I recall a lively debate at one of the interminable Manhattan cocktail parties in which I find myself from time to time. A person I had never met before insisted to me that not only was he a Buddhist, but also he was “enlightened.”
This is hogwash. The truth is, true enlightenment comes through baptism.
According to the Catechism of Catholic Church:
Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out: to baptize (Greek baptizein) means to "plunge" or "immerse"; the "plunge" into the water symbolizes the catechumen's burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as "a new creature." (6. 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Cf. Rom 6:34; Col 2:12) CCC §1214
[Baptism] is also called "the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit," for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one "can enter the kingdom of God." (Titus 3:5; Jn 3:5.) CCC §1215
In his Apologia, St. Justin Martyr wrote: "This bath is called enlightenment, because those who receive this [catechetical] instruction are enlightened in their understanding . ..." (St. Justin, Apol. 1,61,12:PG 6,421.) The CCC continues:
Having received in Baptism the Word [of God,] "the true light that enlightens every man," the person baptized has been "enlightened," he becomes a "son of light," indeed, he becomes "light" himself: (Jn 1:9; 1 Thes 5:5; Heb 10:32; Eph 5:8.) CCC §1216
Fourth century Doctor of the Church, St. Gregory of Nazianzus points out in his Oratio:
Baptism is God's most beautiful and magnificent gift. ...We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God's Lordship. (Oratio40,3-4:PG 36,361C.)
This use of the light metaphor is an important one for Christians and Jews. The word enlightened means to give intellectual or spiritual light; to instruct; impart knowledge or wisdom. Thus, Christ’s grace and the Gospel lets us escape our natural, unexplored benighted selves and be filled by He Who created the Universe. In the Psalms, we read: “Your law is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.” In other words, in His Light, we see light Itself. (Psalm 36:9)
In his Gospel, St. John says specifically that “God is Light, and whoever abides in God is in the Light just as God Himself is in the light.” (1 John 1:5) This imagery is a partial reference to Genesis:
In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water. Then God commanded, "Let there be light"—and light appeared. (Genesis 1:1-3)
And it is by God’s Word―the Logos, Christ Himself―that this Light was created. (John 1:3) The Evangelist uses the same imagery a bit further into the Gospel:
The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. (John 1:4-5)
Light plays an important role in Christ’s symbology and metaphor. Jesus not only describes Himself as the Light of the World. (John 8:12) He goes further speaking of the enlightenment that will overcome the Faithful who believe in Him:
Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
This is the second of seven “I AM” declarations in which Jesus uses powerful metaphors to describe His divinity. If for no other reason, we should take Him at His Word―please excuse the pun.
But Jesus also calls His followers, “light[s] of the world:
A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp only to put it under a bushel basket; they put it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. (Matthew 5:14-16)
St. Chromatius, fourth century bishop of Aquileia, Italy, explored the nature of light in the Gospels in one of his treatises:
The Lord called His disciples the salt of the earthbecause they seasoned with heavenly wisdom the hearts of men, rendered insipid by the devil. Now He calls them the light of the world as well, because they have been enlightened by Him, the True and Everlasting Light, and have themselves become a light in the darkness. (Tract. 5, 1, 3-44; CCL 9, 405-407)
Jesus is known as the Sun of Justice and, in fact, the Jesuits use the sun―our planet’s source of light―to symbolize God in their monogram (also called a Christogram.) And, as the Sun, Jesus fittingly calls His disciples the “light of the world” just as our sun in the middle of our star system shines on the planets and their moons. These bodies don’t produce light of their own―they merely reflect the light which shines on them―an apt analogy for the Believer for Christ pours out the light of the knowledge of Himself upon the entire world. And by manifesting the Light of Truth in our lives, we also dispel the darkness of error from the hearts of others as well as ourselves. (John 8:12)
In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells us the natural heart and mind of unenlightened pagans:
They do not believe, because their minds have been kept in the dark by the evil god of this world. He keeps them from seeing the light shining on them, the light that comes from the Good News about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)
St. Paul further reminds us that we are no longer “sons of the night and of darkness, but you are all sons of light and of the day.” (1 Thessalonians 5:5) Therefore, having been freed from the benighted darkness of error, St. Paul adjures us to always walk in the light as Children of Light. (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Using the same imagery again, Paul writes to the Corinthians:
The God Who said, "Out of darkness the light shall shine!" is the same God Who made His light shine in our hearts, to bring us the knowledge of God's glory shining in the face of Christ.
Thus, Christ speaks to us in the core of our being ad illuminatum―to the point of enlightenment.
St. Paul also reminds the Philippians that they should be morally and spiritually blameless and pure Children of God without fault amongst a warped and crooked generation. Being so, we will shine as great lights in the sky. (Philippians 2:15) Thus, our enlightenment will lead to the enlightenment of others. Otherwise, what use is enlightenment if we can only brag, gloat and tease like that confused guy at the Manhattan cocktail party. “Shining for others” is also important to prove we actually are enlightened by Christ. If we cannot shine for others, that’s a red flag showing we aren’t as enlightened as we might think we are. (John 3:2)
If we fail to live in the Light, explains St. Chromatius, we condemn ourselves and those around us, by “veiling over and obscuring by our infidelity the light men so desperately need.” And, if you recall the harrowing parable Christ told about the Three Servants, the two servants who took a chance and invested their master’s money gained the praise and thanks of their master―and a little something for their trouble. The third servant, who squirreled his portion away under a rock, wasn’t so lucky. (Matthew 25:14-30)
When we come across darkness, it’s our duty as Christians to shine Christ’s light on it to dispel it. It’s not easy. It’s messy and there will surely be a lot of hurt feelings all-around but our salvation depends upon it as does the salvation of those in error. We can choose to be like the faithful servants in the parable or the cowardly one―choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19) And, as St. Mother Teresa reminds us, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”