Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Getting Ready for Lent

Ash Wednesday is March 1 this year, which means Lent is barely a week away. It's not too soon to start thinking about how you can grow spiritually this Lenten season.

Lent is a penitential season, and so we rightly think of Lent as a somber time to turn away from sin and toward Christ. But did you know the word lent actually comes from an old English word meaning "springtime?" Lent therefore is also a time of growth and renewal.

The season of Lent is meant to be a time marked by prayer, fasting and almsgiving (charitable acts). Here are some quick tips to help you get the most out of this Lent.

Don't Just Fast

It's common for Catholics to "give something up" for Lent; often it's food related -- sweets, coffee, alcohol, meat, and so forth. This goes hand in hand with the long tradition of fasting which the Church has always upheld, and which goes back to ancient Jewish practice. 

Food is good. Not only do we need a certain amount of food to sustain our lives, but we also derive enjoyment from eating. This makes fasting a good form of penance and a good spiritual discipline. By voluntarily denying ourselves the licit pleasure of certain kinds of food that we like, it becomes easier for us to resist illicit temptations when they arise. 

But to be spiritually beneficial, our fasting must be accompanied by prayer. Fasting without prayer is a diet plan, and Lent is not just a Catholic diet. It's about spiritual growth, not losing weight. Over and over again, in the scriptures, in the Catechism, in the writings of the Church Fathers and other saints, these two things are always mentioned together -- prayer and fasting, prayer and fasting, prayer and fasting. They are meant to go hand in hand.

So while it's good to "give something up" for Lent, you should at the same time increase your prayer. There are many different forms this can take. You can pray a daily rosary. You can try to get to a daily Mass a couple of times during the week. You can begin your day with a morning offering. You can do an examination of conscience each night before bed. You can simply set aside five minutes during the day to be silent and allow God to fill your heart.

A good rule of thumb is to start with your current prayer routine and add something a little extra. If you already pray the rosary every day, try adding a Marian litany afterwards. On the other hand, if  you currently are not praying at all, I wouldn't recommend jumping in with a daily rosary, daily Mass, reading the Bible for 30 minutes, and spending an hour in silent Adoration each day. Don't set the bar too high; all you will end up doing is frustrating yourself. The point is to grow spiritually, and we all must grow starting from where we currently are.

The same holds true for fasting. Don't try to give up too much. The point is to discipline yourself not torture yourself. Set yourself up for succeess, not failure.

Spiritual Reading

Many Catholics also like to use Lent as an opportunity for extra spiritual reading. It's hard to go wrong with the Bible. You might choose one of the books of the Bible that has always interested you and make a personal scripture study out of it. Or you might make a daily devotion out of reading the scripture readings for the Mass of the day. You can find these daily readings on the USCCB web site. You can even have them sent to your email each morning.

Outside of the Bible, there is no end to good spiritual books to read. St. Augustine's Confessions is the most read non-Biblical Christian book of all time. Have you read it? If you are looking for a more contemporary author, The World's First Love, by Fulton Sheen (or really anything Sheen has written), or Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis are modern classics. For something even more modern, you can read one of Matthew Kelley's books such as Dynamic Catholic, written specifically to inspire Catholics to reboot their faith. Ask someone whose faith you admire what books have been especially helpful to them.

Get Involved

If you haven't been very involved in campus ministry, or not as involved as you would like to be, Lent is a great time to check out what we've got going on. I especially recommend joining one of our Bible Study small groups. We have one that meets on Mondays at 5:00pm and another that meets on Thursdays at 6:00pm, both at the Starbucks on campus. These are student-led groups that explore the scriptures together each week and discuss faith, life, their joys and struggles. These groups are open to anyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, and are a great shot-in-the-arm for your spiritual life.

I also encourage you to accompany us to the Community Table on Tuesday afternoons, where we serve meals to the hungry from 4:00-6:00pm. This ties directly in to the almsgiving emphasis of Lent, performing a work of mercy to help those in need. While Tuesdays are our regular volunteer days, Community Table needs volunteers all during the week, so feel free to go in any day on your own. There are, of course, many other wonderful charitable organizations who could benefit from your service -- the Smoky Mountain Pregnancy Care Center, Safe Harbor, Neighbors in Need, local nursing homes and more.

Return to the Sacraments

Needless to say, if you've been away from the sacraments for a while, Lent is the perfect opportunity to come back. Because Lent is a penitential season, most parishes will have penance services and extra times for Confession. 

Here at CCM, we have Confession available every Sunday at 3:30 pm (30 minutes before Mass). We usually try to schedule an additional opportunity for Confession one Wednesday evening during Lent, so stay tuned for that. You can also contact Fr. Voitus to make an appointment (you can contact him through St. Mary's office number or email). 

If it's been a long time since you've been to Confession, here is a simple one-page guide that takes you through it step-by-step. You can also watch this short youtube video that walks you through the process. It's also perfectly OK to tell Father, "It's been a long time since I've done this so can you please walk me through it?" He will guide you in making a good confession. 

Of course it's important to spend some time before Confession thinking about your past actions, identifying your sins, and turning away from them in repentance. An "examination of conscience" is a good resource to help you do this. These are generally lists of questions meant to lead you in self-reflection. There are many out there: here is a short one from the Fathers of Mercy, and an even shorter one from the USCCB.

If you've been away from Mass for a while, we'd love to have you back. Our campus Mass is Sunday at 4:00 pm. Sunday Masses at St. Mary's are at 9:00 and 11:00 am. Remember that participating in Sunday Mass is a serious obligation for Catholics, so if you've missed Mass for anything other than a serious reason (illness, for example), be sure to get here a little early so you'll have time for Confession beforehand. Your mom taught you to wash your hands before eating dinner; you should take the same care to prepare your soul to receive Christ!

Be Intentional

Most of all, be mindful that Lent is not just another time during the year, just as Sunday is not just another day of the week. It's a time of repentance and spiritual growth, but it can only be that for you if you want it to be. Take advantage of this special season of grace offered by the Church to get all that you can out of this Lent. God bless!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Are Christians Wimps?

SEVENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (A)

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Are Christians wimps? It's easy to see how some may get that impression. In this Sunday's gospel reading (Mt 5:38-48), Jesus says that when someone strikes us on one cheek, we are to offer the other one. He says if someone wants your tunic, to give him your cloak, as well. He says if someone presses us into service for one mile, we should go two miles. He says we should not refuse anyone who wants to borrow money from us.

Is Christ commanding us to be door-mats? Are we to allow others to walk all over us, and take advantage of us?

I don't think so. I don't believe Christ desires a wimpy Church. Christ desires a Church that is strong. But there are different kinds of strength. What Christ asks of us is not militant aggressiveness or egotistical defensiveness. Christ wants a Church that is strong in love.

The Christian is called to love without limits. What Jesus does in this gospel reading is to shatter our preconceived notions of how far our love should extend. "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy" is easy enough to understand. To love those who love us and to hate those who hate us seems natural. It makes sense. 

But Christ calls us to something higher. Christ says we are to love even our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Jesus tells us that there is nothing praiseworthy about only loving those who love you. "Do not the pagans do the same?" 

When I was in college and I had friends who were involved in neo-pagan religions, especially Wicca. They told me that the key moral code of their religion is, "If it harms none, do what you will."  This is a passive morality. It doesn't so much tell us what to do, as what to avoid. Not causing others harm is good. But it's not good enough.

Our Christian morality goes farther than forbidding us from harming our neighbor; it commands us to love our neighbor. Love is more than just not causing harm. Love means working for their good. This is an active morality, one that calls us to go forth and do something

True love is not contingent upon anything else. True love is generous. True love is unconditional. This is what Christ is calling us to -- true and perfect love. "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect," is what Christ commands. And how does the Father love us? He loves us so completely that even when we were His enemies, lost in our sin, He sent His only begotten Son to die for us; to be punished and persecuted for our sake, and to bless those who persecuted Him as He was being nailed to the cross. That is our new standard of love. 

So when someone strikes a Christian, we forgive them. When someone persecutes a Christian, we bless them. When someone hates a Christian, we love them. Anything less is a sin. 

Now I ask you again: Are Christians wimps?

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Love Behind the Law

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

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Have you ever wondered why we don't observe many of the laws given in the Old Testament, such as those prohibiting eating shellfish, or wearing clothing of mixed fibers?  But we continue to observe other Old Testament laws when it comes to things like sexual morality, murder, theft, or bearing false witness. Does this make Christians guilty of hypocrisy?

In the gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill" (Mt 5:17). What does it mean to say Jesus "fulfills" the law?

I think a clue can be found in this Sunday's second reading, from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Elsewhere St. Paul is very adamant about the fact that the law of Moses was not sufficient to save us. He makes this point very strongly in his letters to the Galatians and to the Romans, for example. If simply obeying the many laws laid out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy were enough to justify us before God, Paul argues, then there would be no need for Christ. There would have been no need for the Incarnation, or Jesus' passion and crucifixion. Paul points to himself as a counter-example. He was the most zealous of all the Pharisees, observing the Mosaic Law as much as is humanly possible. But it wasn't enough. What the law does, according to Paul, is to demonstrate just how sinful man is. We all come up short by the measure of God's law.

But here in St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he says something curious -- not about the old law, but about the new gospel of Christ. He says, "We speak a wisdom to those who are mature" (1 Cor 2:6).

As children growing up, most of us had household rules we were expected to follow. Perhaps you had a limit on how much television you could watch, or how long you could spend playing video games. Perhaps you had a curfew. Maybe there were rules about sharing with your siblings or how you were to address your parents in a respectful manner. Often parents with well behaved children will only have a few general household rules to follow, while parents of more unruly children will need to put in place many more restrictive rules. But in either case there comes a time when the child grows up and leaves the home. The old rules of the parents no longer apply. It is hoped that you will have learned to behave well not because of the rules, but out of a desire to be a good person.

As mature adults, we don't need Mom and Dad's rules any longer, because we understand the principles that the rules were designed to teach us. Mom and Dad may have had a rule against playing with the stove. All we knew as small children was that we would get in trouble if we played with the stove, but as older children we learned that the stove could be hot and if we touched it we could hurt ourselves. Mom and Dad didn't make the rule in order to take away the joy of playing with the stove. They made the rule to protect us from being hurt. They made the rule because they loved us.

The commands of God are there for the same reasons -- to teach us God's wisdom, to form us in virtue, and to protect us from harm. They are there because God loves us. In this Sunday's gospel, Jesus shows us the love behind the law.

Old Testament restrictions that were purely disciplinary -- things like dietary regulations and wearing clothing of mixed fibers -- are no longer in effect, just like your curfew is no longer in effect when you grow up and leave home. Those disciplines have served their purpose. But other aspects of the law, those dealing with human nature and how we are to love God and our neighbor, remain. In fact, Jesus sets an even higher standard.

The law says not to murder. Jesus says we are not to hate.

The law says not to commit adultery. Jesus says we are not to lust.

The law says not to break a solemn oath. Jesus says to speak the truth at all times.

The higher standard set by Jesus is the standard of love. It's relatively easy to follow the letter of the Ten Commandments. But just because you avoid murdering, lying, cheating on your spouse, disrespecting your parents, and worshiping false Gods, this does not make you a paragon of virtue. It means you are not a complete jerk. Congratulations.

Jesus wants you to do more than obey the letter of the law. He is calling you to something higher than mere obedience. He is calling you to virtue. He is calling you to live the love behind the law. He is calling you to perfection.

This is hard, and we can't do it on our own. But here is the good news -- we don't have to. Jesus came to fulfill the law, and it is through and with Jesus that we can live according to the law of love We have the one who made the law as our Teacher. We have His Holy Spirit as our Advocate. We have the grace of God as the wind in our sails, driving us forward in the moral life.

But we also have a job to do.  Jesus is not letting us off the hook by fulfilling the old law. He's holding us to a higher standard. As our first reading says, we have a choice to make (Sir 15:17). Before us is life and death, good and evil. Let us choose virtue. Let us choose the path of Christ. Let us choose the love behind the law.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Light of the World

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

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The days are starting to grow longer and as the amount of daylight increases, so too light has been a major theme of our liturgies. Two weeks ago the Sunday reading proclaimed Christ as the great light shining on a people in darkness. This past week we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also called Candlemas. The gospel for that feast reveals Christ as a "light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel" (Lk 2:32). On this day candles are blessed as a sign of the light of Christ come into the world.

In this Sunday's readings, the theme of light is put before us again and again. The first reading from Isaiah speaks of God's people shining like a light in the darkness when they follow God's commands to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. The psalm response says that "a just man is a light in darkness to the upright." In both of these Old Testament readings, light is tied to righteousness, upright moral living, and love of neighbor.

In the Alleluia verse before the gospel we hear Jesus identify Himself as the light. "I am the light of the world... whoever follows me will have the light of life" (Jn 8:12). Christ promises to share His light with those who follow Him, and in the gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples, "You are the light of the world," and admonishes them not to hide their light but to let it "shine before others" to the glory of God.

Christ is the light. Those who follow Christ share in His light, and by doing good deeds, living uprightly, and loving our neighbor, we share that light with others. Light symbolizes that which can be shared without loss. If I share half of my sandwich with you, that leaves me with only half a sandwich. But if I share the light of my candle by lighting the candle of another, the light from my candle is not lessened. Indeed, it has now increased, with two candles shining where before there was only one. So it is with our faith.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about light allowing us to see clearly. Darkness causes us to stumble around, not able to see where we are going. Light allows us to find our way. But light does something else for us. Light gives us focus.

My family keeps a small flock of sheep, who spend the night in a pen (called a "sheepfold," which is a term we sometimes come across in the gospels). My morning routine involves letting the sheep out to pasture. Often in the winter it is still dark when I do this, so I take a flashlight with me. I can see well enough to walk out to the pasture gate without the light, but I use the flashlight to see while I unlatch the chain holding the gate shut.

When I was doing this recently, I noticed something. The flashlight was shining on the gate, so I could see that very clearly. But at the same time everything else got darker. Of course the world did not actually become darker when I turned on my flashlight. But as I looked at where the light was shining, my eyes adjusted to the higher light levels, making everything outside of that beam of light disappear into blackness.

The light from my flashlight lit up what I needed to see, but made everything else vanish. The light gave me focus.

The light of Christ should also give our lives this kind of focus. It should highlight that which is truly important, and obscure the many distractions of this world that pull us away from the path we are to follow.

St. Paul speaks of this focus in our second reading. He tells the Corinthians, "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2).  The light of Christ was shining in Paul. It gave him focus, allowing him to see nothing else. Paul preached one thing and one thing only to the Corinthians, and that was Jesus. He did not come to entertain them, to share in their gossip, to engage in debate about the fashions, philosophies or politics of the day. He came to share the light of Christ.

It is not that other things cannot be good or important. But the cares of the world look different in light of Jesus. In the light of Christ and what He has done for us -- sacrificing Himself for our sins, freeing us from death, restoring us to union with the Father -- the concerns of this world fade away. This is not say that we have no concern for the world, but rather that our primary concern is Jesus Christ and our concern for the world should be the concern of Christ.

When we stand in the presence of Christ's light, all we see is Him. Everything else is viewed in that light. When we look upon those who are hungry, we see Christ, and so we feed them. When we look upon the homeless, we see Christ, and so we shelter them. When we look upon the naked, we see Christ, and so we clothe them. When we look upon the stranger, we see Christ, and so we welcome them. When we look upon our neighbor, we see Christ, and so we love them.

We are not worried about trying to save the world, because the world already has a Savior. Instead, we love the world He has come to save. It is a world that contains suffering, yes. But it is a world made beautiful by His light.

So I implore you all today to let the light of Christ shine through you, in you, and before you. Orient your life by this light. Use it to navigate through the world. Allow it to illuminate your path. Let Christ's light do what it was meant to do. Let it give you focus. And let it shine out from you like a beacon, glorifying God by your works of love.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Throats & Candles

There are many good things about being Catholic (that whole forgiveness of sins, salvation and eternal beatitude thing is pretty awesome). But among the great things about our faith are all the interesting traditions. In early February, we have some particularly interesting traditions regarding candles and throats.

CANDLEMAS

February 2 is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as "Candlemas." It is traditional to bless candles on this day.

This day marks the presentation of Jesus in the Temple forty days after His birth, and in some places is considered the official end of the Christmas season. According to Jewish Law, a woman could not approach the Temple for forty days after giving birth to a male child, after which time she must offer sacrifice in Jerusalem (Lev 12:1-8). Mary fulfills this law, offering "the sacrifice of the poor," two turtledoves or pigeons. 

While at the Temple, the Holy Family encounter Simeon, who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he wouldn't die before he had seen the Christ. When Simeon sees the baby Jesus, he cries out, "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" (Lk 2:29-32). 

Pope St. John Paul II called Simeon's words to Mary "a second Annunciation" (Redemptoris Mater, n16). The reference to Christ as the light to the Gentiles is perhaps why this day has become associated with candles -- the primary way of bringing light to darkness in the pre-modern world. The liturgy for this day includes rites for a procession and blessing of candles. For this reason, the feast became known popularly as "Candlemas" - the Mass of Candles.

ST. BLAISE & THE BLESSING OF THROATS

The day after Candlemas, February 3, is the feast of St. Blaise, bishop & martyr. St. Blaise was bishop of Sebaste in Armenia and was martyred during the reign of the emperor Licinius (r. 308-325 AD). He was also a physician and known as a healer of both men and animals. He is associated especially with ailments of the throat.

The association of St. Blaise with throat problems comes from an account of his healing of a young boy. When St. Blaise was imprisoned for his faith, he is said to have healed many of his fellow prisoners. One in particular was a young boy who was choking on a fish bone. St. Blaise prayed over the boy's throat and he was able to cough up the bone. Because of this, it is traditional to bless throats on his feast day.

Coming as it does immediately after Candlemas, the tradition further developed to bless throats using two crossed candles which had been blessed the day before. In the Catholic Church, we don't just bless things -- we bless things with blessed things!

 
At St. Mary's, Father Voitus will bless candles at the 9:00am Mass on Thursday, Feb. 2. If anyone has candles for personal use they wish to have blessed, they are welcome to bring them (you can also drop them off at the church any time beforehand, if you are unable to be at Mass, and pick up your blessed candles later). 

Father will also be blessing throats after the 9:00am Mass on Friday, Feb. 3, as well as after all Masses on Sunday, Feb. 5, including our Mass on campus.

Friday, January 27, 2017

To Be Blessed

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

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What does it mean to be blessed? When you count your blessings, you probably think of the good things you have in life: food, shelter, health, friends, family, and so forth. This makes sense. A blessing is something conducive to happiness or well-being. In a religious sense, a blessing is a bestowing of God's favor or protection. Either way, to be blessed is to be happy.

So I imagine Jesus challenges our perception of what it means to be blessed in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:1-12). Jesus tells us that we are blessed when we are poor and meek, when we mourn, when we are insulted and persecuted. These are generally not things we think of as contributing to happiness.

Jesus does have a way of turning things on their head. But what exactly is going on here? Are we to believe that what really will make us happy is mourning, poverty and persecution? Things that generally make us feel pretty miserable when they are happening? Does Jesus expect us to believe this?

Yes. He does.

But like most things with Christ, there is more to it than what we see at first glance. Consider the phrase "poor in spirit." What Jesus has in mind here is not mere material poverty. What does poverty of spirit mean, and why is it a good thing? In part, it means recognizing that we are all materially poor. Sure, some of us have more goods at our disposal than others. But none of us really "owns" anything. Not really. The richest and the poorest among us all end up in the same hole in the ground. Consider these famous words from Job: "Naked I came forth from my mother's womb and naked I shall return" (Job 1:21). You can't take it with you when you go.

Part of Christian discipleship has always involved a detachment from material goods. St. Paul even says that "the love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Tim 6:10). Note Paul does not say money is the root of all evil, but rather the love of it. Neither Paul nor Jesus have any problem with wealth per se, only placing too much importance on it. This is why Paul could write in Phillipians 4:12 that he knows how to be rich and how to be poor and to be content in all circumstances. For Paul, it didn't matter whether he was rich or poor in material wealth because he knew that the only thing of true and lasting value was his relationship with God. His happiness depended entirely on Christ. Paul was poor in spirit.

Consider the phrase "blessed are the meek." To be meek is to be small. It is to be humble. Part of Christian discipleship also involves cultivating the virtue of humility. The remnant of Israel mentioned in the first reading is said to be "a people humble and lowly" (Zep 3:12). Humility is the opposite of pride, the most dangerous of all sins. Pride is said to be the sin that caused Satan's fall. Pride is the most deadly sin because pride prevents a person from admitting they are wrong. Pride prevents a person from seeking help. Pride precedes a fall because pride precludes repentance.

It is easy for man to be proud. We stand at the pinnacle of material creation. We are higher than all the other animals, masters over the earth. The scriptures even say that God made us just a "little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor" (Ps 5:8). Impressive. But so what?

So what if we are higher than the animals? What does it mean to be better than a guinea pig or a kangaroo? Even the highest being in all creation is still a created being, small in comparison to the Almighty God. To be meek and humble is to realize that. It is to recognize your place in reality.

But the question remains: how does recognizing that we are poor and meek compared to God make us blessed? How does it contribute to our happiness?

Imagine two people who have cancer. The first recognizes some symptoms and goes to the doctor for an examination. His cancer is diagnosed. He begins treatment and is cured. The second person never admits to feeling ill. He refuses to see a doctor. His cancer is never diagnosed, and never treated. He is dead within a year.  Two people. Both with cancer. Only one of which we might describe as "blessed" -- the one who recognized that he was ill, and sought out a physician.

We are all "ill" in spirit compared to God's standard of perfection. Only the meek and humble will recognize that. Only the meek and humble will seek out the Divine Physician.

In our second reading, St. Paul points out how most of the first Christians were not "wise by human standards." They were not powerful, or of noble birth. They were weak and lowly. But in Christ they became wise. They found righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor 1:26-31). They found blessedness.

Meekness and spiritual poverty are but two of the marks of beatitude Christ mentions. Jesus also calls us to hunger for righteousness, to show mercy, and to keep a clean heart. If we do these things, then Jesus promises us great reward in heaven. Unlike the fleeting happiness we may enjoy in this world, our heavenly joy will be forever. There will be no more mourning, no more hunger, no more war or persecution. We will rejoice and be glad forever.

This is the blessing God wishes to bestow upon us, and the only blessing worth pursuing. It is not a blessing that fades with time or that the world might take away. He offers us eternal Beatitude.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Shining the Light

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

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Yesterday I had to traveled Hickory for a meeting at the Catholic Conference Center. I had to be on the road early, so it was still dark when I went to put some packages in my mailbox. The sun had not come up yet, and there was heavy cloud cover, blocking out what little light the moon would have given. My front yard was nearly pitch black. As I cautiously walked forward, I could see the outline of a tree in front of me. Assuming it to be the tree that stands at the base of the steps leading up to our mailbox, I stepped up. I stumbled, however, discovering the ground was flat. This was not the tree by our mailbox. It was a different tree growing in the middle of our yard. I wasn't anywhere near where I thought I was. The near perfect darkness had left me disoriented even in a place as familiar as my front yard.

Later that same day I found myself again disoriented by darkness. It was after sunset as I left the Catholic Conference Center to come home. It is a drive I have made hundreds of times before, but I soon found myself in unfamiliar territory. I had missed my turn. It is a mistake I never would have made in the daylight, but which was all too easy to make at night on those poorly-lit rural roads.

Darkness is oppressive. It prevents us from seeing the world around us. It limits our knowledge of reality. It makes it much harder for us to know where we are supposed to go, and how we are to get there. In our scripture readings this week, the people of Israel are described as "a people who walked in darkness" (Is 9:1). Isaiah is not talking about literal darkness. The sun still rose over Israel. He is talking about a spiritual darkness. Before the coming of Christ, we had a very limited knowledge of God and therefore of reality. We didn't know where we were supposed to go, and we certainly didn't know how to get there.

Christ is often spoken about in terms of light. We speak of Him as the New Dawn. We speak of Him as the Day Star. When we light the Paschal candle at Easter, we proclaim "the light of Christ" that has risen in the world.

Like light, Jesus Christ is revelatory. He reveals God to us. By His light, we have a clearer picture of reality, and our place in it. We can see our sins more clearly (which is not always pleasant, but necessary for spiritual healing). But more importantly, we can see by His light the path we are to take for forgiveness of those sins. Jesus calls Himself the "Way" because by His light we see the way to God.

The nature of light is that it wants to spread out. Light does not want to be contained. When we turn on a lamp, it does not just light up one corner of a room, but the whole room. The sun does not just shine over one town or city, but over the whole world. Even light from distant stars and galaxies streams toward us from millions of light years away.

So, too, the light of Christ wants to be spread. During the Easter Vigil, the pinnacle of the Church's liturgical celebration, we light first the Pascal candle and then each Christian believer lights his or her own small candle from that single flame. The Exultet chant then proclaims the praises of the Pascal candle as being "a fire into many flames divided,yet never dimmed by sharing of its light." This is a beautiful and fitting symbol for the light of Christ, which is never diminished by being spread.

Many today still live in spiritual darkness. The light of Christ wants to be spread, and the way it is spread is through you and me. In our gospel reading after we hear Christ proclaimed as the light that shines on the people in darkness, the very next thing we read is Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow Him and be witnesses to His light. This is how the light is spread, by the witness of Christ's followers.

We mustn't think that the duty to spread the faith falls only on ordained ministers in the Church, or to monks and nuns (or campus ministers). The task of evangelization belongs to all the faithful, and in a special way to the laity, who live and work in the world. The Second Vatican Council points out that for lay people evangelization "acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world" (Lumen Gentium 35).

This is especially true on our college campuses. The best evangelizers on campus are college students. Christian students are in classes, in the dorms, studying, working, living and playing with other college students. It is here that natural relationships are formed. It is here that the witness of a student living a Christian life will be seen and felt. It is here that students will have opportunities to speak about the importance of their faith with their friends, who will be open to receiving that word because they are friends. A priest, a nun, a campus minister cannot do that. Only you can.

Let the light of Christ shine in your life, in your words, and in your witness. Let it burn in you brightly, illuminating the path before you. Follow that path toward holiness, toward peace, and toward God. And lead others down that path by Christ's light shining through you.