Every Sunday at Mass, we are invited, “Lift up your hearts,” and we reply, “We lift them up to the Lord.”
Because we say these words so often, they can start to feel routine. But if we ponder these words even for just a few moments, we’ll get a glimpse into the promise contained in them: lifting up our hearts brings us “to the Lord.” It isn’t just a symbolic or emotional exercise—it truly can bring us into God’s presence.
So how exactly do we lift up our hearts? While there are many different ways to answer this question, we want to focus on the Panorama as one very promising answer. We want to focus on how we can experience God’s presence as we pray through the central truths of God’s plan of salvation.
The Paradox of Our Lives. The Panorama is helpful because it focuses our attention on four key interventions—events that are central to God’s desire to fill us with his love and draw us into his presence.
One of the most important things that the Panorama highlights is the difference between God and ourselves. Each of these four interventions shows God as infinite Trinitarian love. It shows us that he wants nothing more than to bring us to heaven. At the same time, the Panorama also shows us as finite created beings who are capable of great love and yet who are also prone to temptation and sin.
This dual vision reveals a paradox that is part of everyone’s life: we long to experience the love of God, yet we also know how powerful a hold sin can have on us. This tension between what we desire and what we do is the reason why pondering the Panorama can help us. By meditating on these four key interventions, we’ll see how God can help strengthen us in our struggle between sin and holiness—through Jesus’ resurrection, through the help of his Holy Spirit, and through the promise of a heavenly home where sin and suffering are no more.
Jesus, Our Model. So the Panorama tells us that our hope for transformation lies in Jesus’ resurrection. But it also tells us that Jesus is our clearest example of how to experience that transformation. Jesus was constantly in touch with heaven. He always kept the Panorama—his Father’s plan—in the forefront of his mind and let that plan dictate the way he thought and lived. Over and over again, he said that he did nothing apart from what he heard his Father telling him to do (John 5:19; 8:28; 14:31).
Yet as much as he was in touch with heaven, Jesus was also keenly in touch with the world around him. He saw the beauty in the world and all the ways creation revealed the love of his Father. He saw the power of sin and its effects on the people around him. He knew that this world was meant to be their temporary home, even though so many considered it the only thing worth working for. Most important, Jesus was able to contend with all of this sin—opposition from some of Israel’s leaders, his disciples’ weak faith, and the conflicting demands of the people who came to him—and yet he never lost his peace. He stayed connected to his Father through it all.
Surely Jesus enjoyed eating, yet he also fasted. He appreciated a good night’s sleep, yet there were times when he stayed up all night to pray. A man like us in all things but sin, he, too, felt the need for close friendships, yet he was willing to endure the loss of friends if it meant staying faithful to his Father’s call. Because he stayed in touch with the heavenly realm, Jesus experienced the power of the Spirit to help him.
By keeping the Panorama in the forefront of our minds, we can learn to keep our eyes fixed on heaven just as Jesus did. We can learn to imitate Jesus’ example of trust in his Father and his confidence in God’s presence. In short, we can become more and more like Jesus until the day when he comes again and we see him face-to-face.
A Softened Heart. When we lift up our hearts and contemplate the truths of the Panorama, two things will happen. First, we will come to a deeper appreciation for God’s plan for his creation. And second, that appreciation will compel us to help advance that plan.
St. Paul once wrote, “The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all . . . , so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15). Paul’s vision was lifted up. He saw Jesus as his Savior. And that vision filled him with a desire to share this good news with everyone he met.
Contemplating the Panorama won’t necessarily make you into an apostle like Paul. It won’t necessarily make you devote every waking moment to preaching the gospel. But it will soften your heart. It will make you want to be more loving and generous and merciful to the people around you. And that’s all you’ll need to make a difference in the world.
Praying through the Panorama
Let’s take a look at some practical ways in which we can lift up our eyes and let the truths of the Panorama soften our hearts.
• Proclaim the Truths Each Morning. Before you get out of bed each morning, consecrate your life and your day to Jesus. Proclaim that God created you, that Jesus has conquered sin and death, that through his Holy Spirit you can live a new life, and that Jesus will come again in glory. Memorize these truths or write them down, and tell the Lord that you want them to guide your every decision today.
• Search for the Panorama in the Liturgy. As you take part in the Mass, be on the lookout for references to God’s eternal plan and the four main interventions of the Panorama. Look especially at the Creed as a prayerful meditation on these truths. Notice the way that the Eucharistic Prayer focuses on the glory of God’s plan. Look for the ways that these prayers, and all the others, recount God’s blessings poured out throughout the whole of salvation history.
• Be Cleansed of Sin. At the end of each day, examine your conscience, and repent of any sin you find. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see how you may have fallen short of God’s plan and intentions for you that day. Make regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Trust that “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing” (1 John 1:9). Try also to forgive as you have been forgiven. Don’t let unforgiveness move you to treat someone badly; that will only make it harder for them to lift their eyes to heaven. Instead, take the next step in letting go of any hurts, resentments, or grudges that have a hold on your memory.
• Intercede for the People around You. Pray for your family, your spouse, your neighbors, your relatives, and your fellow clergy or religious. Remember too those who are sick, poor, and abandoned. Present each person to Jesus and pray that they would come to know his love more deeply. Pray that the Holy Spirit will lift up their hearts and give them a glimpse into God’s panoramic plan. Pray for protection from the inroads of sin and from any evil that may come upon them today. Believe that these prayers, even in the most difficult of situations, can fill them with God’s grace.
You Belong to God. The Panorama is a wonderful tool to help us see our lives the way God sees them. It’s also a wonderful tool in helping our faith to increase and in making us confident in God’s love and provision. And, most important, the Panorama is a wonderful tool that can help us lift up our hearts to the Lord. It tells us that God created us, that Jesus came to save us, that the Holy Spirit lives in us, and that Jesus will come again to bring us into his heavenly home. It shows us where we came from, where we are headed, and how deeply committed God is to helping us along the way.
So fix your eyes on God’s great and glorious plan, and let that plan lift your heart and fill you with joy and gratitude. You belong to God, and he belongs to you. He loves you, and he dearly wants you to be with him forever.
What news could possibly be greater than this?