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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
A Reflection on the Gospel of Matthew 6: 19-23
Internet Image from (Onishi and Philippe)
For a few weeks now, smoke from over 420 Canadian wildfires have drifted across the northeastern US, creating a smokey haze that, among many other things, so obscured visibility that several airports had to close. For days, that campfire smell hung in the air where my family and I live. Visibility was often less than two hundred yards, and never was the horizon visible. Everything melted into a hazy gray. Although the sun was shining, it appeared as a faint orange ball in the sky, floating as one with the smoke. Because of the lack of visibility, I noticed that we all started to focus on what we could see and not on what was beyond that curtain of gray. Everything we did, even our worship, was gloomy amidst the gloom. In the words of St Paul, we were seeing in a “glass darkly.” (1 Cor 13:12 KJV)
In the Gospel today, Jesus tells us that,
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” (Matthew 6:22–23 NABRE)
When we have smoke in our eyes, our body is not sound. We lack true vision. Smoke irritates our lungs such that we are so focused on breathing that we lose perspective on anything else. Smoke irritates our throats and eyes such that they sting and are dry. We are distracted in speaking and seeing. Not only this, the smoke also becomes so irritating that we lose patience and perspective with those near us. If we are not diligent, we become preoccupied with things and activities that distract us and alleviate the irritation of the smoke. Serving others takes second place. We turn inward in our distraction. We sit in the gloom and darkness. St John Chrysostom wrote of this verse,
The eye [Jesus] speaks of is not the external but the internal eye. The light is the understanding, through which the soul sees God. He whose heart is turned to God, has an eye full of light; that is, his understanding is pure, not distorted by the influence of worldly lusts. (as quoted in Aquinas)
Without spiritual enlightenment, we lose perspective and the light through which the soul sees and understands God. The vision of the soul is obscured as darkness creeps in. For example, we begin to focus on the mechanics of our prayer vice praying. We become irritated with others vice turning to them in love, seeing them as God sees them. We begin to consider our own wants and needs vice taking on a heavenly, God centered, generous, perspective. Our own understanding is diminished, for we do not look at the world through the lens of light and love. We fail to see as God sees. We let the light within become smothered in the fires of our own passions. In the words of the Platter’s 1958 hit song; "When a lovely flame dies, Smoke gets in your eyes." In the words of our Lord, “if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” (Matthew 6: 23 NABRE)
Author’s Picture – Noon in the Gloom
How do we clear the darkness away? Jesus tells us in the first part of the Gospel, we store up heavenly wealth. We become a soul that is what the glowing eye implies: sound, sincere, and generous. An eye that is sound is healthy. A soul that is sound is fed by the Sacraments, Prayer, and Study of God’s Word. In short, Christ, the light of the world, breaks through the darkness and dwells in us. The life of the soul is found in God, the author of all life.
Eyes that are sincere, see the world the way that God see’s it. Some say that you can tell from someone’s eye’s when they are sincere. A soul that is sincere recognizes God in the other and is purely motivated by love. The darkness of hate, revenge, jealousy, and arrogance is pushed away with intention. This is what obscures! The Light of the World, Christ, literally pours forth from those who are sincere in faith. Push darkness away so that your light may shine. That is a treasure!
Generous eyes look always to the welfare of the other. A generous soul is likewise detached from worldly attractions, earthly treasures. The Blessed Virgin saw the wine running short at the wedding at Cana and acted. Her eyes noticed and her soul is generous. The truly generous are those who strive to be all “of God” and live their life in love of both God and the other. Aren’t these acts the treasure we should seek to acquire? This is treasure that moths and decay cannot destroy, and that which thieves cannot break in and steal. Heavenly treasure is only found in acts of love. Heavenly treasure is generously given by letting go of what holds us back.
All of us have likely experienced a time of limited vision and smoke can get in our eyes, into our soul. It becomes a creeping darkness or where light becomes distorted. It is then that we must strive to stoke the fire of God’s love within, so that we are as the Lord intends; vessels of His light in the world (Matthew 5:14). This is our treasure, a soul that is sound, sincere, and generous. “Theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NABRE)
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Aquinas, St Thomas. Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew. Ed. John Henry Newman. Vol. 1. Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841. Print.
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
Onishi, Norimitsu, and Renaud Philippe. “‘The Fires Here Are Unstoppable.’” The New York Times, 17 June 2023, www.nytimes.com/2023/06/17/world/americas/canada-wildfires-season.html.
The Holy Bible: King James Version (KJV). Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.