If you, Lord, look upon me for an instant, I am at once made strong and filled with new joy.
To pray is to be held in the loving gaze of Jesus Christ. And how lost we would be without it, as The Imitation of Christ expresses so well:
Left to myself, I am nothing but total weakness. But if you, Lord, look upon me for an instant, I am at once made strong and filled with new joy.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus is generous in giving his gaze. When Andrew brings his brother to Jesus, the Lord first looks at Simon, and then declares, Your name shall be Cephas (Jn 1:42). Before issuing his instructions to the rich young man, Jesus looked at him with love (Mk 10:21). As he senses his disciples grappling to understand this mysterious encounter, Jesus fixed his gaze on them (Mk 10:27). The conversion of Zacchaeus began when Jesus came to the spot [and] looked up (Lk 19:5). Even when his disciple denies knowing him, Jesus offers salvation through his gaze: The Lord turned around and looked at Peter (Lk 22:61).
The spiritual effects of Jesus’ gaze are boundless. Pope Francis says:
Jesus’ gaze always uplifts us, it raises us. His is a gaze that makes you develop and keep on going, that encourages you, because it makes you feel that he loves you. And making you feel his love, he gives you the courage you need in order to follow him. When we let the crucified Jesus gaze upon us, we are recreated, we become a new creation.
Even our sins cannot stand in the way of the transforming gaze of Jesus Christ. As St. Ambrose declares in his hymn Aeterne rerum conditor, “For at your glance, our failings fail.” Which moves us to beg with Servant of God Archbishop Luis Maria Martinez:
O Jesus, I would give everything, even life, for one look of your eyes. Look at me now! Look at me in this sorrowful exile. O Jesus, the soul never forgets your first look of love and will long for it until enfolded in heaven by that incomparable gaze which expresses the fullness of perfection.
St John Paul II told us: “In order to see Jesus, we first need to let him look at us.” Let’s let Jesus do that. For “compassion and gratitude descend from God, and when they are exchanged with a look, God is present at the point where the looks meet” (Simone Weil).