How is a vocation born? Where is its origin? What is its very first moment? The answer is somewhat obvious: the vocation is born in the heart of God! How and when, however, does it manifest itself in the heart of a person? When one perceives to be gazed upon by the Lord

Rembrandt van Rijn 1

It would be natural to think that vocation, since it is a ‘call’ (vocation comes from the Latin verb vocare, ‘to call’) that it is uttered by the ‘mouth’ of the one who calls and enters the ‘ear’ of the listener. The ‘word’ would then be at the origin of a vocation. I think, however, that before the word (pronounced and heard), there is… the gaze, or rather, two gazes that meet, communicate and establish a particular relationship! There are many examples of this in the Gospel. Walking along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw Simon Peter and his brother Andrew and called them; a little farther, He saw the sons of Zebedee, James and John, and called them also (Mark 1: 16–20). Passing through there again on the next day, “He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus, sitting by the customs house and said to him: ‘Follow me’, and he got up and followed him” (Mark 2: 13–14). Such a gaze does not always achieve its purpose, as when Jesus looked steadily with love at the rich young man and invited him to be His disciple. The young man lowered his eyes and he “went away sad, for he had many possessions” (Mark 10: 17–22). But it wasn’t like that with another rich man, Zacchaeus, who was also touched by the gaze of Jesus: “When He reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house,’ and he came down quickly and received him with joy” (Luke 19: 5–6). This relationship between vocation and vision did not occur for the first time with Jesus, the Word which became visible (1 John 1). It happened already in some vocations of the Old Testament. Remember, for instance, the call of Moses in the desert: watching the burning bush, he approached for a closer look; the Lord saw Moses approaching to observe and, from the middle of the Bush, He called him: “Moses, Moses!” (Exodus 3: 1–4). Although the Old Testament focuses on listening, it is said that at Sinai “all the people saw the sounds and the lightning” (Exodus 20: 18, according to the Hebrew text). Listening is not opposed to vision: the Word dwells also in the vision!

 

THE GAZE OF JESUS

The Gospel says nothing about the face of Jesus—His features, the colour of His hair or His eyes—but often speaks of His gaze. His intimacy passed through the way He looked at people. Indeed, we speak and communicate with our eyes—even intimate feelings and emotions that, sometimes, words cannot convey. The gaze of Jesus had a singular effect. A simple exchange of looks changed everything. When Jesus called His apostles, it is not said that He spoke with them or tried to persuade them. His gaze had such a power of conviction or of attraction that it could do without words or rhetorical speeches. Jesus called them, and they immediately left everything and followed Him. His eyes touched their hearts and their lives changed forever. Some time ago, Pope Francis commented on the impact of such a gaze on Matthew. Jesus looked at Matthew—a tax collector, a public sinner—right in the eye. Money was his life, his idol. The Pope said: but now, he feels “in his heart the gaze of the Lord who looked upon him”. Then he explained: “That gaze overtook him completely, it changed his life. We say he was converted. He changed his life. As soon as he felt that gaze in his heart, he got up and followed him. This is true: Jesus’ gaze always lifts us up. It is a look that always lifts us up, and never leaves you in your place, never lets us down, never humiliates. It invites you to get up—a look that causes you to grow, to move forward, that encourages you, because [the One who looks upon you] loves you. The gaze makes you feel that He loves you. This gives the courage to follow Him: ‘And he got up and followed him.’” (Casa di Santa Marta, 2013-09-21).

 

A GAZE THAT CHALLENGES

It could be said that words are not sufficient to give rise to a vocation. It takes a look to ‘challenge’ us and give consistency and strength to the words. This has an anthropological basis. We communicate primarily with the eyes. A true communication requires a face-to-face meeting, a look into the eyes—not just a simple exchange of words across the screen of our computers, iPhones and iPads! Adam, our forefather, needs to have before him a partner, someone to ‘suit him’ (a ‘face’, seems to indicate the text of Genesis 2: 20) in order to understand himself. The other’s gaze becomes the mirror in which we contemplate ourselves. When we deny or suppress that look, as Cain did with his brother Abel, our gaze obscures and we walk in darkness. Our look is challenged but also challenges the world and the others around us. It receives and exerts an influence—positive or negative. A look can make blossom the best there is in the heart of anyone who is looked upon. It has the power to make life and hope spring up, raising unimaginable hidden potentials. It can, as well, discourage, degrade and destroy. Let us think on the gaze of someone in love which causes the beloved to feel like a ‘princess’ or a ‘prince’. In that look, as it matures, rises the vocation to marriage, but when that look begins to ignore, humiliate and degrade the other—there begins the tragedy.

 

A GAZE THAT LOVES

Seeing is not an easy task. Today, we live in the time of the global show: we are flooded continuously by images that overwhelm us with their power of seduction. One must learn to see, because we can ‘have eyes and not see’ (as Jesus told His disciples, at some point). This implies a spiritual journey of purification of our sight to avoid a superficial, utilitarian and manipulative vision. The purity of the gaze is linked to the purity of the heart. “The pure in heart shall see God”, says Jesus. This is the purity of love. The ‘good sight’ requires a ‘good heart’. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said in The little prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly”. It’s the heart that gives depth to the look, because “what is essential is invisible to the eye”. To purify our hearts, we need to see ourselves as in God’s eyes. Only they reflect the image of what we really are: “You are precious in my eyes and honoured, and I love you” (Isaiah 43: 4). Only in the passionate gaze of God’s heart can we find our true identity and our vocation. Therefore, the small and humble, the sinners and prostitutes felt welcomed and treasured by the gaze of Christ. Without that gaze, man goes down: “Do not hide your face from me, lest I become like those descending to the pit” (Psalm 143: 7). Vocation is born and grows in contemplation. In fact, St Paul says that through the eyes we become the mirror of Christ. His image imbues our hearts and transforms us in Him. Great is the power of this image! “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3: 18). Watching and letting allowing ourselves to be watched by Christ, is the secret of a Christian vocation lived with passion. Pope Francis concluded his homily mentioned above by saying: “All of us find ourselves before that gaze, that marvellous gaze, and we go forward in life, in the certainty that He looks upon us. He too, however, awaits us, in order to look on us definitively—and that final gaze of Jesus upon our lives will be forever, it will be eternal. I ask all the saints upon whom Jesus has looked, to prepare us to let ourselves be looked upon in life, and that they prepare us also for that final—and first!—gaze of Jesus!”

 

A GAZE THAT SEES

A gaze purified by love—the gaze of the heart—sees the world and others with new eyes, and not in an indifferent or lustful way! Behold a nice example, in which there’s something fantastic and incredible. It is the case of a child, Vivienne Harr, an eight-yearold Californian girl, who initiated a project with the aim of ending child slavery. One day, her mother, visibly moved, showed her a photo of two Nepalese boys, holding hands to feel better, carrying big rocks strapped across their heads. Vivienne was so deeply shocked that she decided ‘to do something about it’. The only thing she knew and could do was… to sell lemonade! With the help of her family, Vivienne set up a lemonade stand to raise money to finance the liberation of child slaves. For weeks, months, a full year, she persevered. Her ‘gaze’ of a child’s heart and her tenacity made the miracle. Her campaign gained real momentum when, on day 52, Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, having received a message from Vivienne, posted on Twitter: “I’m eight. I’m making a stand against slavery at my lemonade stand every day till I raise $150k?” Travelling with her small tent, invited to shows and charitable activities, the success of the initiative was soon to come. On day 173, Vivienne reached her original goal and wrote a cheque to Not For Sale for $101 320.00. When her parents remarked that now she could be satisfied with her achievement, she asked: “Is child slavery done?” Her parents shook their heads. “Then, I am not done,” she said. She continued her campaign, and has reached a million dollars. Today, her lemonade is sold in grocery stores in many parts of the country. From the sale of lemonade, Vivienne learned one thing: “I thought the best thing in life was something else. Instead, I’m so glad that I am serving and helping: it’s just the most beautiful thing in the world!”