Protestants puzzle over how Catholics can see the person of Christ in a piece of bread. But the greater mystery seems to be how Catholics see the person in the face of the Protestant. Both parties live in a world in which the gaze sees, not people, but tools, objects, social classes, races — a media world full of media types. The idea of seeing a particular person rather than this or that thing, really seeing her as an unrepeatable life, an unfathomable mystery and an infinite value — it’s about as shocking and difficult as seeing God in bread and wine.
I can think of no better education of the eyes than Eucharistic adoration. By stretching the eye to its utmost, demanding that it see in an appearance the real presence of God, we are taught to see the person in and through any appearance. If I see God in bread, how can I not see the person in the prostitute? If I see the God-man in the tabernacle, how can I not see the man in the doorway? If I see the person of Christ lifted up in the hands of the priest, how can I can I not see the person of the newborn as she is lifted to her mothers breast? The most difficult task of the eye is completed at church — it makes seeing-in-the-world like walking after a sprint.
The Church is a mother of children, not of academic theologians, and though both are amusing, with a tendency to cry during bad homilies, children are characterized by a lack of distinction between what is seen and what is known. For the wide-eyed child, everything is real and everything is wonderful. Suspicious eyes are for adults.
Gazing out at the Eucharistic Gifts is childlike in this sense: It is not a concentrated effort of mentally affirming that what seems like bread is really God, nor of making Kantian distinctions between phenomenal wine and the noumenal Lord, nor of thomistic mumbles about accidental continuity and substantial change. Eucharistic adoration is an effort of perception. The “judgment” is in the eye. The belief shines from the retina. What we know has baptized how we see. The worker and the professor are in communion through their gaze at the Risen Lord — regardless of how they know they see, both see.
We are no more satisfied with making judgments that God is really present in what seems to be bread than a husband is satisfied with making judgments that his wife is really present in what seems to be an attractive body. For all of theology to coalesce and sink into the eyes, for all of doctrine to become the very substance of our gaze, to really do reach out into the world with “eyes of faith” — and isn’t that the thing! To have eyes of faith and not just heads. Eyes that see Christ as they see colors — naturally, immediately, leaping out of the world and smacking us in the eye, whether we like it or not. Sweet ocular pedagogy of Holy Mother Church, that’s what we’re after.
This is not a sneer at the work of the mind. It is a suggestion that the end of all its work is not knowledge, but sight. I do not live to belief true propositions. I believe true propositions to live in the light of their truth. I do not merely want to know that salvation has come. I want the universe unveiled and shining with salvation. I do not merely want to know that God is love. I want every mountain, every city, and yes, every Protestant resplendent with the fact of being created and sustained by Love, not by way of my own optimistic addition to reality, but as an encounter with the very truth of these things, revealed to the eye who, with a Eucharistic gaze, will see them.