Sunday, Feb. 6, (Liturgical Year A, Cycle I) is the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Isaiah 58:7-10; Psalm 112:4-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
Today’s readings explain how to dispel the misery and dreariness of the darkest, drabbest days, which is perfect for February.
But they also explain how to dispel the spiritual darkness of suffering.
“If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted,” says the first reading, from Isaiah, “then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”
The rest of the reading refers to other works of mercy, such as visiting the sick and sheltering the homeless, which the Catechism (2447) sums up nicely. The works of mercy have a kind of reverse dynamic, compared to the empty promises of sin and superficiality: They sound like drudgery, but end up filling us with joy.
They are, therefore, an excellent way to pass a February day. As the Psalm puts it: “Light shines through the darkness for the upright.”
How great is that light? A harsh modern parable, the Cormac McCarthy novel The Road, paints a picture of the world in the greatest possible darkness. A nuclear or astronomical catastrophe has literally blocked out the sun, and the resulting lack of food and comfort has killed most human beings — emotionally if not physically. In this greatly diminished world, acts of kindness are the difference between hope and misery, humanity and animality.
The dialogue between the protagonists, a father and his young boy, is written without quotation marks:
We wouldn’t eat anybody. Would we?
No. Of course not.
Even if we were starving?
We’re starving now.
You said we weren’t.
I said we weren’t dying. I didn’t say we weren’t starving.
But we wouldn’t.
No. We wouldn’t.
No matter what.
No. No matter what.
Because we’re the good guys.
And we’re carrying the fire.
And we’re carrying the fire. Yes.
The words are an echo of today’s Gospel: “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
The key to the story — and to that light — is that we remain “the good guys.” So long as we act according to God’s will, we allow his light to shine through us.
The key to today’s Gospel is the first part: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
Etty Hillesum, a Jewish girl who died in the concentration camps in Nazi Germany, is a real-life example of a girl who kept her character in darkness — and found joy through virtue amid tragedy.
She wrote: “They can’t do anything to us; they really can’t. They can harass us, they can rob us of our material goods, of our freedom of movement, but we ourselves forfeit our greatest assets by our misguided compliance. By our feelings of being persecuted, humiliated, oppressed. By our own hatred. By our swagger, which hides our fear.
“We may of course be sad and depressed by what has been done to us; that is only human and understandable. However, our greatest injury is one we inflict upon ourselves. I find life beautiful, and I feel free. The sky within me is as wide as the one stretching above my head. I believe in God and I believe in man, and I say so without embarrassment. Life is hard, but that is no bad thing. If one starts by taking one’s own life seriously, the rest follows.”
By standing amid dire circumstances and keeping her faith, and acting on it, she was transformed into a light. The first beneficiary of that light was herself. Today, decades later, you and I are still able to benefit from it.
Are you worried about the future of America? Are you heartsick over something that has happened in your family? Are you just tired out by winter and dreading February?
No hardship is so great — not even the most dire — that you cannot reduce it to powerlessness.
Simply keep faith in prayer, and act on that faith in service.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas, where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.