From the Cradle to the Cross is a painting by a person whose life was scattered instantly in an accident. This person, a National Council on Disability member, helped draft The Americans with Disabilities Act, authored 35 books, accepted a presidential appointment, spoke in more than 45 countries, established a disability ministry that reaches around the world and produced numerous paintings and drawings with her mouth. This remarkable woman is Joni Earckson Tada. She was only 17 years old when she was paralyzed due to a diving accident, but all that she accomplished has been a testament of her words: “Perspective is everything when you are experiencing the challenges of life.”

Joni is now a 73-year-old who not only turned her mess into a message via the grace of God but has also survived bouts with cancer. Her youthful energy and passion for the Gospel can be attributed to Jesus, the Great Optometrist.

All those who have 20/20 vision may not understand the following rant but read along as you may find yourself in solidarity with those of us who wear glasses. 

Only a select few will understand the struggle of navigating at night with glasses. It is like driving through a firework show on the Fourth of July. The eyes see light like we are traveling in the Millennium Falcon going less than 12 parsecs on the interstate. Yet once a year we get the chance to prove our sight has changed and we go through crucible of eye exams. This is one of the most anxiety provoking exams since the SATs, because your whole social life revolves around passing that crucible. Air puffs in eyes, vanishing pixelated barns, blinking disappearing and reappearing fuzzy lights, the extremely claustrophobic personal space proximity test, where the doctor gets closer and closer and even closer with a miniature flashlight demanding you do not blink as the doctor’s breath suddenly becomes yours. The crucible, however, is not done because we, like Daniel, need to read the writings on the wall. Then the coup de grace: a giant futuristic contraption that is designed to confuse your grasp on reality as you decipher which lens is really better. When the optical boot camp is complete, a script is written, and we can now order your 4D optical illusion glasses at the front. With these frames we will now be able to operate our vehicles and navigate confidently. That is until the typical route is detoured, due to construction and it’s nighttime. All confidence is lost and suddenly it’s like taking a driving exam all over again. 

Everyone can relate to this because change in route can simply be translated to change in life routine and suddenly blurry vision makes a world of sense. Discerning God’s will, situational anxiety, life changes, financial problems, career decisions are just a few major stressors that can create a cripplingly distorted view on life as our focus is on something we cannot see clearly. Unregulated or treated, these distortions can create a pathway to despair. But there is clarity at the end of the distortion and light at the end of darkness. Jesus, the Great Optometrist, through salvation history provided humanity different opportunities to prove they see clearly, and He ultimately became our light in the darkness. 

Some claim that Catholicism is a faith of the books. In other words, our belief is contingent on our ability to comprehend the Bible and the “Catechism.” Yet that misunderstanding goes to show the world’s vision about our faith is not as crystal clear as they think. Catholicism is a faith of the Word; that is the Word of God that is revealed to us via sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. Furthermore, we do not merely just believe the word but believe in the Word of God made man. Therefore, we trust and do not fall victim to beliefism (simply believing something exists without believing in that thing). That is why the words of Jesus, the Word made flesh, challenges our perspective on faith to go beyond the words and embrace Him who is the Word. 

If an optometrist checks to see what adjustments are needed for the physical eyes to see clearly, then would it not be useful to check if your spiritual eyes need adjusting? As Catholics we believe that God reveals Himself because He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, ‘That is, of Christ Jesus’” (CCC# 74). This revelation is transmitted through Divine Revelation via sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. The “Catechism” states the following:

“This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes. The sayings of the Holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer (78) … Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal” (CCC #78, 80).

Just because our God reveals Himself, however, does not necessarily mean we all can see it. Therefore, I suggest the following “eye” exam. Read the following Scripture passage, “Catechism” paragraph, and quotation from a Church father. The goal of this exam is to adjust perspective in order for these three messages to “come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal.” 

We recently ended the beautiful liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmastide, and soon we will be making our desert journey through Lent. Let this Ordinary Time be one when as our perspective changes and faith is deepened, as we go from the Cradle to the Cross.

The Prescription:

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you — oracle of the Lord — plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jer. 29:11).

“The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness that God has placed in the heart of every man. By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it”  (“Catechism of the Catholic Church” 1818, 1843).

“So by fixing our hope up above, we have set it like an anchor on firm ground, able to hold against any of the stormy waves of this world, not by our own strength but by that of the One in whom this anchor of our hope has been fixed. Having caused us to hope, after all, He will not disappoint us, but will in due course give us the reality in exchange for the hope” (St. Augustine, Sermon 359A, 1-4).

Anchor columnist Oscar Rivera Jr., is director of Youth Ministry in the diocesan Secretariat for the New Evangelization.