Chapter Talk – August 23, 2020 – St. Bernard
What is the ‘interior eye’? In the gospels of Matthew and Luke we have this pithy saying by Jesus: “The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light” (Mt 6:23). What is a ‘sound’, healthy eye? In what follows I will be quoting St. Bernard on this saying of Jesus. On Precepts and Dispensation Bernard writes: “I believe two things are necessary for the interior eye to be truly simple; that is, charity in the intention and truth in the choice” (XIV, 36, p.133). ‘Charity in the intention and truth in the choice’: St. Bernard’s statement on the ‘interior eye’ should cause us to pause. Have we really grasped the utter necessity and importance of the interior eye that observes all that is going on within the heart and soul? How essential this is for monastic life and for any life seeking God, seeking truth and justice, seeking to love even our enemies. Bernard connects the ‘interior eye’ that radiates light with simplicity, meaning integrity, clarity, purity. With the simplicity or integrity of the interior eye, one has charity in intention and truth in choice…love and truth partner to make the interior eye sound…
Bernard in the same section (XIV, 36) uses other words to describe what is true ‘simplicity of heart’: “A person needs not only a warm and undeceiving heart but a keen and undeceived eye as well” (p.133). ‘A warm and undeceiving heart and a keen and undeceived eye’: I do believe it all begins here! For light to shine within, in the inner life, and for this same light to shine outward in our actions, the interior eye is to be custodian of the heart and to watch over the outer actions that we do, to make sure there is a correlation between the heart and our actions. The interior eye needs to be clear in its intention and true (honest) in its choice making.
Bernard continues: “Just as the truly simple eye requires both love of the good and knowledge of the true, so the evil eye is the result of the two opposite qualities: blindness which prevents one from recognizing the truth, and perversity which leads one to love evil” (XIV, 37, p.133). ‘Blindness, which prevents one from recognizing the truth’: what kind of ‘blindness’ prevents us from facing the truth? Here are some ways: defensiveness, defending ourselves covers over the full truth of an event; by defending we push away any input that might help us see a fuller truth. Another is rationalizing: we justify our actions or choices, meaning we explain them over and over, even when we know something was not right with them. Then, self-righteousness: we become so self-righteous that we refuse a healthy doubt which would prompt us to review and reflect on our actions or attitude, and even pray for conversion. These are examples that blind the interior eye from ‘seeing’…from seeing as God sees. Jesus was clear-eyed, motivated by love, always stretching towards the truth of God, always set on hearing and doing God’s will…he was unshakeable in this manner of being.
There are many gospel stories where we get Jesus’ teaching on the ‘interior eye’. To mention a few. First, the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Lk 18:9-14). In their prayer, the Pharisee is self-righteous and the Publican is humble. The interior eye of the Pharisee is blinded by pride and what follows is that he puts his neighbor, the Publican, down. The Publican on the other hand, focuses on himself and on a forgiving God, not his neighbor; his interior eye is humble manifesting integrity. Let’s look now at the ‘interior eye’ of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10). Zacchaeus “wanted to see who Jesus was” (Lk 19:3). Already his interior eye is moving toward true simplicity and integrity. Because he is short in stature, he climbs a tree to be sure he ‘sees’ Jesus. Then the full encounter with Jesus happens. Conversion changes him…he now sees what his actions and choices have done to his fellow human beings. One final gospel text: Jesus says, “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s or sister’s eye and never notice the plank in your own?…Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye” (Mt 7:4-5). This dynamic of ‘seeing’ happens all the time for everyone. We are quick to make critical comments (silent murmuring) about another but, let us ask ourselves, how quick are we to step back and reflect on our own ‘beams’…By the way, our ‘splinters’ become ‘beams’ when we do not acknowledge they are present in our hearts and project them on to our neighbor.
Pope Francis opens his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, with these words: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (p.1). How could a daily encounter with Christ affect our interior eye? Would not his seeing change our seeing? His compassion would make us more compassionate. His truth would un-veil our truth. This daily living encounter with Christ, where our interior eye gazes upon the heart of Christ, will this not help in quieting our murmuring and critical judgements? Will it not help us to see our ‘splinters’ before they become ‘beams’? Will not such an encounter turn us toward conversion, where Divine compassion and mercy will bless us once again? Only through such a daily encounter with the Divine Word and Presence will we re-find ‘a warm and undeceiving heart and a keen and undeceived eye’. If the eye is sound the whole body will be sound…and God’s light will shine through our lives.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess