REMINDER: We are back on our regular schedule this Sunday with Mass at 7:30pm.
FIFTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (A)
Jesus tells us in today's gospel reading from Matthew 5:13-16 that we Christians are the light of the world. He also tells us that our light should not be put under a bushel basket, but placed high on a lampstand. "Your light must shine before others," our Lord says, "that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father."
There are two questions prompted by this. What is the source of our light? And how do we make sure we are not hiding it under a basket?
St. Paul gives us the answer to the first question. The source of our light is Jesus Christ. In our second reading today, from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, St. Paul says, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." When Paul was letting his light shine among the Corinthians, he acknowledges that the light, and the good that it brought to the people there, was not from himself. For himself, he writes, "I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom.."
How many of us can identify with that feeling? How many of us are hesitant to talk to others about our faith because we feel unequipped to spread the gospel? We don't feel like we have "persuasive words of wisdom" and so we don't try to evangelize at all. St. Paul tells us today not to let that be an excuse. When you realize that the light shining within you is not your light, but the light of Christ, then you know that it is not you who evangelizes but God who evangelizes through you. St. Paul tells the Corinthians this so that they may know the message was not from him but from the Spirit; "so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God."
I heard a speaker once giving a presentation about Mary, the Mother of God. He described Mary as shining with a light like the moon. The moon shines brightly but does not generate any light on its own. The moon shines brightly because it reflects the light of the sun. And so Mary shines brightly, not with her own light, but by reflecting the light of her divine Son. When Christ today tells us that we are the "light of the world" this is what He means. The light He wants us to let shine before others is His light. He is the Sun; we are called to be little moons, like Mary, reflecting His light and His glory.
So what about the second question? How do we avoid hiding our light under a bushel basket? How do we make sure we put our light high on a lampstand for others to see? Our first reading today gives us the answer. From Isaiah 58:7-10: "Thus says the Lord: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn..."
This is how we make sure our light is shining, casting forth into the world and dispelling the darkness. We must perform good deeds. And by performing good and loving deeds, we become good and loving people. Our psalm response today tells us, "The just man is a light in darkness to the upright" (Ps 112:4a).
Do we become just simply by performing good deeds? If we share our bread with the hungry, if we clothe the naked and shelter the homeless, is that enough to make us good people? Does that alone please God and glorify Him?
The answer is no. Not that alone. We must perform good deeds. We must be charitable. We must be just. But we can never forget that the light shining forth from us through these actions is not our own. It is the light of Christ. "The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God" (CCC 2011). Our union with Christ is the only thing that gives our actions meaning and value.
We may well ask, if we give bread to the starving man, what does he care if we are motivated by Christian charity or some other motive? He is being fed either way. And that is correct. He may not, in fact, know our motive. He only knows his belly is full. But we must ask ourselves if our goal is to please others or to please God? We may spend our lives feeding the hungry without Christ, and they will be fed. But at the end of our life our deeds will merit us nothing. We may find ourselves standing before God our Judge listing out all the good things we have done and discovering that there is nothing at all in our power that can earn God's favor.
Or, we can be like St. Theresa of Lisieux, who wrote that she did not want to work to attempt to build up merits before God. "I want to work for your love alone," she wrote in her diary. "In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself."
St. Theresa understood that the only way to let her light shine was to become a mirror of Christ's light. Her good deeds and just works then became not her own works, but the loving works of Christ. In this way the smallest act on her part would become an act of God's love in the world. In this way our smallest acts of charity have infinite value in eternity.
Let your light shine, Christ implores us. Let them see your good deeds, that they may glorify your heavenly Father. Pray with me today that, like St. Paul, St. Therese, and all the saints, you may reflect the light of Christ perfectly in your own life, so that His light may shine ever brighter upon the world through your good deeds, performed in God's grace.