Sunday, Feb. 9, is the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Isaiah 58:7-10; Psalm 112:4-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that Christians are the light of the world.
But if Christians are the light of the world, and there are so many Christians, why is the world so dark?
The darkness of the world is obvious: The examples seem to get worse every day. There are crimes, wars and perversions, but we have always had those. What is worse is the growing rejection of even the notion that there is right and wrong. “The greatest sin today is that men have lost the sense of sin,” Pope Francis said recently, citing Pope Pius XII.
When even Christians lose their sense of sin, the world becomes very dark indeed. Pope Francis said that there is great suffering in the world today because of “our Christian mediocrity, when we lose the sense of sin.”
Why does our mediocrity make others suffer? Because we are the light of the world, and our failure means a mass blackout.
We tend to think of the world as a competing light. If we picked an image, we might make the world a city of powerful neon lights that we have to stand up to with our little votive candles. But that’s not what Jesus says. He says it is a place of darkness we are supposed to illuminate.
In other words, the world is in a state of utter weakness. There is no such thing as darkness. Darkness is the absence of light. Ultimately, our job is to provide light where there is none.
Christians not only can do that, we often do. We know from personal experience just how common this is. Meeting Christians who are surrendered to God is an unforgettable experience. They have a joy about them and a penetrating spirit that shows you things you would never see otherwise in a gentle, loving but totally honest way.
After Raissa Gorbachev met Pope John Paul II, she said, “He is light! He is pure light!”
As Catholic author and op-ed writer Ross Douthat put it, “The example of a single extraordinary woman, Mother Teresa, did more for Christian witness in the 20th century than every theology department and political action committee put together.”
But we can also think of examples that are closer to home. Priests and sisters we have known have recharged our faith by their witness. Families we have known have changed our families by their example. They do so by doing what Mother Teresa and John Paul did: They have a deep prayer life and a loving life of service. They shine the light of Christ.
We should all be like that — we are all meant to be lights to others. The trick is to remember that it is not our light, but Christ’s, that really shines out.
How do we let it shine? The answer is in today’s Gospel: Take away the “bushel basket.”
A bushel basket is something you collect grain in; it’s an instrument of work — it was used in the everyday lives of farmers, merchants and families in biblical times. Jesus is saying that we tend to hide our light under our work, under the activities of our everyday lives that we don’t allow to be touched by the Gospel. We hide our light when decide that we don’t have to be Christian right now because we need to be busy doing something else.
But that is not what we should do. We need to let the light of Christ shine through us.
We need to start our day with prayer and continue it with service. We must love God in our neighbors where we find our neighbors: at home, at school, at the office, at the store, at church and everywhere else we find ourselves.
Christians need to let their lights shine in every aspect of their lives — in their workplaces, in their social lives, in their family lives and in their marriages. Only when people see in us a little bit of what they saw in Mother Teresa and John Paul will they believe what we say about the Christian life.
Only when they see the light in us will the darkness start to dispel.
Tom and April Hoopes write from
Atchison, Kansas, where Tom is a
writer in residence at Benedictine College.