“No one believes anything without first perceiving that it ought to be believed,” St. Augustine once wrote. The intellect and the will, prompted by grace and impelled by love, allow a person both to perceive the truths of the Catholic Faith and to profess his own belief in those truths.
The act of faith in these truths, and especially in the Truth, the Lord Jesus Christ, enables a deeper and more comprehensive perception of reality. To see the world with the “eyes of faith” is to see things as they truly are. A person of faith perceives, at the heart of all things, the love of God, Who gave His only-begotten Son for our salvation.
“Light shines in the darkness,” St. John tells us in the Prologue of his Gospel. “And the darkness has not overcome it.” The light of Christ shines in the darkness of this fallen world, but only those who believe in Him escape the darkness and live in His light.
The darkness of the world has seemed especially thick since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtually every person on the planet has suffered in one way or another over this past year because of COVID.
In his recent book, Seeing the Pandemic with Eyes of Faith: Seven Prophets for Our Time, Fr. Ivano Millico strives to shed the light of Christ into precisely this pandemic-induced darkness.
In his brief, incisive text, Millico offers an assessment of the damage COVID has wrought and helps his readers to see both the crisis and its solution with eyes of faith.
When intense suffering and darkness come, as they have come over this past year, a person’s head and heart must both turn to the Lord in one act of belief.
In the words, “I believe,” the whole person is implicated. When a person suffers, the whole person is tested, including his faith. The faith of many has been tested during a pandemic that in its most intense period brought much of life as we knew it to a standstill and throughout the year has impaired almost every social dimension of our lives. The crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the physical, psychological, and spiritual health of Catholics in ways many of us had not previously experienced.
One extremely effective way to shine the light of Christ such a crisis is to set before people the “lamps” of the saints. Father Millico offers seven such lamps, each of whose Christ-lights were kindled by his or her own suffering.
A person’s devotion to the saints says a great deal about the strength and quality of his faith. The lives of the most outstanding and holy members of the Mystical Body of Christ provide a kind of living Gospel for those of us who are still striving to respond wholeheartedly to the Universal Call to Holiness.
Our striving has become especially challenging over the past year, and Millico treats the COVID crisis with pastoral concern and gravity, but without overestimating the power of COVID over the human soul. Millico follows Pope Francis in pointing out that the pandemic, like any crisis, poses both an opportunity and a threat.
“The pandemic has put all of us in a crisis,” Millico quotes Pope Francis as saying, in his chapter on St. Ignatius of Loyola. “But let us remember…after a crisis a person does not come out the same. We either come out of it better or we come out of it worse.”
The Catholic Truth Society, which publishes Millico’s book, has as its motto, “Truth, beautifully told.” Seeing the Pandemic with the Eyes of Faith fulfills these words, offering the stories of seven models of gracious and faith-filled suffering. The stories of each of these “prophets for our time” is told with vividness and efficiency. Millico recounts the details of their lives that relate to the topic at-hand, drawing lessons from them that are truly helpful and easily applied in the lives of those suffering through this strange and difficult time.
The figures Millico presents are St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Charles Borromeo, the nineteenth-century Parisian spiritual guide Abbé Henri Marie-Joseph Huvelin, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. John Henry Newman, and Job. Each life illustrates in a different but complementary way the transformative difference faith makes in the experience of suffering.
In St. Thérèse, we see what it is to endure sickness and grow in charity. Saint Charles teaches us how to serve with self-sacrificial love during a time of plague. Abbé Huvelin’s ministry illustrates the potential to do tremendous good in the lives of others, even under the most difficult personal circumstances. Saint Ignatius of Loyola serves as a model of crisis-induced conversion. The blending of external misfortune and internal suffering is on display in the life of St. John Henry Newman, who bore his trials with patient abandonment to God’s will, and came out of these experiences a new man in Christ. And Job, whose very name is proverbially associated with patience, also offers a model of conversion from one form of “fear of the Lord” to a deeper, truer living of this virtue.
Millico’s most helpful contribution is that he gives to the sufferings of these prophets their due weight and only then tells the story of how by God’s grace they grew and even flourished. Too many spiritual works rush to the victories of the saints. Millico in no way hides these victories. He makes it clear what he is about throughout the text. But he demonstrates a gift for making it clear that even the saints are real people who experience profound and awful suffering.
It is because he allows his readers to feel the weight of these sufferings that Millico is able to shine the light of their victories all-the-more brightly on the current pandemic and the challenges it has brought into our lives. We can easily relate to the intense difficulties these men and women faced, finding hope in the graces given to them and offered to us.
Of Abbé Huvelin, Millico writes that “his sufferings made the man.” Read with the eyes of faith, the stories of the saints inspire true hope that suffering is a path to glory. Whatever the COVID-19 pandemic brings our way, the words of St. Charles Borromeo point us to what is at the very heart of Millico’s witness. Writing a remembrance of the plague that ravaged Milan from 1576-78, St. Charles offered his beloved people these words:
There is one thing, my children, of which we must make mention, which will make us appreciate more fully the magnitude of the mercies we have received at the hand of God. Have always before you this great benefit which God has so miraculously worked for you, and never be at any time unmindful of his mercy.
During our current crisis, many people are struggling to find meaning in their suffering or the suffering of their loved ones. Such people are sure to profit from reading Fr. Millico’s brief but powerful book on these seven saintly models of faith, cooperation with God’s grace, and trust in His loving plan for each and all of us.
Seeing the Pandemic with Eyes of Faith: Seven Prophets for Our Time
by Fr. Ivano Millico
Catholic Truth Society, 2021
Softcover, 84 pages
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