Light in the Darkness

The Truth and the Witness to the Truth

 Deacon Richard Haber  February 5, 2017

Good morning.  There is a wonderful theme running through our readings this morning which can be summed up in the phrase, “light in the darkness”. Light is one of God’s creations which defines the universe and defines us. The speed of light which has a defined value determines the laws of the universe. Light  is energy. Light transmits information about the very beginnings of the created universe in the Big Bang.  So light is an apt symbol for something more profound which our  readings are about today.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI granted an extensive interview to Peter Seewald which was published with the title , “Light of the World.” This interview is worth re-reading as we survey our world today. In his interview, Benedict discusses issues that seem more relevant than ever as daily we are bombarded with lies and contradictions.  Our world is now described as post-factual, or post-truth. Truth is whatever I say it is.  This is indeed darkness which is descending upon us.  Seewald says to Benedict,  “In his futuristic novel Brave New World, Huxley predicted in 1932 that falsification would be the decisive element of modernity. In a false reality with its false truth—or the absence of truth altogether—nothing in the final analysis is important any more….is that the relativism against which you were warning so urgently?” Benedict’s answer is instructive and relevant for us today, “..the concept of truth has become suspect….No one will dispute that one must be careful and cautious in claiming the truth. But simply to dismiss it as unattainable is really destructive….saying that man is not capable of truth (means) he would not be capable of ethical values. Then he would have no standards….  When brought before Pilate, Jesus professes that he himself is The Truth and the witness to the truth.  He does not defend the truth with legions but..through his Passion and thereby implements it.”(Light of the world, p50-51) As our psalmist says, “Light rises in the darkness for the upright; gracious, merciful and righteous.”

“Light rises in the darkness” . We have been enlightened through our baptism.  The fathers of the church referred to baptism as a ‘bath of enlightenment’. We have been shown the way to the truth. St. Justin in the second century wrote, “This bath is called enlightenment because those who receive this instruction are enlightened in their understanding.” To be enlightened in our understanding means that there is a truth accessible to us but which goes beyond our reason.  It is the truth which Jesus brought into the world for He is the light that shines in the darkness.  “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” (Nicene Creed) Isaiah in our First Reading spells out in detail what it means to be enlightened.  “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them…If your remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil…then your light shall rise in the darkness.” (First Reading).  

Recent events here in Quebec have shown us the results of “the pointing of the finger”. Creating an environment of disrespect for those among us who have a different religion or culture can lead to the violence we recently witnessed in Quebec city.  Disrespect and hatred of others is never a sign of our enlightenment through baptism.  We all have a role to play here. Although we may not share someone else’s beliefs, there is a bond that is more profound which binds us. We are all made in the image and likeness of God. No single religion, agnosticism  or  atheism  can ever capture the reality of God and God’s will that all are saved through Jesus.

I am reminded of a story that you are all familiar with. The story is recorded in the sayings of a Persian wise man named Rumi who lived in the 13th century.  An elephant approached a village where no one had ever seen an elephant before.  Three villagers are sent out in the darkness to examine the animal.  The three come back each with a different description because each had touched only one part of the elephant. One had touched the trunk, one a leg and one the ear. Each is misled into thinking that the part they touched was the whole animal.  There were many factions that developed in the village as each man had devoted followers of his description of the elephant. The wise man commented, “What all three of them said was true, but not one grasped THE truth. If the light of even one small candle had been shed on the elephant, they would have been able to see.”

 It is good to recall the words of the Vatican 2 document on the church, Lumen Gentium in this regard: “..Those who have not yet received the gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.. The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place among these there are the Moslems, who professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.  Nor is God Himself far distant from those who in shadows and images see the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and every other gift and who as Savior wills that all people be saved.” (LG,16)

It is true that we are called to evangelize, to bring the good news of Jesus to all.  This cannot be done through defensive arguments about our beliefs but through our everyday actions and responses to others. Pope Francis is continually showing us how to do this in his many homilies and gestures; he embraces the other lovingly without judgment. “Who am I to judge?” he says.  Like Paul in our second reading today, we must come “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” not proclaiming the “mystery of God in lofty words or wisdom” but by proclaiming “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The cross is the ultimate symbol of God’s never-ending love for all humanity.  We preach Jesus crucified to show others that God’s truth is not brought about through power and domination but through humility.  This is Jesus’ answer to Pirate’s question, what is the truth?’ Jesus challenges us this morning, “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before human beings, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” I will conclude with a little story.

“Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Father Joseph, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do? Then the old man, Abba Joseph stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.” (Joseph of Panephysis)