Drawn by a Vision (A reflection by Helen Doohan)


Church built on the home of John of the Cross in Fontiveros

John’s early life was marked by transition from one place to another because of family circumstances. From Fontiveros, where he was born, to Arevalo and then Medina del Campo where he spent many years, travel, transitions and new encounters characterized his formative years. Catalina was rejected by her husband’s family after his death and so she made the arduous journeys in search of work, education for her sons and a better life. Although never far from extreme poverty, she instilled the values of love, compassion, generosity, and care for others within the family. John benefited from her emphases throughout his life.

 Both Catalina and John were drawn by a vision of something better for themselves and the family. Yet they had to embrace hardship, rejection and suffering, growing and maturing because of these experiences. A vision always draws us out of ourselves. A positive and compelling vision enables us to accept difficulties along the way because they lead to growth.


A modern interpretation of John of the Cross on display in the museum in Ubeda where John died

 In our world today we see the extraordinary movement of people from Mexico, Central America, Syria, Afghanistan, northern Africa and other war torn countries. Poverty, lack or opportunity, destruction and death force people to make hard decisions and to travel to new places. Something draws them – a vision of a better life for family and friends, opportunities for work and education, safety and security. The vision I speak about is for basic human life and values. But we do not have these, how do we even begin to have a vision of the spiritual and the transcendent?

 Taking such steps to move into the unknown, as did so many of our ancestors, prepares us for the courage necessary to live a life open to radical transformation. John’s humble beginnings and his family’s search, drawn by a vision, prepared him for the outstanding life he lived in love and service to others. It also enabled him to see the possibilities for union with God and for a vital and reformed Carmel. We can only pray that today’s migrants will move to a greater vision. And we can hope that we too will be drawn by the light and love of the Christian message.



Seeing things in a new way

Yesterday, I had cataract surgery on a second eye. The first time I went because the Optician said I needed to have it done. This time I went because I became aware that I couldn’t see things clearly anymore, they weren’t in focus, and there seemed to be a film over my eye that distorted my vision. I was aware throughout these weeks that this is an image of the spiritual journey and I was reminded that in Mark’s gospel the central section which is a journey to Jerusalem begins and ends with the healing of a man who is blind. This biblical technique, inclusion, is a way the author emphasizes that the central journey is nothing else except a healing of the blindness of those who accompany Jesus. You might remember that Jesus healed a man in two phases; first, the man could see a little — men look like trees to me — and then Jesus healed him  completely. Likewise Peter insist that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, but refuses to accept Jesus as Suffering Servant. In other words he sees Jesus only partially and needs to be healed a second time so that he can see completely who Jesus is for us. It’s as if Peter has a cataract!

The first time I had cataract surgery I didn’t appreciate that it was possible to see things much more clearly than I did. We all tend to think that the little we see is all there is to see, especially from a religious point of view. You might remember the story John tells of the blind old man who constantly tells his clearly seeing young guide where to go; the old man thinks that the little he sees is all there is to see, whereas the young guide who sees clearly is pushed around and ignored. That’s where John of the Cross comes in and challenges us to journey through the dark night and discover a new way of seeing ourselves, our relationship to others, and our understanding of God. We must learn to see what others do not see and to also see what we have always seen but to see it in a new way. This implies removing false values and letting God remove them from blocking our vision. “The appetities are like a cataract on the eye or specks of dust in it; until removed they obstruct vision” (I A 9, 4). False desires appear as new and attractive ideas. “The reason is that a new light set directly  in front of the visual faculty blinds this faculty so that it fails to see the light farther away” (I A 9, 3). “The blindness of the rational and superior feeling is the appetite that, like a cataract and cloud, interferes with and hangs over the eye of reason so things present cannot be seen” (LF 3, 72). “Since the cataract and cloud shrouds the eye of judgment, only the cataract is seen, sometimes of one color, sometimes another, according to the way the cataract appears to the eye. People judge that the cataract is God because, as I say, they see only the cataract that covers the faculty, and God cannot be grasped by the senses” (LF 3, 73).

So, I take my own experience of this week as a reminder that the spiritual journey is partly made of our own efforts to look at things in a different way, and that requires training and new priorities, but it also requires the surgery of the dark night when God is in charge, removing the cataracts that block the vision God intends us to see.