“See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples” (Is 60:2a). The news these days has been filled with darkness: the trial of a white man accused of shooting nine African American people in a Charleston, SC, church; the desire for and resistance to the living situations of Jews and Palestinians in Israel; the continued tragedies in the Middle East; fear of terrorist attacks in major cities around the world as we prepare to begin 2017; hate crimes increasing due to race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political stance; people continue to be martyred for their faith; and news about the deaths of respected entertainers and leaders. Darkness covers the earth.
We cannot stop reading Isaiah there: “but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light… Raise your eyes and look about” (Is 60:2b-3a, 4a, emphasis added). The members of that Charleston church offer a forgiveness that invites repentance. Light! While the divisions in Israel seem stronger, Pope Francis’ General Audience on December 28 raises up Abraham, our father in faith, as an instrument of hope that “opens new horizons, making him capable of dreaming what is unimaginable.” Light! Christians are returning to churches and homes in the Middle East, where they thought they might never be able to gather again. See this story about Christians gathering in Aleppo on Christmas. Light! Those who refuse to accept a world of hate and discrimination speak out against those who do and seek to stop the violence of discrimination. Light! For Christians, death is not the end, as Fr. Bede Jarrett, OP, preached in a prayer from William Pen: “Death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.” Light!
On the solemnity of the Epiphany, we celebrate the manifestation of a light that proclaims “that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6). We are children of the one God who is the creator of all human beings. The light of God was manifest in a star that led the Wise Men—Gentiles—to the house where Jesus was with his mother—Jews—and they did him homage. The light of God even touches human dreams. A dream led the Wise Men to depart by another way. The light of Christ that we celebrate on the Epiphany makes clear that God has “revealed the mystery of our salvation in Christ as a light for the nations” (Preface of the Epiphany of the Lord). Not just for the nations, but Jesus Christ is a light for all nations, in all times and places. That includes you and me.
The glory of the LORD shines upon us and shines on our world through us. We are to be the instruments of the Christ Light we celebrate today. Yes, darkness does cover the earth and thick clouds do cover the peoples. Yet, as we heard in the Gospel of John on Christmas, no darkness can overcome the light we celebrate in Jesus Christ. The LORD shines on us. If we are willing to raise our eyes and look about, we will see that. If we are willing to look at our darkness in the light of Christ, the One who became flesh in Jesus Christ and who loves us without condition, can and will transform our darkness and make it a source of light. Are we willing to name the darkness we encounter and invite the light of Christ to transform us?
St. Francis de Sales taught that: “On our journey through life we do not wish to meet any difficulties or contradictions. We want constant consolations, no periods of dryness, no unpleasant times; health without sickness, repose without work, and peace without disturbance! But can’t you see our folly when we want to have something we cannot have? Unallayed good is found only in paradise, as in hell is found nothing but evil. The great Chrysostom says: ‘O man, you who get all upset when things do not always go your way, are you not ashamed when you ponder that what you want was not to be found even in the family of Our Lord? … Consider, I beg you, the events, the contradictions, and all the things that happened. The angel of the Lord said in a dream to Saint Joseph, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you otherwise. Herod is searching for the child to destroy him.” [Mt. 2:13] This, indeed, was a moment of great sorrow for the Virgin Mary and for good Saint Joseph’” (Spiritual Discourses III; O. VI, pp. 32, 38).
Herod sought to destroy the light, but did not. Light is not without darkness, and seems to be appreciated all the more only after we experience the effects of darkness. Our lives are full of contradictions and difficulties, on the personal level and globally. And even where the light of Christ seems diminished, it is still present. Are we willing to see it? Are we willing to manifest it? Christ will give us direction if we are as willing to listen for God’s voice in the dreams and events of our lives as Joseph and the Wise Men were. Follow the direction of the prophet Isaiah: “Raise your eyes and look about.” For the Light that we celebrate today is our only hope for darkness to be diminished and the clouds of life to dissipate. We need the hope offered through the words of Pope Francis on December 28, 2016. Take these words to heart. Lift up your hearts, as we pray in the liturgy, to let “the example of Abraham teach us not be afraid to go out from our own tents, our limited outlooks, and to lift our eyes to the stars.” Raise your eyes and look about!
Rev. Paul H. Colloton, OSFS
May the splendor of your majesty, O Lord, we pray,
shed its light upon our hearts,
that we may pass through the shadows of this world
and reach the brightness of our eternal home.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
—Collect for the Epiphany of the Lord, At the Vigil Mass. Excerpt from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, ICEL. All rights reserved.