In our world we suffer from a profound crisis of identity. Individually and as a community we no longer know who we are. The symptom of this sense of unknowing is a deep restlessness. Where have I come from? Where am I going? These questions remain ambiguous for so many, and their answers even more so. Indeed, many have given up (perhaps without realizing this) on ever finding an answer. Instead, we try to create meaning for ourselves, to fashion our own identity through work, through achievements, through a kind of “mission,” through a reputation in the eyes of others, or through any number of things. Or perhaps we immerse ourselves in an endless pursuit of pleasures, amusements, and sensations in order to dull the abiding sense that something essential is missing, but we don’t know how to find it.
But in the midst of this profound sense of “rootlessness,” of isolation from any greater meaning, there persists in our hearts a thirst for something more. Our restlessness is not only a sign that something is wrong—it is also, and more, a sign that something is right. In other words, however lost we may find ourselves, there is a deeper reality alive in the depths of our hearts that nothing else can efface or destroy. We continue to thirst, to yearn, to aspire to happiness, to love, to joy. We yearn, as self-sufficient as we try to be, to find ourselves sheltered in the embrace of a love that is constant and enduring. Indeed, each one of us yearns to be seen, loved, cherished, welcomed, and held by another in a love that is absolute and unique.
It is not enough for me to be immersed in a crowd of people moving in the same direction. It is not enough for me to work toward common goals, nor even to give myself, individually, for the common good. There is a flame burning deep in my heart that causes me to step out of the “crowd” and to cry out…to cry out for a love that sees me uniquely and loves me absolutely. And if I do not encounter this love, this love which is at the very ground of my existence and is the source of my dignity—then I do not know, truly, who I am. And I find myself unable to look upon others and to respect in them their own unique and unrepeatable personal mystery and dignity.
I realize that the crowd is something very different from the family, from the community. In a crowd all are “anonymous.” But in a family each has a name, and it is precisely because we are known as we are that we are united so intimately together. Yes, the name—this is something so important. I know my name in being given it by another, in being loved by another. But how many in our world are “nameless,” despite having a name! This is because they have not known the love that alone gives life, the love that pronounces their name with tenderness, with reverence, with delight. I can only begin to accept the person that I am, to love my own name, my own unique identity, when I realize that it is something beautiful and worthy of being loved. In other words, I can only begin to see beauty in myself whenever I realize that another person sees it in me. I begin to see myself anew within the gaze of love that another person directs toward me.
But even if I am given this gift through another human being—a father or mother, a spouse or friend—is this really enough? This person doesn’t really understand me fully and completely. And they do not give me my existence, my identity, even if they literally chose for me the name by which I am called. They do, however, see in me something true, something beautiful, which awakens in them reverence before the mystery that I am. Mystery…this is something bigger than the human heart. Ah, the human heart is a mystery to itself! This is because it is a gift from Another, from the One who is bigger than the human heart, bigger than the entire created universe.
Here we can trace the lines back to the Origin of our identity, to the unique identity of each one of us, as well as to the only true basis of our community with one another. In the depths of the silence of my heart, I find myself being looked upon with love by a Presence which is both intimately close and infinitely mysterious. Yet this very presence is revealed to me by the One who came among us and took our humanity, the Son of the Father, who reveals to us the face of the God who loves us. Yes, Jesus Christ drew near to us and made visible before our eyes the gaze of our loving Father. In him there occurs a mutual beholding: my thirst to be loved, cherished, and accepted encounters the thirst of God who yearns for me. My eyes, continually searching restlessly for the absolute love for which I was made meet the gaze of God seeking me out with ardent longing. In the tender eyes of God-become-man, in the gentle gaze of Jesus, I begin to learn—gradually, gradually—the way in which God looks upon me.
And not only this, but he himself begins to reveal the meaning of this mysterious and loving gaze. All of his actions manifest it; all of his words reveal it. In everything, he draws near to me. He yearns to come close, and he does come close—even to entering into the very burden of my shame, the pain of my loneliness, the anguish of my darkness. And he loves me…he loves me in this place. He stretches wide his arms to embrace me. He opens his Heart to receive me. And he gives himself, gives himself totally to me. This, this, my beloved, is how much I love you.
And as he is stretched out here upon the Cross, he unveils before me, in the shame of his nakedness, the vulnerable mystery of my own heart, which I have so often cloaked over in shame. I have sinned. I have done evil. I have done ugly and disgraceful things towards myself, toward my own mind, my own heart, my own body; I have done such things towards others as well; and I have lived, God, as if you did not exist. And ashamed of this, I have hidden myself from your gaze. I feared that you would condemn me, reject me, and lay an unbearable burden on my shoulders. But now, in your nakedness, I see something else. In your wounds, Jesus, I see something mysteriously beautiful. I see that woundedness is a form of vulnerability, a doorway into the inner heart. And these wounds beckon me, they beckon me to the Sacred Heart which is unveiled through them, and draws me to itself. And as I come nearer, hesitant, afraid, unsure of what I will encounter, but drawn nonetheless by a mysterious force…I encounter something amazing.
Jesus, as I stand at the foot of your Cross, I hear those words which you speak: I thirst. You thirst, Jesus? You thirst, God? What do you thirst for? For water? No…I hear something else, something that those eyes tell me. Here the wounds, the eyes, and the words work together to tell me a single message. You thirst for me. You have descended all this way into my suffering in order to embrace me here. You have come to such depths in order to open your Heart to me. And now, making yourself utterly vulnerable before me, like a beggar, you ask for the drink of my love. You beg for the gift of my heart. And why?
You, Jesus, behold me, and you behold me not as a burden, not as an anonymous face in a crowd, not as an instrument for achieving your ends. No, you behold me with the absoluteness of Divine Love, a Love that not only welcomes and accepts me in all the reality that I am, but positively desires and wills me to be the unique person that I am. Yes, you have created me to be this person; you have given me the gift of myself, of my own life, of every moment of my life, flowing unceasingly from your loving hands and Heart. And what flows from the heart of God is always beautiful. Beautiful…I am beautiful with a unique and unrepeatable beauty, and your gaze, Jesus, reveals this to me. For you not only accept me, you not only will and create me, but, seeing the beauty that you have created, you thirst for me! Yes, Jesus, from all eternity, you and your Father have desired me!
This is what your wounded and vulnerable Heart reveals to me: that you yearn to love me and to be loved by me. You thirst for the love of my heart—for the very gift of my heart which you have first given to me! You thirst in this way because only when you receive the free gift of my heart can you unite me intimately to yourself. Yes, you see that I am beautiful—a beauty that you yourself have given—and this beauty draws your Heart toward me. You have created me for yourself. I am myself a gift that is born from the inmost recesses of your loving Heart. And looking upon this beauty that has come from you, you thirst to unite me to yourself, to hold me close, so that my heart and your Heart, pressed up intimately against one another, may beat together in a harmonious hymn of love and beauty.