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Peripheral Vision


Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori

We are called to look beyond our own immediate concerns and to reach out to those most in need

Archbishop William E. Lori

PERIPHERAL VISION – what we see “out the corner of our eye” is important. If you’re driving along a busy highway, peripheral vision enables you to glimpse that car just emerging from your blind spot. In a crowded room, peripheral vision helps you see people around you. It can also help you to notice a person who is off to the side, overlooked or in need of attention.

People sometimes suffer a loss of peripheral vision with age and declining eyesight, while even those with 20/20 vision can miss what should be visible to them. At a restaurant, for instance, otherwise attentive waiters sometimes seem to suddenly lose their peripheral vision if you’re anxious to pay the check.

Something similar can also happen in the depth of one’s heart. The peripheral vision of our hearts diminishes if we do not make it a habit to see beyond our own wants and needs. If our hearts ignore inconvenient truths and realities on the right and on the left, our field of spiritual vision will narrow.


We may think that our spiritual vision is 20/20 because we see clearly what is right in front of us. A hobby might claim most of our attention, or we may be rightfully concerned about things such as the well-being of our families, our performance at work, or long-term financial goals. It’s even possible to be so wrapped up in our own spiritual lives that we cannot see the spiritual and material needs of those around us.

In the Gospels, Jesus teaches us, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If the eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be” (Mt 6:22-23; see also Lk 11:34- 36). Just as our physical eyes perceive natural light, so too the eyes of our hearts are meant to perceive the light of God’s love and truth and the dignity of our neighbor.

Pope Francis has repeatedly called us to “go the peripheries.” He once said in an interview, “We need to come out of ourselves and head for the periphery. We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world.”

The Holy Father tells us that a selfreferential Church will grow old and dim. He challenges us not to focus so intently on our own concerns that we fail to see the needs of others. He urges us to develop, with the help of God’s grace, “a heart which sees” to use a phrase from Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est. Our hearts must see those who are on the margins of the Church and society. In fact, “a closed heart,” Pope Francis has observed, “cannot understand what Christianity is.”


Where, then, are these peripheries to be found? Surely, they are found in the poorest, most undeveloped countries on earth. Pope Francis drew attention to such peripheries, for example, when he visited the Central African Republic in 2015. Such countries are out of the line of sight of many, if not most, who live in highly developed countries. The pope has called our attention to the plight of refugees and immigrants by his visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Thousands lose their lives in the Mediterranean as they try to make their way to mainland Europe in rickety boats.

Pope Francis has likewise called us to focus on the plight of those persecuted for their Christian faith in the Middle East and elsewhere. So often we miss the fact that our fellow Christians are losing their lives and suffering dreadfully simply because they are Christians. The pope also calls our attention to the poor and the sick in our midst. In the city of Baltimore, where I reside, there exist devastated and violence-ridden neighborhoods where a sense of hopelessness pervades the streets.

There are also spiritual peripheries. Think of the many people in every parish who no longer attend Mass or take part in parish activities. We might sometimes lament their absence but, in the end, adopt an attitude of “out of sight, out of mind.” The pope tells us that we must not allow these fellow Christians to escape our field of vision. Instead, we must reach out to them, listen to them, come to know their concerns, and look for opportunities to invite them back to the faith.

How, then, can we increase the peripheral vision of our hearts? First, we need to be aware of what hampers our vision, such as attitudes of defensiveness, fear and indifference. Next, we need, with God’s grace, to become adept at going beyond our comfort zones and encountering those whose lives, viewpoints and concerns are very different from our own. This is not easy, but it is the attitude of each true missionary disciple.

Our field of vision broadens as we encounter others with deep charity, a sense of fraternal solidarity, and a desire to break down barriers, to create unity. In a phrase, we must bring to those encounters an awareness of God’s merciful love. And once our field of vision broadens, those on the peripheries are no longer peripheral. They are squarely in our line of sight.