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.

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