I recently moved to New York City a little less than a month ago to begin a semester-long internship. So far, I’m enjoying the work and consider it a dream come true to be here. New York is one of those cities that no one can quite sum up. There are so many places to see, events to go to, and people to meet. Just like any of the other great cities of the world, it simply has to be experienced.
At the same time, this transition has not been all easy. Coming from a leisurely and unhurried suburban upbringing in Texas, it was a bit jarring for me to adjust to some aspects of urban life. One of the things that I missed the most was the sense of stillness and calmness in my days. It seemed like there was never really a time just to be. Praying consistently in such circumstances sometimes was also difficult. I was reminded of a scene from the movie Bella, when a blind beggar asked Nina to tell him what she saw:
M: “Today’s a beautiful day, right?”
N: “I guess…”
M: “Describe it to me!”
M: “Describe it to me and this piece of art is yours. What’s going on across the street?”
N: “Well, it’s just an ordinary day in New York City. People rushing back and forth. Everyone’s got somewhere to go, somewhere to be. Nobody really cares about nothing. It’s like a huge living clock. It never stops.”
M: “Boy, I wish I could see that…”
The man then handed Nina a little origami frog he had folded. By him read a sign that said, “God closed my eyes. Now I can see.”
I write this not to make an indictment upon city-life or to tell you to drop everything you’re doing but simply to recall us to what should be primary in our lives, from where everything else should flow. Because no matter where you live or what you do, we all have been acquainted with feelings of weariness, exhaustion, or have been so overwhelmed with things going on around us that we forget the first things.
What does the blind beggar see? I think he sees how people can miss some of the most important things in life if we live only to do, if we are always rushed, if we choose to see only through our physical senses, rather than nourishing that more important inner-sight, that seeing of the heart. The people before us, the movements of grace around us, the opportunities today to give charity, offer mercy, and show forgiveness to others: are these not the things that make life worth living?
If we allow him to, it is here that God can teach us deep spiritual truths: Sometimes God must close our eyes before we really can see. We must be emptied before we can be filled. Humbled before we are raised up. The Bible is full of such examples:
St. Paul’s conversion, after first being blinded, comes to mind: “Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight” (Acts 9:18). What of the blind man who not only regained physical sight but also something much more important: “Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen [the Son of Man] and the one speaking with you is he’” (John 9:37). Or what of Zechariah, who was silenced by the Angel but saw a great vision that his son would be the Messiah’s forerunner: “But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary” (Luke 1:22).
Right outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 51st Street in Manhattan there is a little banner that reads, “Even a city that never sleeps needs a place to pray.” Our modern world, particularly here in the West, has done an impressive job of providing us things to occupy our time and anesthetizing our souls to those deeper things, whether that is entertainment, sex, drugs, food, or any other pleasure. Any of these pursued inordinately as ends can become an idol. What we haven’t quite figured out yet is how to fill that yearning of the soul, that deep emptiness, that longing of our hearts that can only be satisfied by God.
It took me many, many years to do so but until we realize that God does desire to satisfy us and seeks our truest joy, then we will always be seeking happiness in other ways, filling up provisionally what was made for eternity. How do we do allow Jesus to enter into our lives amidst all the din and noise? It is quite simple but it can be the most difficult thing in the world to do: we must first ask and pray. We must let him know he is welcome into our souls. It is in prayer that our eyes are truly opened to see reality, to see the most important things.
Last week, we celebrated the Feast of St. Margaret Mary, whose devotion taught us the great store of treasures found in Jesus’ Most Sacred Heart. Similarly, observe how when a child is clasped close to his mother’s heart he seems to sleep so peacefully. Or how a lover leaning upon his beloved’s breast closes his eyes to hear her heartbeat. Contemplate why it is that a person deep in prayer often closes their eyes. It is not that the child, or the lover, or the praying soul thinks that the object of their love is displeasing to the sight, but it is rather that they most truly see her and know her in her heart.
One of the most beautiful aspects of our Catholic faith is that within the great treasury of the Church we learn of so many ways to pray, of ways to see and to know God in his heart: first and foremost, through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, or the Rosary, the Divine Office, contemplative prayer or meditation, the Daily Readings or Lectio Divina, Eucharistic Adoration, and so on. Even in the busyness of our lives, let us learn to cultivate and nourish such things. Pope Francis, yesterday in his Sunday Angelus, told us that prayer gives us strength for the journey:
“In our daily journey, especially in difficulties, in the struggle against evil outside of ourselves and within us, the Lord is not far [a]way, he is at our side; we fight with him beside us, and our weapon is prayer, which makes us feel his presence alongside of us, his mercy, even his help…”
Do not run away from the emptiness, from the tiredness, from the feelings of being overwhelmed but let Jesus come join you especially there. In fact, He finds so much joy in that: to be right alongside His beloved, to share Himself with you and I, to encourage us with His presence and lovingly serve us during even the most difficult of moments. Love wants to give itself over many times, above and beyond all expectation, to surprise the Beloved! Let us, like St. John, St. Margaret Mary, our Blessed Mother, and so other many saints throughout the ages close our eyes upon Jesus’ heart in prayer. Then we shall truly see.