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It's in the Seeing
by Cullen Schippe
Who came up with the idea of New Year's resolutions anyway?
Who came up with the idea of New Year’s resolutions anyway? With relentless inevitability, I am faced with making a resolution come January 1. I am always going to lose weight, stop procrastinating, get more exercise, be kinder to people and animals, or cultivate a new form of meditation. Scarcely has the last stroke of midnight on day one sounded when I am searching the refrigerator for a snack, barking at the dog, or planning my day in a recliner watching endless football games.

So it came to pass over recent years that I made a New Year’s resolution to make no New Year’s resolution. There was a resolution that made it past the first week in January!

But in the Year of Our Lord 2012, I have changed my tactic. I have decided on a resolve to improve my vision.

No, I am not getting new glasses. The vision I am resolving to improve is that uniquely Catholic characteristic of sacramental seeing. Catholics are sacramental people who see beyond simple, visible realities of broken and shared bread, poured water, fragrant and smooth oil, hands held out in forgiveness, two hearts joined in love, healing touches, and calls to serve others to the invisible grace of God’s actions in everyone’s life.

Sacramental seeing has nothing to do with eyesight. It is the graced ability to recognize in signs and symbols the mysteries of faith. Eastern Christians even use the word mystery to refer to sacrament.

First and foremost, sacramental seeing is needed for Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Marriage. It is not enough, however, to be passive viewers or recipients of the Sacraments. Sacramental seeing is active, constant, and a way of life for the Catholic Christian.

We know that God communicated with people by means of signs. Jacob wrestled with an angel. Pillars of cloud and fire led the Israelites in the desert. The great Temple held an ark that both bore and symbolized the covenant relationship between God and the Israelites.

God knew that people needed to see him in the flesh and so sent his Son. Those who see and believe in the Son have that sacramental seeing. Those who see and believe in the Church as the Body of Christ have that gift as well. And those who see the actions of the Body of Christ gathered around the Eucharistic table, crowded around a baptismal pool, or anxiously attending the bedside of a sick member have the improved vision that is sacramental seeing.

Sacramental seeing is not limited to ritual moments. People with this great gift habitually “see” beyond what is immediately apparent. They see all of creation as conveying the presence of the Lord. They see in human love a sign of the relationship between Christ and his people. This kind of seeing has nothing to do with ESP or superstition. It has everything to do with a sensibility that there is always more than meets the eye.

One of our most important catechetical tasks is to prepare people to receive the Sacraments. Learning the theology of the Sacraments is important, and understanding the ritual and responses is absolutely necessary.

Yet, the most important lesson we can share with those we prepare for the Sacraments is to help improve their vision. We can best do that by improving our own vision.

We often use a simple expression that shows just how much this sacramental seeing is at the heart of Catholic life. That simple expression is “seeing with the eyes of faith.” Such seeing is not automatic; it takes practice and patience and consistency. But with God’s grace your vision will improve. With your improved vision, you can better prepare learners under your care to see the invisible reality beyond the visible signs as well—and that is real sacramental preparation.

The purpose of a New Year’s resolution is personal transformation, change, improvement, and growth. The purpose of the Church’s sacramental life is transformation into the image of Christ. It is change or conversion from sin to virtue. It is improvement in discipleship and growth in community. And all of this is “in the seeing.”


An Invitation

If you would like to join me in my New Year’s resolution, register your membership in NSVC and follow the IN THE SEEING Blog beginning in January 2012.


Cullen Schippe has been in Catholic publishing for well over 40 years and currently serves as President and Publisher for the Peter Li Education Group. E-mail Cullen at cschippe@peterli.com.


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