot now meet God face to face; remember that the Israelites had to avert their eyes from Moses’ face when he descended the mount, fearful of the mere reflection of his meeting with the Lord. Instead we must look with faith through earthquake, wind, and fire – all those things we Southern Californians are so intimately familiar with – and listen for His still, soft voice. We glimpse Him through a darkened mirror, discerning Him through His workings in the world. He is “in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps” (Battle Hymn of the Republic) on the battlefields of the world amid the theater of war. He is with the casualties and the refugees and the displaced. He shines through the heroism of our first responders, and in the faces of the homeless, the hungry, and the dispossessed. He inspires teachers and poets and, yes, even politicians to work to build a more enlightened future even while He holds close the oppressed and exiled – for He also loves and cares for the strangers in a strange land. He is in our minds, our hearts, our souls when we are at our best – our most courageous, charitable, and capable times. And He is also there to be the soft voice of comfort and to share the burden when we are facing grief and loss and our own imperfections – and even when we are angry with Him.

“Our thoughts lie open to thy sight; and naked to thy glance.
Our secret sins are in the light Of thy pure countenance.
Yet weak and blinded though we be, Thou dost our service own;
We bring our varying gifts to thee, And thou rejectest none.”

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1856

We must remember, especially as we prepare for the pilgrim road of Lent, that whatever the limits of our sight, Our Lord sees us truly through any subterfuge down to our core. He who sees the fall of a sparrow does not need the news media to tell Him our story – He sees the truth, the whole truth, and everything including the truth. We are known of Him. We must look to our Divine Judge with respect, knowing that there is no heavenly plea deal at the end of all things – remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus. And yet, we are told by many a messenger that we should not fear. “Fear not,” the angel cries. He who knows us better than we do ourselves already loves us just as we are at those best times and when we fall short of the fullness of our Christian vocation. There is no shame in acknowledging that we are works in progress, that creation – and our Creator – is not finished with us yet. We take up the challenge to be better. No matter how old or young we are, we can always walk a little closer to the center of the narrow path, the road Our Saviour modeled for us in his earthly ministry and teachings. So our goal is not (just) to have a holy Lent, because Lent is not the destination – our eyes are fixed on Easter’s promise through Lent’s shadow, and that will ennoble our Lenten path. This is the Christian life – to strive to walk worthy of our calling through the noise and waste and distraction of the World with our sights set on the eternal Easter.

So – you have a couple of days still to reflect on what discipline and strength will characterize your Lenten journey. It’s not just about pancakes and Mardi Gras on one side and a really good brunch on the other. Those are just endpoints; Lent is about the dash in between them. Take a step back and take stock of your armor of faith to see where it needs to be burnished up. What will you give up or take on so that you can see the way through to Easter more clearly? Whatever you choose, do it honestly, as unto God and not man, that your eyes may be opened as best as earthly eyes may be – Receive thy sight: thy faith (thy hope and thy love) hath saved thee.