“The Lord is my light and my salvation.” When St. John Paul II proposed adding “mysteries of light” to the established pattern of Rosary meditations, he described one of the new mysteries, the third, as “the proclamation of the Gospel and the call to conversion.” Calling this proclamation and call a “mystery of light” implies that to proclaim the Gospel is itself a way of spreading the light of Christ, and that to call to conversion is to call people out of darkness and into light. These are among the central themes of today’s readings.
Last Sunday, we reflected on Isaiah’s famous prophecy in which the Lord spoke this message to his Servant, the Messiah to come: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Is 49:6). In today’s gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry, proclaiming the Gospel and calling people to conversion. It is the work of being a “light to the nations.” Jesus has indeed come to bring salvation to the ends of the earth – but where should he start? He starts where there is darkness, in Galilee.
Galilee was the territory allotted to two of the twelve tribes of Israel, that of Jacob’s sons Zebulun and Naphtali. Over the years, the people of the region had been overtaken by various pagan nations. Many of the Jews had been driven into exile, while many foreigners began to occupy the land. This is why Isaiah refers to the area as “the District of the Gentiles.” Matthew’s version of the same prophecy puts it even more harshly: “heathen Galilee.” Because the people were cut off from the God of Israel, the prophets considered them “a people living in darkness,” inhabiting “a land overshadowed by death.”
How are we like the people of Zebulun and Naphtali? By living in darkness. We all suffer periods of spiritual darkness, although in two quite contrasting ways. One kind of darkness is the result of ignorance and sin. It is a consequence of our turning away from the light. In fact, sin is darkness, because when we sin, we cut ourselves off from the very source of all light, God himself. Outside of God, there is nothing but darkness and misery. The other kind of darkness is not necessarily because of our sins; it is rather an experience that God allows us to suffer for our purification and growth. When this happens, we find ourselves in circumstances that make us feel that God is far off and we can see no trace of his presence. This is the experience of a spiritual “night.”
In either case, whether we are suffering because of our own sins or because we are being drawn further along the path of interior conversion, the words of the prophet Isaiah are being fulfilled in our lives today. “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” We are the people in darkness, and Jesus himself is the great light, the Light of the World! Whether we can sense his presence or not, he has come to us. He offers us the fullness of life through freedom from sin.
How can these glad tidings of freedom be applied to us? How can we be really free from the darkness of sin? By listening to and taking to heart the saving invitation of Jesus: “Reform your lives! The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The first disciples – Simon, Andrew, James and John – are inspiring examples of how to listen to the Lord’s words and respond promptly. When Jesus says to them, “Come after me,” they immediately abandon their nets and boats and companions – everything – and follow him. Their hearts are suddenly flooded with a heavenly light. Full of joy, they leap at the opportunity to draw close to God and to serve him as “fishers of men.”
To benefit fully from the salvation that Jesus offers us, we must not only respond today, but also persevere in the light. Conversion is a continuing journey, not a one-time event. The Corinthians to whom St. Paul addresses the words of today’s second reading were Christian disciples already. However, they had begun quarreling among themselves. Their community was severely divided, with each faction claiming superiority over the others based on which apostle they were following. Paul is horrified that they are dividing the Body of Christ and proclaiming the “wordy wisdom” of men rather than letting the light of Christ shine forth. When we give in to rivalries, envy or jealousy, we lose sight of Jesus and regress into darkness. This darkness is intolerable for anyone who longs to walk in the light. Paul urges us, “Let there be no factions; rather, be united in mind and judgment!” Do not let “the cross of Christ be rendered void of its meaning!”
To live in harmony and unity, it is essential that we make every effort to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ. Given that we are all sinners, the process of restoring broken unity begins within each of us, with sincere repentance and inner conversion. As we draw closer to God, the true and eternal Light, we see clearly our sins and ask for his mercy. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is especially valuable for our spiritual renewal. When Christ reigns in our hearts, he can extend his reign into our families and communities, shining his light on us all and drawing us all into the fullness of his life.
When do I find it difficult to know the presence of God? In what ways do I live in the darkness of sin? Do I persevere in the light of my continuous conversion?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 13, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.