Is It Time for Spiritual Cataract Surgery?

by Melannie Svoboda SND on July 20, 2020

A few months ago I had cataract surgery. I had my left eye done right before covid-19 put a temporary stop to such surgeries. For seven weeks, there I was: left eye, no cataract. Right eye, cataract. It was a unique situation to be in.

When I closed my left eye, I saw the world as I was used to seeing it—as if looking through a grayish, brownish film. But when I closed my right eye and looked through my left, I saw a brand new world of amazing brightness. Colors were more vivid, my Kindle screen was brighter, and I could now see in the distance clearly. What was even more amazing, when looking through my left eye, some things had actually changed colors. My dull purple top was now bright purple. My blue plaid shirt was now a vivid turquoise plaid shirt. My blah gray gloves were now rich avocado green gloves!

And for years, I thought what I was seeing was reality. If someone would have said, “I like your green gloves, Melannie,” I would have corrected them. “They’re gray, not green.” I might have even added, “You’d better get your eyes checked.”

The lesson I learned from this experience was clear: We must not be quick to equate the way we see something—a person, a situation, a concept, an experience—as the real way, the right way, the only way. Sometimes we may need a new lens to see things more clearly. We might need eye surgery—or “I surgery.”

Ordinarily cataracts develop slowly. Mine took years to form before my doctor deemed them “ripe” enough for surgery. Our spiritual vision can become clouded over time too—imperceptibly. What factors impede clarity of vision? Familiarity can impede our vision. If we see something again and again we risk not seeing it at all. That’s why it’s good to have friends who help us to see familiar things in new ways.

Prejudice can also hinder our perception. If we have preconceived ideas against a certain group of individuals (of a specific race, gender, age bracket, occupation, political leaning, religious affiliation, etc.) we risk not seeing them for who they really are. And sometimes the very aging process can make us get set in our ways and not open to new insights, new ideas, new ways of seeing. If you ever catch yourself saying, “But I always thought…” That’s a good sign. Chances are it means you are on the verge of modifying something you always thought!

Let us pray: God of Perfect Sight, give me a share of your vision. Help me to become aware of the ways my perception is clouded. Give me the grace to appreciate the familiar—especially people in my life. Help me to lessen the prejudices I have against individuals, ideas, movements, and ways of being and doing. Do not let the natural aging process make me get set in my ways. Rather, help me to be open to new insights, new ideas, new ways of seeing, and new ways of doing things. I ask for these graces through Jesus who went about healing people both of their physical blindness as well as their spiritual blindness. Amen.

Did any words, phrases, or ideas in this reflection resonate with your own experience? If so, which? and why?

What are some of the ways you try to keep your vision alive and healthy?

Have you ever had the experience of seeing something in a brand new way? What factors led to this “re-visioning”?

PS: I want to thank all the people who made our retreat at King’s House Retreat Center in Belleville, IL last week. We had 72 participants–about 25 at the retreat center itself and the rest on Zoom. I really enjoyed “meeting” so many faith-filled individuals from all over the U.S. plus Canada and India! And I thank my “Sunflower Seeds” readers for the support of your prayers. And a special, special thank you to the retreat center director, Fr. Sal Gonzalez, OMI, who patiently taught me how to give a Zoom webinar retreat! I’m most grateful!

Today’s song is the 8th Century Irish hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.” This version is sung by Audrey Assad. By today’s standards, the song uses exclusive language. But hopefully we can see beyond that to the simple beauty of this ancient hymn.

Please feel free to respond below to anything in today’s blog! We love hearing from our readers.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca July 20, 2020 at 4:59 am

Very insightful and interesting ideas of seeing but not always clearly.
I’ve been praying for the people who are dealing with the need to riot but honestly I don’t know how to respond to them as I always follow the law. Maybe I should question it?

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John Hopkins July 20, 2020 at 6:17 am

Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
Good morning, all….

A quick story of which I am not proud: My wife and I ordered take out from Bertucci’s this past Saturday. When I went in to get the order, a man who worked for Bertucci’s was saying goodbye to his co-workers. It was his last day. Based on his name and accent, I was pretty sure he was Hispanic. As the person behind the counter was getting my order together, I remarked: “He seems like a nice guy. Is he one of the cooks?” No, she said, “He’s our manager.” I knew right then I was guilty of “implicit bias.” I made a judgment based on his ethnicity. I did not “see” him as a manager. I was and am deeply ashamed, but, hopefully, better able to see.

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Melannie Svoboda SND July 20, 2020 at 8:09 am

John, This is exactly the kind of incident that serves as a little wake-up call. I could identify with it because I’ve done it too! Thank you for your humility to share this little story with all of us! Melannie

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Ed Johnson July 20, 2020 at 11:39 am

Thank you, John……How many times have I had similar thoughts? Too many, I’m afraid. Excellent lesson, especially in these times.

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Ed Johnson July 20, 2020 at 7:01 am

Sister,
I can definitely relate to your cataract “journeys.” On the spiritual side, I have never been one to regularly pray the rosary. I had the desire, but could not remain consistent and faithful to the practice. A few months back, I searched for an audio rosary app. I located one and tried it. It is just what I needed, and I listen to the rosary on my phone, prayed by a family, each morning on my walk. It has greatly enriched my spiritual journey. Technology and spirituality together can be a wonderful blessing! And, it seems as if your retreat last week helped you and others “zoom” to new spiritual heights! Peace, Blessings, and Safety to all.

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Wendy Feen July 20, 2020 at 9:04 am

Thank you for your message, Ed. I also have struggled to stay faithful to the rosary, but your journey using an audio app has given me an idea to try. Today we are so besieged with multiple worries, fears, uncertainties, & sadnesses with the virus, facing realities of racism that have been buried for so long, & concerns for the future of our country, I realize I have layers and layers of things that often block my connection to God even though I feel I have a strong faith. Does that make sense?

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Ed Johnson July 20, 2020 at 2:30 pm

Wendy,
Absolutely understand your thoughts. “Normal” daily life is filled with challenges. In these times those challenges are greatly magnified!……The app I referenced is in the Apple App Store online, if you have an iPhone. It is called Holy Rosary-Standard Edition. Developer is a man named Joe Meineke. Not sure if there is version for Android, etc. And, it’s a free app, also. It’s very simple, easy to use. Hope this helps.

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Christine Bianco July 20, 2020 at 2:51 pm

There is an app for the Holy Rosary available for android through Google Play Store.

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Kathleen Magiera July 20, 2020 at 7:34 am

What great insights Sr. Melanie.

I used to work with children who were visually impaired. Part of my job was teaching the children to use their remaining low vision.

Sometimes, I need to look beyond the familiar to see Jesus. Certainly, the pandemic created new ways of looking at things. I miss the old familiar things like teaching yoga and am looking for new opportunities.

Kathleen

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Janet July 20, 2020 at 9:00 am

Melannie, I enjoyed your experience of cataracts. When I had my first one done I could then see close with one eye and distance with the other. It was great as I read the paper and watched TV. I could look up from my reading and see the TV clearly without glasses. My other one did not become ripe for 4 years but corrective lenses evened things out during the waiting period. I learned that sometimes I have to see up close to clearly see and understand the details while other times I need to stand back and see the bigger picture.

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Ed Johnson July 20, 2020 at 11:35 am

Janet,
Your words “to see up close to clearly see and understand” remind me of a great song by Bette Midler some years ago…..”From a Distance”……..worth a listen. Thank you.

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Deacon John July 20, 2020 at 10:08 am

Thanks for the reflection and the music. The issues and the time factors of the pandemic, the riots give us cause to revision many things. I find myself revisionist my attitudes and prejudices, especially those I have not seen before. Lord, help me/us to see you in all people and situations.

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George Marsh July 20, 2020 at 10:16 am

Thank you for your wisdom and the lovely song. I see past the conventional male images and pronouns in the verse. We are all God’s children, able to be better enlivened with God’s breath. A senior citizen myself, I know one is only as old (in the pejorative sense) as one thinks. Being open to new, younger and different expressions is a matter of one’s soul, one’s willingness to be inspired by the ageless One, creatively playing in the world God makes new each second.

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Thomas DeFreitas July 20, 2020 at 11:21 am

I did appreciate Audrey Assad’s rendition of “Be Thou My Vision” ( and I think that at my old parish we sang a version whose language was more inclusive). I loved seeing the snow and ice in the video. (We’re headed for 96 F, 36 C, in the beanpot today.)

More to the point, yes, I think my “eye/I surgery” occurs whenever I reach out and am open to genuine encounter with anyone, when I get outta my own noggin and the “tapes” that I play for myself, often with negative self-talk, or overly judgmental thoughts about others. (And worse, I’m afraid — but perhaps that’s best saved for the confessional!)

Prayer also acts as a good de-fogger of the windshield! One of my preferred methods is the rosary, but also twenty minutes of silent prayer, usually seated in the recliner, sometimes lying in bed (the bed-prayer is on days like today, when I desperately need air conditioning!).

Good to see/read everyone’s comments. Hope everyone’s staying cool and hydrated.

Peace and light.

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Pam July 20, 2020 at 11:26 am

Oh my Gosh, You are spot on….It’s like you can see into my soul..read my mind…I asked my husband if he had read it, he then did and said I should print it out! I know I am set in my ways… I have a hard time with society today…so different than how I was raised.. to take responsibility for your action etc. And everything is so political… ugh…I pray for guidance and mercy ..Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us..

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Jean Canatsey July 20, 2020 at 5:19 pm

How well I remember my cataract surgery! I read the street signs all the way home (without glasses!) and remember marveling at the bright colors and the fact that leaves had veins on their underside! You see, I had been so nearsighted since childhood, that as a young mother I couldn’t see my children on the beach if I swam in the ocean without my glasses! I even had trouble finding my blanket if the current carried me downstream a bit.
When in 1993, at the ripe “old” age of 55, we moved to FL and the sun caused my cataracts to suddenly bloom, I had trouble admitting that I was old enough to even consider cataract surgery. However, when my husband asked me if I’d like to actually see our youngest child walk across the stage and receive her HS diploma or if he should just tell me when it was happening, I agreed to the life changing procedure. As a consequence, I have been blessed with all these years of sight. If only the Good Lord will allow me to continue to see more clearly during these trying times.
Thank you, Sister Melannie, for the song. I grew up playing “Be Thou My Vision” on the piano and singing it with my Methodist grandma. I have used an instrumental version often for funerals.

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Jean Canatsey July 20, 2020 at 5:25 pm

Not quite sure why this put my comment as a reply to you but…..Have a blessed day!

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Jane Langenecker July 20, 2020 at 12:19 pm

Dear sister,
I am in the midst of a deep controversy at our church. We have a “new” priest… he’s in his 30s…. but he is ultra conservative. He would like to take us back to preVatican 2 days. Latin Mass, traditional Mass, no girl servers…. the list goes on. I pray for understanding of his mission and acceptance. I am torn between accepting his vision and the one of inclusion and familiarity of hearing and seeing Mass as it has been said from the 60’s to the present. Can you or anyone please help me see clearly? I’m so very conflicted and lacking in the peace that surpasses all understanding. Thank you. God bless you for your clear visions.

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Deirdre Lewis July 20, 2020 at 12:59 pm

I also had my cataract surgery during May, so I can relate to your experience. The world suddenly seemed so much brighter! I found myself praying along with the hymn…Celtic music always speaks to my soul. Possibly because of my father’s Welsh heritage. I am also spending this time becoming more conscious of my biases and prejudices as the pandemic highlights the inequities in our society…I am a 72 year old, white South African woman. My family would be considered blue collar working class by American standards. I am a retired nurse, not exactly well-paid but in my country, most of the population would consider me wealthy. I’m rapidly becoming more aware of just how unfair life can be. I thank God for giving me opportunities to help.

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Josephine Clark July 20, 2020 at 3:36 pm

Now I’m feeling like I need a lesson. I don’t see what you mean by this hymn using ‘exclusive’ language. To me – I listened twice – it’s a love song between me and my Heavenly Father.

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Melannie Svoboda SND July 20, 2020 at 4:55 pm

Dear Josephine, In this context, exclusive language is language that is either masculine or feminine–and therefore is not gender inclusive. In this song I was referring especially to the lie “I Thy true son.” Strictly speaking Father is also exclusive, but we tend to be more accepting and more comfortable of that “metaphor” for God. But it’s good to know God is also “mother” and scripture and some saints refer to God as mother–a nursing mother, for example. Jesus used some feminine words to describe God–mostly notably God as a housewife searching for her lost coin… I hope that helps. Melannie

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Josephine Clark July 21, 2020 at 3:10 pm

Wow – it went right past me the first time, and I still don’t feel it’s ‘wrong’. But OK, thanks for sensitizing me on my journey. I will watch and try to avoid being stuck in the past – old habits die hard.

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Madaline Wilhelm July 22, 2020 at 10:19 am

I, also, had nearly the same cataract experience and I felt a renewal with the clear vision. For years have suffered, and offered up, my challenges with shingles in right eye. God is good! Love my weekly Holy Hour with the Exposition …..the prayer and concentration bring me closer to God. My mother taught me the blessings in daily rosary(well, I try so hard) and letting go and letting God. Thank You, Sister for your sharing, especially, in the Living Faith daily Catholic reflection devotions…that is where “I found you.”

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Margaret Preister July 22, 2020 at 11:58 am

Please send me your SUNFLOWER SEEDS.
Thank you, Sr. Margaret Mary, OSF

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Melannie Svoboda SND July 22, 2020 at 4:18 pm

Dear Margaret, You can get my blog, “Sunflower Seeds” by subscribing to it. Just go to the blog, and on the right, you’ll see the sign for subscribing. Click that on and you can subscribe. Thank you for your interest. Let me know if you have any problem subscribing. Thank you! Melannie

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