Bill and Marie began the day filled with excited anticipation. It was the first day of their vacation, and they were headed by car to the beach house they had rented for the week. After a couple of hours on the road, Marie asked, “Are you sure we are going the right way?” “Of course we are,” said Bill. An hour later, with a little more concern in her voice, Marie asked again, “Are you sure this is the right way?” “Yes, I’m sure we’re on course” came the reply. After another hour, Marie was really worried, “Honey, are you sure we’re going the right way? I don’t see any signs for the beach.” After a moment, Bill answered, “I’m not so sure now, but at least we’re making good time!”
It can be easy, even natural, to evaluate our progress in life the way that Bill assessed his drive to the beach. Making decisions based on instinct and the general flow of the world, we can think that we’re on the right course, even that we’re moving forward at a good speed! But the simple sketch of salvation history that we are calling the Panorama can help us actually stay on the right course—or find the right road when we get lost.
Formed by a Heavenly Vision. Whether we know it or not, we all have a vision for our lives. We all have a philosophy that sets out how we want to live and what we want to accomplish. It’s this vision that guides many of our decisions and actions.
At the heart of our vision is the desire to do what will make us happy. That may mean getting married, following a religious vocation, or throwing ourselves into a successful career. As we mature, our vision gets refined and sharpened. It also becomes increasingly selfless. We want to spend more of our time with our spouse and children. Or we treasure the vows we took at our ordination or final profession, and we want to live them out even more fully. Whatever our vocation, we want to help people—coaching kids, serving in our parish, visiting the elderly, and relieving the suffering of the poor. In short, we want to be good disciples of Jesus.
God has a vision for our lives as well, and often these two visions overlap. At its core, the Panorama is God’s vision for us, and it encompasses every good instinct we have. Like our desires to do good for other people and to live a holy life, the Panorama points us to heaven and assures us that God wants to bring us there. By telling us that God created us, that he has saved us, that he has sent his Spirit to help us, and that he promises to come again, it tells us that God is always ready to help us.
However, like Bill in the previous story and despite our desire to live a good and holy life, our actions don’t always follow our vision. Sometimes we choose for ourselves at the expense of others. Sometimes we lie or twist the truth in order to get our way. Sometimes we choose to commit sins. We choose to go against our heartfelt vision in order to get something we want.
During these times, it’s helpful to remember that the Holy Spirit is still at work. He is still offering us the grace to choose a heavenly vision. He is still offering us the grace to be resolute when temptation comes our way.
The Spirit Lifts Up Our Eyes. Despite God’s desire to help us embrace his vision for our lives, it always comes back to us. It’s always up to us to accept or reject God’s invitation to life. Will we yield to his Holy Spirit? Or will we choose to go our own way?
This idea of “yielding to the Spirit” can sound mysterious, but in truth, it is very practical. Yielding to the Spirit involves accepting Jesus’ call to love one another. It involves trying to be merciful and forgiving toward other people. It means putting God first and seeking his will above our own (Matthew 6:33). Every time we try to love or forgive or choose Jesus over ourselves, we are opening our hearts to the Spirit and his grace.
One of the best ways that we can yield to the Spirit is to try to keep all that God has done for us in the forefront of our minds. That’s exactly what the Panorama intends to do. It helps us to see our lives in the light of God’s love and mercy, and it helps us make all of our decisions based on that love.
When you wake up every morning, tell yourself that you were made for more than this world has to offer. Remember that you are a child of God and that heaven is your true home. Tell yourself that you are more than your job, your skills, your wealth, or your education. You are precious to God, and he delights in you.
As you go through your day, take breaks every now and then to recall these truths and others like them. Maybe change it up a bit by reading the psalm from the day’s liturgy or by saying the Lord’s Prayer slowly. God sees your good intentions. He wants to help you, and promises that the Spirit will guide you to all truth and remind you of all that Jesus taught us (John 14:26). Just try your best, and remember that the goal is to focus on God’s heavenly vision for your life.
Expand Your Horizons. If we’re not careful, our approach to life can become very limited. It can be easy to look at our day as little more than a series of tasks and events that we need either to manage or to survive. Life moves so very quickly. Our days are filled with obligations and chores. By the time evening comes, we are tired and want nothing more than to relax. All this can make it easy for us to lose sight of the bigger picture of who we are and who God is.
None of this is necessarily bad or sinful; it’s just narrow. God wants us to experience the joy and comfort of his presence, and not just when things go badly. What’s more, he doesn’t want us to keep this joy to ourselves. He calls each of us to become his ambassador, building his kingdom here on earth.
Normally when we hear about building the kingdom of God, we often think of great heroes of the faith, like St. Paul or Mother Teresa. But this call is for everyday people like us as well. God is asking us to take risks for the sake of his people. He is asking us to expand our horizons so that we will embrace these risks. As the Panorama shows, he is a big God, and he wants to do big things in us and through us. Here are a few examples of “ordinary” people who took risks in God’s name:
• Caroline Wolff was looking forward to a quiet retirement in St. Augustine, Florida, when she felt led to take a risk on behalf of teenaged unwed mothers in the area. Armed with faith and some natural tenacity, she built St. Gerard Campus, a school for these vulnerable young women.
• Dalia Landau, a Jew living in Ramle, Israel, and Bashir Al Khayri, a Muslim Palestinian, took a risk when they began Open House, a place where Jews and Arabs can come together to learn each other’s stories.
• A group of students in Bishop O’Connell Catholic High School in Northern Virginia took a risk when they began Superdance to help their local Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. What began as a way of honoring a fellow student who had died of CF has blossomed into the largest high school fundraiser in the United States.
These people, along with so many other “everyday” believers, took a step of faith, and God rewarded them—and changed many lives in the process. The same can happen to us as we lift up our eyes and ask God to fill us with his heavenly vision.
Be Lifted Up! Scripture is filled with stories of people who received a vision of heaven and then went on to change the world. The prophet Isaiah saw the glory of God in the Temple, and the experience turned him into a bold prophet (6:1-11). St. John received a vision of the heavenly court that prompted him to urge believers suffering persecution to stand fast because their reward would be great (Revelation 4:1-10). The apostle Peter saw God’s glory through a miraculous catch of fish, and it moved him to become a great “fisher of men” (Luke 5:1-10).
Such a life-changing experience of God is not meant for just a privileged few. God wants to open all of our eyes. He wants everyone to experience the love that is at the heart of his plan. This is why the Panorama can be such a valuable tool for us. It’s just a simple four-point outline, and it’s easy to remember. But it’s so all-encompassing that we can’t help but be moved to wonder—and to act—as we contemplate all the wonderful things that God has prepared “for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).