3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. On those
who inhabit a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen. Mt. 4:16
How often do we reflect on the fact that light is, like food and water, vital for human life? Indeed without light, the light of the sun, there would be no food and no life on this planet. Light is indeed truly vital, vital for life itself. In this context, we can begin to see the deep meaning of the words of Jesus in Chapter 12 of John’s Gospel: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” This light is not only the light of the mind which enables man to walk righteously in this world, but this light is truly the source of man’s very life in all its mystery.
In today’s Gospel we see Jesus at the beginning his public mission preaching the Gospel in the land of Galilee. Having heard that John was arrested, it was like a signal that His preaching to the Jews must now begin in the land of the Gentiles. This passage from St. Matthew tells us that Jesus now left his home in Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, a little village near the territory of Zebulon and Napthali, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah that the people of this territory, who lived in darkness, that is, in a land overshadowed by death would see a great light arise in their midst. The Gospel proclaims that Jesus is this great light, the light of the world, arisen to conquer the darkness and to overcome the power of death that is the heart of the great darkness in our world.
But what precisely does it mean to say that Jesus is the light of the world, that great light that arose over Zebulon and Napthali before enlightening the whole world? Our experience teaches us how vital light is for our life, even in the purely physical sense. Without physical light we cannot see our way in the world. Light reveals to us the world around us and enables us to act and live without fear. Darkness is a cause of fear and hesitancy to move; light is the great liberator, freeing us from fear and enabling us, in itself, to live in freedom. So already on the purely physical level of out life, light is vital for our well being and development.
Understanding the essential role of light for our life in the physical world, enables us to understand the greater depth of meaning involved in accepting Jesus as the transcendent light that has come into our world. Obviously, Jesus is speaking about Himself as a different kind of light, a light that enables man to live in the world as a creature with a spiritual nature and destiny beyond his physical existence. The light of Jesus is obviously not to be understood as a physical light that illuminates the external world in a physical way. This light is greater interior illumination of the soul of man that enables man to see himself and the world in a much deeper and spiritual way, the way God sees and values his creation. This light is the light of truth.
In St. John’s Gospel, the light of Christ receives it’s clearest definition from the lips of our Savior Himself. He is the light of the world because he is the truth that governs all of creation. The light of Christ is above all the truth which enlightens the soul of man, and even more powerfully the soul of the believer. For His light enables the believer to share in the very truth that is God, that is, the very truth of our being, which originates in God.
So as Vatican II (GS 22) teaches, the light of Christ alone fully reveals the truth about man and the truth about creation as a whole. Indeed, it is this divine light that above all reveals to us the glory of God, shining on the face of Jesus but also discovered in the dignity of every person created in God’s image and likeness. This light of Christ, in Christ, enables us to see for the first time the inestimable value of every human person in the mind of God. For those who receive this light, every person comes to have an incomparable value and dignity, and thus is the subject of inalienable rights proportionate to that great dignity, the first of these rights being the right to life itself.
This is the reason that light and life are so closely connected in the Gospel and in the Christian religion. Man’s very life depends upon his possessing this light, this truth about human dignity, not only his own personal dignity, but the dignity of every other human person. Where this truth, this light is lost, man inevitably plunges into darkness, and lives once again in a land overshadowed by death.
Our age, tragically, has witnessed the gradual loss of this light in our world as men reject the truth of Christ, and the result has been a century of darkness and death, of wars and destruction of incredible magnitudes, and the slaughter millions. This “overshadowing by death” mentioned by continues today as we see the culture of death take hold, not only in the atrocities of ethnic wars, or in the crime in the murder statistics of our cities, but above all in the massive killing of the unborn and increasingly in the deliberate taking of life among the elderly and the terminally and seriously ill. Today we are once again a people who, in spite of our great advances in certain areas of life, like technology, continue to be overshadowed by an awful culture of death, and we have thus become a people that walks in darkness, and thus lives with an ever greater fear of the future.
Nonetheless, it is also part of our faith that we firmly believe that the light cannot be totally extinguished by any such darkness, for Christ truly continues to live forever in our midst. His truth, His light, is always available to resurrect a civilization from death and darkness and to create a civilization rooted in love and life. His light is always rising in our midst and enlightening, as it did first in the land of the Gentiles, heathen Galilee, a people who are of good will. That and that alone is our hope.
Thinking about light and life, the 41st March for Life just took place in the freezing cold of our nation’s capitol. As usual this witness to the value of life received little or no attention from the people who live in the darkness of this increasingly godless culture. The media virtually ignored it, and so the masses heard nothing about it. But it is wonderful, nonetheless, that for a couple of hours this light shone on the streets of Washington on the faces of those who marched in defense of life for the most vulnerable of Christ’s brother and sisters. They were assuring that the light of life would not be totally “overcome,” as John says in his prologue to the 4th Gospel, by the darkness of our politics and culture of death.
Thus this apparently futile effort by these supporters of life and light provides in its own way a very valuable witness to the light, to the truth men need to live as men, the truth that all human beings are of inestimable value in the view of their creator, even if not in the view of their fellow man. It is a truth that must be witnessed to and acted upon if our land is to emerge from the shadows of death and destruction that threaten every person’s life and dignity in our day. It is a truth as vital for life as food and water, and our society must be continually confronted with this truth until it reforms it’s ways, and chooses life not death as the basis of it’s culture and political order. God bless those marchers for life.