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Diebus Saltem Dominicis: 5th Sunday after Easter – The Eyes Have It

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We move liturgically ever closer to the Ascension of the Lord, when the High Priest, the Risen Savior, entered the heavenly temple where He continuously renews His once for all time Sacrifice to the Father.  On this 5th Sunday after Easter we again have a Gospel reading from the Last Supper discourse during which Our Lord assures His Apostles and us of the Father’s love.  We are confidently to raise our prayers in Jesus’ Name so that we may have joy.  Surely this joy (Greek chará) is not so much earthly joy, but rather that which seeks what is above, joy brought about by the Holy Spirit (e.g. 1 Thess 1:6; Rom 14:17), the attainment of being at the right hand of God in Heaven (Heb 12:2), even the joy that the Lord has and of which He is the source: “enter into the joy of your lord (kyríou)” (Matthew 25:21).  Our Lord in the Discourse draws our attention heavenward, as does Holy Church by giving us these passages leading up to the Feast of the Ascension.

In the Epistle pericope for Mass, we are addressed by St. James, who exhorts us to action.  We mustn’t be content to be forgetful hearers of the Word only, but rather doers, which consists in keeping control of our tongues and being brutally honest with ourselves (James 1:27) and to perform works of mercy.  James names visiting orphans and widows, who were among the most vulnerable in ancient society, without income and protection.  He also adds, and this is where we turn our eyes this week, we are to keep ourselves “áspilov apò tou kósmou… unstained from the world”.

This week we find in the readings a theme of detachment from the worldly and a turn of attention on high.  Acting outwardly as Christians we are to reflect who we are on the inside.  We must be honest and true, on guard against being besmirched by “the world”.

Any created thing is “the world”.  We must never place any created thing on the throne of our hearts, make it into the exceptional object of our longing.  The Lord uses various means to warn against this, telling us, for example, to lay up our treasures in Heaven, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19)

We must not attach ourselves inappropriately to the things of this world, no matter how good and beautiful they may be.  The created universe in itself is good, as God the Father said at the Creation.  Created things are not evil.  That notion was at the heart of various heresies in the early Church and there are traces of it day in certain sects and communities.

In that passage from Matthew 6, wherein the Lord teaches His way of praying and expounds about fasting, giving alms, and detachment from material things, He speaks about “the sound eye”.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

In the RSV, we have “sound”.  In the KJV and DRV it reads “if therefore thine eye be single”.  What’s with “single… háplous”?

Háplous means “simple, single” in the sense that there is nothing complicated or confused in it.  Its root suggests a “fold”.  Something without folds is simpler.  Complexity, in this sense, implies defect, even evil, as the parallel passage in Luke makes clear: when your eye is “evil… poneròs”.  In philosophical terms, God who is the greatest good is also the simplest being.  Divine simplicity is the teaching that God has no parts but rather His being and His attributes are identical.  His goodness, eternity, omnipotence, omniscience, etc., are not qualities that inhere in God.  God does not have goodness or omnipotence, etc.  He is goodness and omnipotence, etc.  They are the same.  God’s essence and existence are one and the same.

This is hard for us humans to grasp.  By our nature of being non-simple, having body and soul, we rely on what we take on through our senses.  Then we make rapid comparisons with that which we have previously received.  Our intellect acts on those things.  We make determinations about them.   That’s how we learn.  It is important that what we are exposed to does not exclude that which is good, true and beautiful, the transcendentals, properties of being, that can lead us to God who is goodness, truth and beauty in perfection, in unity, in simplicity.

Let’s go back and read that part about the eye again.  If your eye – your means of interacting with the created universe – is simple you are full of light.  If your eye is un-simple you are going to be “besmirched” not because the created universe is inherently evil, but because it can keep you from what is above.

Also, there is evil in the world.  We are exposed to that which is ugly, brutish, twisted on a daily basis.  Creation also went through its Fall in the Fall of our First Parents.  The physical universe has its “Prince”, which is the Enemy of the soul, the Devil.  It will be the Enemy’s constant tactic to place before us that which can lure us away from Heaven because we become enamored of the immediate beauty or apparent goodness of a thing or because it is a subtle lie that seems true.

False goodness, twisted truth and ugly beauty are deadly traps.  Once they have entered into our minds and hearts, we cannot unsee, unhear, unfeel them.  Thus, our memories of them, even when we have been freed from them through effort and grace, can remain spiritually corrosive and debilitating.

When we are given this image of the eye and of light, we should be immediately reminded of what the Church, and ancient philosophers before her, advised about custodia occulorum, custody of the eyes.

I will be blunt.

Purgamentum init, exit purgamentum.  Garbage in, garbage out.

We should not look at things that are evil or which arouse passions.  Our vision is perhaps the most powerful of all the senses for shaping our inward selves.  It is a common trait of us fallen human beings that we tend to desire what we see.  Remember the temptation of Eve by the serpent in the Garden at the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis 3:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, …

Exposure to evil can be a near occasion of sin.  We shouldn’t look at certain things without good reason.  The media and entertainment industry has so shaped society today that we are constantly bombarded with false goodness, twisted truth and ugly beauty which we cannot unsee, unhear, unfeel.

Most of the time, custody, literally “guarding”, of the eyes means willingly, purposefully, avoiding looking at other people and their attributes in a lustful way, that arouses disordered sexual desire.  Sexual desire can be properly ordered in the context of marriage.  We were created with these appetites by God.  It was because of the Fall that they are now disordered.  Hence, we must be careful about what we look at and why.

Sometimes we hear critics of the Church, especially within the Church, say that the Church has been obsessed with “pelvic issues”.  They may twist the truth that there are more serious sins than sins of the flesh in such a way as to suggest that sins of the flesh aren’t really all that important.  See the work of the Devil?  It is certainly true that there are sins that are worse than sins of the flesh.  However, it is not wrong for the Church and her ministers constantly to make people aware of dangerous sins of the flesh, even at the risk of accusations of being overly concerned with sex.  Why?  If the very deadly sins of the spirit are relatively rare, the less deadly sins of the flesh are relatively common.  They are common to the point of being nearly constant.  What feature do those rare sins of the spirit have with common sins of the flesh?  They are both “deadly”.  They can be “mortal” sins.

If you are killed by a relatively small bullet, rather than by thermonuclear device, you are just as dead.  If you commit a mortal sin, a sin that concerns grave matter, which you knowingly and willingly commit with freedom of will, you have killed the life of grace in your soul, severed your unity with God.  You are at risk when judgement comes – and you don’t know when that’s going to happen! – of everlasting Hell.

The powers that be in the media and education and so forth have made it hard for us to guard our purity, our simplicity.  How I feel for young families starting out who have young children.  How to protect them as long as possible without also restricting them unduly from the goodness, truth and beauty that there is in the world, which also lead to the love of God?

We must teach and practice custody of the eyes.  Keeping our eyes off that which can bring us low.  Looking at certain things in the wrong way, lingering, etc., can be a near occasion for mortal sins.  A fleeting glance or thought which we purposely put aside, also asking the help of God, can be meritorious.  Alas, the multitudes are by now so malformed by the entertainment industry and the twisting of a maleducation system that they don’t even realize how base their tastes have by incessant exposure become.  We don’t start that way in life.  We are made that way.  At first we are innocent in that making.  Later we are complicit.

Nota bene that there are those whose work it is precisely to be in contact with ugliness and evil, such as medical professionals treating ailments, first responders, military personnel.  They must be especially on guard.

As I conclude, I’ll add this note about a different kind of custody of the eyes, which means something else even while it means the same thing.  There is liturgical or clerical custody of the eyes.  In the rubrics of the Traditional Latin Mass, priests are instructed to keep their eyes lowered.  When processing in, when moving about, when sitting, when turning to say “Dominus vobiscum”, our priestly eyes are to be cast down.  This is not false humility.  This is a guarding of the eyes.  Not just our eyes, but your eyes as well.  We guard our eyes from the distractions that a congregation can be for us because, face it, you are so amazing.  Conversely, we priests should not be a distraction for you as well.  Eye contact can lead to real problems in sacred worship.  I don’t have to enumerate them here.  You know them all too well.  You have had them inflicted upon you for decades now by Father “Just Call Me Bill” grinning at you over a table altar while pivoting his head back and forth like an oscillating fan blowing hot air.  Ad orientem worship not only directs our focus to the liturgical East, to the Lord who is returning.  It also fosters a liturgical custody of the eyes so that we can all focus on what is important.

To conclude, along with working in a diligent way on habitual custody of the eyes, we can also strive to fill our lives with what is good, true and beautiful, asking ourselves also in all honesty if what we are looking at, or listening to, etc., is going to please God.  It is consistent with being made in God’s image and likeness.

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