On May 30, as the month of the Sacred Heart was about to begin, the United States launched two men into space. Gazing through their spaceship’s windows, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley encountered our planet from an entirely new perspective. This encounter, transformative for hundreds of astronauts over the years, received a name in 1987 from the pen of author Frank White, the “overview effect.”
In a 2013 documentary titled “Overview,” astronaut Nicole Stott explains that “when you do finally look at the earth for the first time, you’re overwhelmed by how much more beautiful it really is.” Astronauts report that a great deal of their free time is spent “earth gazing,” wondering at the beauty and fragility of this place shared by 6 billion human beings.
When crises — personal, national, international — hit, it is helpful to have perspective. As Christians, we know that God has a perspective — the overview effect, multiplied to infinity. God looks upon my planet, my country, and my soul with staggering love, and He guides events to a good end. The soundtrack of “Overview,” interestingly, begins with simple tones, starkly punctuated by a beat that mimics a heartbeat.
St. Catherine of Siena once observed to her confessor and biographer, Blessed Raymond of Capua: “Father! If you were to see the beauty of the human soul, I am convinced that you would willingly suffer death a hundred times, were it possible, in order to bring a single soul to salvation. Nothing in this world of sense around us can possibly compare in loveliness with a human soul.” God does see what Catherine wished we could all see, the beauty of the human soul.
Among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom is the one that allows us to see events and persons as God Himself does. This is why the wise person is also at peace. He knows that Love is in charge and that good shall triumph. St. Thomas Aquinas, linking the Spirit’s gifts with the virtues, pairs wisdom with charity. In wisdom, we see with the eyes of Love. And “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Perched on a hill in Paris stands the magnificent Basilique du Sacré Cœur, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Against this background, French artist Georges Desvallières in 1905 painted a most extraordinary depiction of the Sacred Heart. Christ, crowned with thorns, His eyes closed, angles His head and shoulders away from us, as if to present to us the only thing that matters: His bloodied side. His fingers pry apart the wound, opening it to our gaze, and to our entrance.
From another hill, two thousand years ago, Christ looked down on the world from the single true perspective, the perspective of Love, a Love that would die a hundred times over to bring a single soul to salvation. Today, He looks down still upon the world, and His heart still beats. With every beat of that tremendous Heart, that tremendous Lover invites me into this Love.
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.