A man I admire, a deacon, recently told me that he sees Christ in every person he encounters. He seemed surprised when I answered that I did not. I said that I saw Christ in someone’s character or condition—like their loving nature, or their innocence (not to be confused with naiveté)—or perhaps in their “story,” the events of their lives, etc. “You see like a writer,” he said. Well, maybe. But when I look at other people, I see—or try to see—them.
My Baptist mother had a sort of gift for seeing. I remember her quiet little predictions about some person or other, which were inevitably realized. Examples: A man was behaving a little differently and my mother said, He’s having an affair. Turns out, he was. Everyone was shocked except my mother. She could tell when anyone was lying (except me—blind as a bat where I was concerned). Sometimes she could even tell when someone was gravely ill, just by looking at them. And even—I remember, once it happened—she could tell when someone was going to die soon. She could see goodness and badness in other people when there was no outward sign of either. She saw what she called “little black scurrying things running along the baseboard” when my uncle was having a very hard time with his pain and anger, following a divorce when all his five children abandoned him. I don’t remember her ever seeing Christ in other people. But she loved Christ deeply and talked to him in her sleep, thanking him, loving him.
I’m reminded of St Peter who saw the duplicity in two of the newly-formed Christians who lied about bringing “all they had” to the collective treasury. Or St (Padre) Pio, who could read souls and was known to refuse absolution to some penitents.
The good man I admire so much referred to my “inability” to see Christ in others. The term has a negative judgmental connotation, and I was a little hurt by it It’s not the first time we’ve disagreed about something or other, and, come to think of it, it’s always been about other people. But here’s the thing: He gets up before dawn and drives many miles over dirt roads in order to set up Exposition in the chapel for the handful of people who like to visit before going to work. He does this without complaint, despite the fact that there’s another deacon and a priest right next door to the chapel. And he stays, of course, in case all adorers leave, for the scheduled two and a half hours, in case someone else wants to visit. He visits the sick in the hospital, takes Holy Communion to whoever asks, runs the RCIA program, preaches homilies whenever asked, and visits a reclusive old lady like me once a month to talk, sometimes for a couple hours or more.
I don’t see Christ when I look at other people, but I think I can understand that for those whose lives are utterly dedicated to service, that may be a necessity—as Mother Teresa said of all those whom she encountered on the streets of Calcutta. But I’ve also seen Mother Teresa’s expression in photos with Princess Diana and others who sought photo-ops with her, and then I believe she could see others as my Baptist mother saw them.
How we see things, including other people, doesn’t say anything about what we see, but it says a lot about us. My mother’s sight was a gift, and I think my friend the deacon’s sight is a choice he’s made. There’s a difference, to his credit rather than to hers. Imagination gets mingled into my vision, and I don’t trust my own sight of real people. I know better than to trust my own judgment. But when I see my friend the deacon, though I don’t see Christ, I do see a good man, a just man, in the Hebrew sense of that term. And those who know about that term will know that it’s rare, a treasure in God’s sight.