Lenten Eyes

With Lent and Ash Wednesday days ahead, and the liturgical season of Ordinary Time waning, I am reminded of my ego and the need for perspective. 

Luke’s Gospel today, invites us to examine the reality of our lives:

He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the splinter in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Friend, let me take out the splinter in your eye”, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Luke 6: 39-42

Psychologists speak of this concept called “projection.” It is “a defence mechanism in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.”1 In short, we quickly see and recognize the problems in others and fail to recognize the problems in our own lives. Or as Christ might put it, “we notice the splinter in our neighbor’s eye, but neglect the log in our own.” 

How often do we look out onto the world with judgement and persecution?

  • “He’s such an asshole?”
  • “She doesn’t know anything!”
  • “That person is so lazy!”
  • “That family is so dysfunctional.”
  • “That school isn’t good for anything!”

How often do we let our own anger and frustration bubble into our day-to-day interactions?

  • “You voted for that guy?! Wow, you must be a racist idiot!”
  • “You support her?! You must be a lazy socialist who wants everything done for you!”
  • “Everyone gets a trophy these days! I didn’t get anything like that when I was younger!”

It seems as if each day we are confronted with opportunities to positively engage others, and yet we regularly fall short. 

I am no different. 

I will quickly help a stranger and listen attentively, without judgement, to their story, but will deny my own family and friends the grace to explain what I might consider even their most mundane “mistakes.”

I will easily look with disdain at students and friends who argue and complain about their parents, and forget about the fact that I failed to visit my dying father in the hospital and regularly neglect to contact my mother. 

I will happily judge a politician for their wrong-doings, and neglect my own similar failures. 

I will comfortably label someone as lazy, but disregard the fact that I’ve spent countless days huddled lifelessly on a couch.  

My eyes see perfectly the boring bruises of others, but fail to see the festering wounds of my own life. 

Lent invites us to take a “long, loving, look at the” reality of our lives.2 To consider how our ordinary eyes have failed to see the goodness that is all around and to honestly examine the person in the mirror. 

Perhaps for Lent, it might be good to give up judgement? Perhaps it might be time to drop my mask?

The Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin wrote in The Divine Milieu: 

Nothing in life is profane for those who know how to see.
On the contrary, everything is sacred.3 

My ordinary eyes have failed to see the sacred, and have grown custom to seeing the profane. No longer are people “shinning like the sun,” but rather have become annoying blinders distorting my view.4  

Rather than accusing that person, putting them down, or casting them off with my labels of judgement, perhaps it might be time for me to ask:

  • What might this person’s perspective teach me?
  • How might I recognize my own inadequacies in my frustrations with them?
  • What is the lesson that could be gained from this situation? 

As my Ordinary Eyes begin to close, I pray that I may open a new pair of Lenten Eyes to recognize the sacred that surrounds me. 

  1. For more on “Psychological Projection” visit: https://www.britannica.com/science/projection-psychology
  2. Walter J.Burghardt, “Contemplation: A Long, Loving Look at the Real,” in Church, no. 5 (Winter 1989): 14-17.
  3. Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu
  4. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

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