The joy of looking up
December 29, 2017
"He looked up." The person reading the homily at Father Andrew Apostoli's funeral Mass was describing what was different about the Franciscan friar's life. It may not sound like much, but if you think about it, "looking up" is a radical difference. It's such a common occurrence in the course of buying a cup of coffee, walking down the street or taking an elevator for people to look down — texting or checking the news or Facebook. Selfies can seem like the only thing people look up for. Even in St. Patrick's Cathedral sometimes — which happens to be right by my office — people seem only to raise their heads to get the perfect photo of themselves with the neo-Gothic backdrop. (Though I did hear a woman the other day look out from the center of the main aisle only to be disappointed — even peeved — that you cannot see the Rockefeller Center tree from there. Sigh.)
National Review, the magazine for which I work, recently moved to 44th Street off Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and there seems to be one of two strategies to navigating the area — to keep looking at your phone so as not to be overwhelmed by all the people and buildings and deliveries and traffic, or to look up! And so, I do find myself looking up — at the Chrysler Building which can be seen from the ladies' room window, or the very top of the Empire State Building, which I never had such an intimate view of as I do from my office. What draws me in, though, is the sun and the sky, the seemingly endless varieties of reflections on buildings. Looking up, you see workmanship and excellence and even the hopes and dreams of men. Of course, it may all be bundled with many complications and histories of corruption and injustice. But, looking up, you find yourself grateful and wanting to see the good in life more often. After looking up and appreciating the gift of the light, you are better able to see Mike sitting there on the corner by Penn Station, who lights up at even the briefest conversation when you respond to his hands outstretched with a cup for a little help.
In his Christmas address to Vatican staff, Pope Francis hit upon a similar theme, one very much in the tradition of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, the religious community to which the man formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio belonged. "Seen in this light, my appeal to the senses of the human body helps us have a sense of extroversion, of attention to what is outside. … The senses help us to grasp reality and at the same time to situate ourselves in reality. Not by chance did Saint Ignatius appeal to the senses for the contemplation of the mysteries of Christ and truth."
He continued, saying: "This is very important for rising above that unbalanced and debased mindset of plots and small cliques that in fact represent — for all their self-justification and good intentions — a cancer leading to … self-centeredness."
This self-centeredness — that comes when we do not look up in gratitude and hopeful expectation, causes us to lose joy and generosity, he said. He was speaking to a specific group of people, but his words apply to all of us.
In a book on joy, Fr. Apostoli wrote that the key phrase in John 16:20 in Scripture "is Our Lord's telling us 'Your grief will be turned into joy.' He does not say that our sorrow will be removed and replaced with a joy that is completely unrelated to sorrow. He says that our sorrow will be turned into joy. This is not a replacement, it is a transformation! The sorrows shared with Jesus mysteriously become the key to unlocking the joys of knowing and loving Him more deeply."
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At his Mass, Fr. Apostoli was described as a man with "an award-winning smile" whose life was "like a tree bearing fruit"; "Father Andrew looked up. His life is an inspiration and provocation to do the same," one speaker said. Doing the same could just be transformational, inspiring and provoking people to look up beyond whatever outrage is being spun in partisan echo chambers at the moment. Looking up to real hope can bring inspiration to heal the world.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at email@example.com.