Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga
2 Chronicles 24:17-25
Most of us, presumably, have occasion to visit an ophthalmologist or optician, if not frequently, at least occasionally. Such visits are occasioned by some concern about our vision or eyesight. We’re not seeing quite as well as we used to, or, at least, not as well as we would like.
This sensitivity to vision is an issue in our biblical readings today, accompanying the Eucharistic liturgy that is assigned. It is sadly displayed in the saga of the Jewish king Joash. He was just one in a long series of Jewish kings who left much to be desired. So the story depicted here is, yet again, an account of his countenancing and likely fostering the apostasy of the Jews under his rulership, away from the worship of the true God (of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), and toward the "asherahs and the idols". This was another dismal mistake on the part of the Jews, because it led to their punishment at the hands of an invading army of Arameans, who overran them and inflicted great losses on them.
The central issue here seems to be eyesight, or vision of what is happening. At a younger age King Joash "did what was right in the Lord’s sight", thanks to the guidance he received from the priest Jehoiada. But when Jehoiada died, things went downhill, with idol worship and even murder ensuing. And this occurred despite prophets sent them to turn them back to the Lord. And they suffered the consequences. It was a matter of vision, of spiritual eyesight, made available to the king and his people by Jehoiada and these prophets, but not taken advantage of. The Jews neglected the helps that were near at hand.
The same kind of situation is proposed today by Jesus in His exhortation to depend on God. Jesus notes how so often we fret about the necessities of life, like food, drink or clothing. The gist of His response to such concerns centers on vision again: what do we see? Have we observed the birds of the air, how they make little provision for a food supply, yet do not succumb to starvation. Or what about the flowers of the field: have we noticed how they bloom and blossom into beautiful colors despite a short life span? Yet God sees to it that they survive to beautify our lives.
Again, it’s a matter of observation, of vision. Can we not take note of the various life forms around ourselves: how they thrive and prosper without undergoing loss or injury as they do so? We need to improve our eyesight. St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the young Jesuit scholastic whose memorial we recall today, was gifted with this power of observation. He noted the relatively new and thriving Jesuit community, and decided that he wanted to cast his lot with them. He saw that the wealth and social status available to him from his wealthy family and his proximity to regal surroundings was not what he wanted for the remainder of his life. Rather, the Jesuits offered him a vision of a life that he judged far superior to what he was currently enjoying. It was a question of seeing with the improved eyesight available to him from his faith. Faith enhanced his vision. It was the lack of such faith that doomed the kingship of Joash. May God help us see and appreciate, as did St. Aloysius.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.