NGO: When our eyes meet

October 11, 2022

Elevation of the Eucharist is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Anthony's Church in North Beach, Md., July 15, 2021. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

When I grew up in Vietnam, direct and prolonged eye contact was considered disrespectful or rude, especially toward the elders. Moving to the U.S, I quickly learned that eye contact in North American culture implies a level of focus, honesty or maintaining engaging social relationships with others.

However, both Eastern and Western have the same expression: “Đôi mắt là cửa sổ của tâm hồn,” or “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” Then both cultures agree that the expressiveness of one’s eyes plays an important role in conveying the person’s emotions.

What does it mean for us as Christians?

As a religious sister, every day, I get in touch with God, my source of love in prayers and in adoration. One of my ways of praying is to invite God to look at me and my day. Sometimes, I avoid His gaze because I fall short of extending His love and mercy toward others throughout the day. It is uncomfortable to let Him look at me in those moments. Nevertheless, His gaze never changes - the gaze of the Lover who knows everything, accepts everything, even when I am at my worst. All the while, He patiently waits for me to look at Him again, to ask for His forgiveness, to immerse in His bountiful love, and to start over again when the new day comes.

I will never forget a powerful moment of grace when I served as a Eucharistic minister at St. Louis Hospital.

Besides bringing Holy Communion to Catholic patients, I often had short conversations and prayed with those who were not able or not ready to receive the Blessed Sacrament. One day in July, I visited a long-term patient on the ninth floor who suffered from mental illness and was not capable of engaging in a conversation. As usual, I expected to come in, say a prayer for him, and then leave.

But on that day, as I was holding his hand and telling him how God loved him and was always by his side, he suddenly smiled at me. His eyes met mine, and there were tears coming from those tender eyes to let me know he completely understood what I was saying. Then he immediately went back to his emotionless self. I left the room with a strange feeling as if, in his very eyes, I had just encountered Jesus.

Now, as a pastoral minister for Special Youth Services, I am accompanying the youth in the detention centers. I strive to look at them through the loving eyes of God to let them know that “I see you!”, “You have my attention!” “I’m listening to you!” and “You matter!”

Moreover, each of us was made in the image and likeness of God. May I recognize the presence of God through my brothers’ and sisters’ eyes.

“Lord, that I might see and have compassion [on those whom I encounter along the way] just like you see me and have compassion on me.” (Pope Francis’s prayer – May 22,2022) 

Sister Symphonie Ngo, CCVI, is a pastoral minister for Special Youth Services.