“Please continue to serve … with gentleness, respect, and cordiality, always seeing God in them.” — Louise De Marillac
One of the things I got to do over the summer was offer a few words of welcome and a prayer for incoming students at the Premiere DePaul orientation. I once heard a colleague observe that just as youth is wasted on the young, orientation is wasted on the new people. Without enough context to know what is important and hit with so much information in a short amount of time, it is not always clear how much information is retained. Having said this, I think orientations are wonderful. Being a part of them always awakens the hopefulness in me. While I may not remember the information from my orientation (to be fair it was over 30 years ago now) I still remember moments and emotions from it.
Perhaps that is why Premiere hits me differently. There are times when the thousands of students are numbers to be managed, event attendees to plan for, or, as the first day of class, when they are minds to be engaged. When I look out at Premiere at these students and their families, I just see hundreds of hearts: nervous, excited, playing it cool, bored, unsure, lost, confident, or triumphant. Like young plants, they seem so fragile yet so full of potential. It really calls out my desire to nurture, support, and protect them. I’m ready to be amazed by who they will become.
We are very familiar with the expression that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One contention here is that beauty is a subjective perception more than an objective reality. Our understanding of this can vary from simply acknowledging that people will differ on what they find beautiful to a suggestion that how we look will affect what we see. Irish poet and spiritual writer John O’Donohue suggests that “if our style of looking becomes beautiful, then beauty will become visible and shine forth for us.”
O’Donohue goes on to say that beauty in fact is “present secretly already in everything” but one needs to beautify one’s gaze to see it. O’Donohue expands on this concept in his work Anam Cara, where he argues that our “style of vision” affects everything we see. To the fearful eye, everything is threatening, to the greedy eye everything can be possessed, to the resentful eye everything is begrudged and so on.
When we talk to students about our Vincentian mission and the legacy of Vincent and Louise, we focus on their honoring of human dignity. There are many profound implications to recognizing human dignity in all those whom we encounter. For Vincent and Louise there was no more profound way to express this in their Catholic Christian conviction that they saw the Divine in those whom they encountered. That was the style of vision they brought to their mission. This is captured in the advice in Louise’s letter to Sister Jeanne-Francois, who in difficult, lonely circumstances was serving the sick poor and orphans left as a consequence of civil war in seventeenth-century France. For some of us, this incarnational theology remains resonant today.
For others, we may find very different ways of capturing the dignity of every member of our community, as I did when I saw the students and families in front of me at Premiere as “hearts” and remembered how I felt when I was in the place they are now. Whatever ways in which you are moved to this recognition, my advice is to make it concrete as opposed to abstract. As we shape the vision with which we see each other, we will surely transform the ways in which we act toward one another and bring forth the beauty that is present all around us.
- How do I make the dignity of others in the DePaul community concrete for me?
- How do the ways I see things affect what I see around me?
- What are practices that shape my style of vision?
Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director, Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care
 This wording comes from the 1878 novel Molly Bawn by Margaret Hungerford, but phrases with similar meanings go back very far and can be found in the writings of many including Shakespeare and David Hume.
 Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), 19.