From Be Thou My Breastplate, by Paul Wallis
Let the vision that the people of Heaven have be in these eyes. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
Fursa can see with his physical eyes and reason with his natural mind. Today he prays for something on an altogether different level – but with what consequence in mind? What is the difference he believes such a vision will make?
A nineteenth-century Russian monk once said:
If you knew the sweetness that awaits all the souls of the just in Heaven,
you would be resolved to endure all the sorrows of this passing life
with gratitude. Even if your very cell were full of worms which gnawed
at your flesh throughout your entire life, you would endure it all in order
not to lose that heavenly joy which God has prepared for those who love him.
—Seraphim of Sarov
When I was first ordained I used to take communion to an elderly neighbor who was housebound, blind, and nearly deaf. Despite these frailties, this lady’s demeanor was of great warmth, happiness, and calm. One day I ventured to ask my friend the secret of her inner joy. She replied:
When I first lost my sight, I was very anxious. I was confined in an unfamiliar house and that made me uncomfortable. One night, I was standing before the dressing table, getting ready for bed when a bright light filled the room. The light was so bright that even my blind eyes could see the furniture. But brightest of all was a smiling face looking at me with a smile that would melt any heart. I couldn’t describe that face to you except to say that I know it was the face of Jesus, full of love as he looked at me. The joy and peace this made me feel have stayed with me from that day to this.
Nothing in my friend’s circumstances had changed. She was still blind, deaf, frail, and housebound, but to her that heavenly vision had made all the difference.
Through the course of his life Fursa, too, was treated to certain visions. One account of his life depicts him preaching to great crowds about the visions God had granted him. However, the historian Bede’s portrait paints a different picture. According to Bede’s history, Fursa spoke only sparingly of these visions and only in private to sincere seekers of God. What we can be sure of is that the heavenly perspective Fursa gained from these visions galvanized his efforts and strengthened his endurance through the challenges of his long ministry. The visions didn’t make the journey any less arduous. It was the perspective they brought him that made all the difference.
In order that I might be prepared for the challenges of my own journey, I will pray with Fursa: “Let the vision that the people of Heaven have be in these eyes.”