Seeing what is real

A few years ago the National Gallery held an exhibition called The Sacred Made Real, about the Spanish artists who made statues and paintings of Christ and the saints some 300 years ago. They went to great lengths to make their statues as realistic as possible, with eyes of glass, teeth of ivory, and finger nails of bulls horn. To some what they represented seemed rather shocking, the wounds of the whipped Christ were all too realistic, the body of the dead Christ almost too horrific to behold.

One interesting painting by Velazquez showed Jesus tied to the column after being flogged. Beside him is an angel with a small child, and the angel is pointing towards Jesus’ back. The child beholds the painful wounds. From Jesus’ eyes a very thin shaft of light beams across to the child. The child represents the soul of a Christian who, when he contemplates the sufferings of Christ, realizes what Christ has done for him. Seeing leads to understanding and the blessing of faith.

How wonderful for Bartimaeus that the first thing he sees, when his sight is restored, is Jesus. It is not just sight he receives but understanding; he knows who Jesus is, he realises what he has done for him, and his response, is not to go off to celebrate with his friends, but to follow Jesus along the way. The healing of Bartimaeus’ sight was but the beginning of his journey with Christ. What further wonders did his eyes behold?

Jesus, the way, the truth and the life, reveals himself to be the way to reach God. By beholding Christ we begin to understand who God really is. The more time we spend with Christ, the closer we will get to him and the more the Holy Spirit  can reveal to us of what is true.

It was said of St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, that at the time of his conversion, ‘as he sat, the eyes of his understanding began to open. He beheld no vision, but he saw and understood many things, spiritual as well as those concerning faith and learning. This took place with so great an illumination that these things appeared to be something altogether new.

We might ask for signs and quick answers to our prayer but that is not always the way God works. We might receive a swift, clear answer, or instead, a gradual revelation.  

In the exhibition many saints were shown gazing at a crucifix, reminding themselves of what Christ had done for them. But one statue showed St Francis Borgia, gazing at a skull with a crown on it. St Francis was Duke of Gandia and part of the infamous Borgia family; he lived the high life, until the death of  Empress Isabella, when he peered inside her coffin and saw her decaying body. The effect on him was profound; as he took stock of his life, he realized that his time on earth was finite. He joined the Jesuit order and gave his life to Christ, to use him in whatever way he desired.

How Christ needs us to work for him and to keep preaching his message of love and mercy. The need to combat expressions of hatred is as great as it has ever been, for evil is the product of hatred. We have seen it again this week in America: the gunman at the Pittsburgh synagogue killed worshippers there because he hated Jewish people; the man suspected of sending letter bombs to leading US politicians did so because he hated democrats. President Trump instead of looking to himself for fomenting this culture of hatred  has blamed the media for creating divisions in the USA. Anybody who has been critical of President Trump has been told to be on their guard against attack.

Good investigative journalism and courageous broadcasting are vital to help us gain a better impression of reality, of what is really going on. Press freedom is under attack in so many places in the world, and in our local community how many important matters go unreported. How much is covered up that should be exposed?

The truth can be shocking and upsetting but when we realise the true nature of a situation, we are in a better position to deal with it. If we fail to accept the reality of a problem then there is less chance of a solution. We have to deal with reality and not with what we might pretend to be true.

The Spanish sculptors strove to create as true a likeness of Christ and his saints as they could achieve. When we contemplate the Christ who suffered and died for us, may he open our eyes as he opened those of Bartimaeus and reveal to us the expanse of his love and mercy to all.  

Through the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth may we see things as they really are, and do all in our power, by the grace of God, to work for solutions to our problems.