At the seminary we are encouraged to be involved in teaching catechism classes at local parishes, and one evening I was teaching about sin and the effects of confession. I was trying to be creative, and I was looking for a visual example for my lesson. A friend suggested using a bowl of water in which you put in a few drops of food colouring symbolizing sin, and then pour in some bleach to restore the water to clarity – symbolizing confession. It was a catastrophic failure: no matter how much bleach I poured in the water only turned progressively lighter shades of pink. Not exactly the message I was trying to get across about how our souls are totally purified in confession. The good news is that I think this failure can in fact help us understand today’s Gospel.
Light of the world – Jesus is telling us we need to be a light to the world. This is a powerful message that is as often ignored as it is misunderstood. There are two aspects to this image: The first that this is a light received. The lamp of our soul is ignited by Christ, ignited by the faith we receive and profess in baptism and nourished and sustained by the sacraments and by our life of prayer. Christ sheds light on every aspect of our lives: He shows us what it means to be human, He answers the deepest questions of human existence, He lays bare to our eyes our own weakness and selfishness that we so often hide from others and from ourselves.
The consequence of this light is that we are presented with a choice. As John Paul II said at WYD ’02: “This is an urgent call to choose between life and death, between truth and falsehood… [Christ] tells us who we are as Christians, and what we must do to remain in His love.” We must accept this light, and reject the darkness by which the world deceives so many,” JPII continues: “The greatest deception, and the deepest source of unhappiness, is the illusion of finding life by excluding God, of finding freedom by excluding moral truths and personal responsibility.” The light of Christ necessarily reveals to us our weak human nature and destroys our pride. But the real revelation given us by Christ is our great dignity and worth. Again quoting JPII: “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.” Christ’s light is not limited to showing us the sin tarnishing our soul. Most important, Christ shows us that we are abundantly loved by God. That we are precious to Him, and we are capable of and called to love God in response. This new way of looking at the world and at people, which comes to us from him, leads us more deeply into the mystery of faith, which is not just a collection of theoretical assertions to be accepted and approved by the mind, but an experience to be had, a truth to be lived.
The second aspect of this image is that this light is not meant only for us, to remain closed within our own lives. This light is meant to be given to others. The light we have received from Christ certainly transforms us, but we fall short if we keep it to ourselves. If we are satisfied looking after ourselves and our own relationship with Christ than a major aspect of the Christian vocation is missing. This light is to be shared, like the lamp on a lampstand, or a city on a hill, the light given us by Christ cannot be hidden but should be lifted high so that the world may see. What, concretely, is the world supposed to see in the Christian? Certainly they should see virtue and good deeds. Today’s Gospel passage follows on the heels of last weeks reading of the Beatitudes, the manifesto of the Christian. Jesus says in today’s Gospel that in seeing our good deeds the world should be brought to give glory to God. But this is no mere external activism of ‘doing good.’ If being seen to do good things were what it was all about than what would set Christians apart from social workers, nurses or political activists who try to make the world a better place? Essential to the witness of the Christian is his peace of heart, and his joy. The Christian faces life’s challenges with a smile, works hard to serve others, speaks out against injustice but always with kindness, and with love. Imagine the world we would live in today if every one who called Himself Christian lived this to the full, and let the light of Christ shine in his heart and in the world? The entire continent of Europe is drowning under a tide of secularism, atheism and self-centeredness because current and previous generations of Christians failed to witness to authentic Christian life. Our own society is no different, we Christians bear certain responsibility for the collapse of family life, the culture of death and the idolatry of pleasure and selfishness that is so widespread today. Perhaps we have not experienced the peace and joy of the light of Christ, or perhaps we have kept it to ourselves rather than face possible ridicule. All too often we have exchanged the light of Christ for the darkness of the world, being Christian in name only, in practice, we are no different from those who do not believe.
I told you at the beginning I found an application for my failed food colouring and bleach example. Imagine your soul as a bowl of pure, fresh water. We have let ourselves become tainted with the values of the world. Instead of rejecting outright the pursuit of money, pleasure and fame we have tried to keep both our Christian title and our attachment to the world. This attachment to the world is powerful enough to affect our whole being, like a drop of food colouring taints the whole bowl. Instead of a fresh bowl of clean water, we are trying to recover by doing goof deeds and dumping bleach to try and cover this over. The result? Our souls are neither filled with the light of Christ, nor completely given over to the world. We’re in between, in a kind of light pink state. No body wants to be pink. Be courageous. We need to throw it all out and renew again our commitment to Christ.
Fr. Bryan Duggan is currently Assistant Pastor at St. Mary’s Parish Chilliwack, B.C. This post was written when he was still a Deacon.