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February 24, 2017

LIGHT CAN ONLY SHINE

In the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis said: “Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others. As it expands, goodness takes root and develops”. The point to note here is that goodness is something that one could not keep to oneself without sharing with others. Any sort of goodness that can be concealed in a person cannot be authentic and is not founded on Christ. The goodness of Christ is so overwhelming and unplumbed that no one could ever contain it.

Today, Jesus employs the allegory of light to challenge us on the value of goodness, empathy and generosity. In the First Reading, Isaiah extols the virtue of helping the poor and being fair and considerate in our dealings with one another. Christians are expected to do the corporal works of mercy as described by Isaiah. We are called to be generous towards the needy and not be indifferent to their plight. The cardinal virtue of Justice demands rendering to others what is due to them. However, it is not only about material resources but also concerns treating such people with dignity. This dignity is not only owed to the needy, but to everyone. Everyone should be taken into consideration and respected, whether rich or poor, attractive or loathsome. The concern for justice has an incredible healing power in our own lives as well. Isaiah connects the light with “vindication”, which means being absolved from blame. He also connects it with our own healing. Acting justly brings us out of the darkness of indifference and sin that often afflicts this world; it doesn’t just bring us into the light, but transforms us into a source of light.

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The Second Reading is a reminder that our earthy achievements are not due to human effort but rather flows from the light of divine inspiration and power. God is the artificer of all light and goodness! St Paul does not take glory for the fruits of his work in Corinth because he clearly understands that his vocation, just like ours, is to make the power of God shine through. It’s all God’s work and, as the Psalmist says, “If the Lord does not build a house, in vain do its builders toil. If the Lord does not guard a city, in vain does its guard keep watch” (Ps. 127:1). Proclaiming the Christian mystery is a huge task, which is why we need the Holy Spirit to manifest the power of God in the world. In sharing the Good News, we should not be troubled about our worthiness, but being the Lord’s instrument for bringing light to the lives of others.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus is clear that it is not enough to have this light, or to use it for ourselves. Rather, we must let the light so permeate our very existence that it shines through to others as well. Christianity is not just about glowing; it is meant to shine, to dispel the darkness of evil, and to light up the whole world. Yet, just as not every lighting is the same, the light of Christians illumines the way back to the very source of light: to Christ. When the life of a disciple shines, people don’t just praise him/her; they praise God who made him/her shine. This is the core of the Lord’s message today, to let our good works tell those around us of the goodness of God in us.

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Saint Teresa of Calcutta was inspired by the Lord to found the Missionaries of Charity and bring his light to the poor and ailing of Calcutta. She saw her calling as an invitation to be the light of Christ. On seeing the destitution and squalor of the poor in India, Teresa felt Jesus asking her to bring his light into the darkness of their situation.  As she once said, “Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.” Even though her spiritual diaries indicate that she experienced an intense spiritual darkness for much of her life, no one who knew her could see it in the way she treated others. She was always a shining beacon of joy, love, and peace.

Usually, when we think of poverty, our minds zoom in on the materially needy, but there are many other kinds of poverty in the world today needing attention. In the words of Saint Teresa, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” Thus, being a light in the world is not all about material needs, but something more profound. The true poverty against which we must struggle is the poverty of love. Again, as St Teresa puts it, “It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters”. When we truly love, our actions will start to reflect it. There is a saying that our actions are so loud that our voices could hardly be heard. The hunger for love and affirmation is all around us, even right in our own family circles. Therefore, we must let our light shine not only in what we do, but in how we do it.

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Further, the Lord reminds us in today’s Gospel that Christianity is meant to be a light on a hill or a lamp stand: it is meant to shed light on many things, even things not directly considered Christian, because ultimately the Gospel is a message of truth and goodness that contributes to every aspect of society, directly or indirectly. There are ethical and philosophical truths that any reasonable person can consider, even if they don’t believe any or some of the tenets of Christian faith, and those ethical and philosophical truths can open the door to their conversion. Instructing the ignorant is also a work of mercy. People are starved for love, but they’re also starved for truth. We can do a lot to help – just by letting our light shine!

May the Lord help us to embrace his light of true love, true goodness, and true knowledge so that we can share the same with others…Amen!

Readings: Isaiah 58:7-10; Psalms 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; First Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16

 


 

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