Lighting It Up
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus said to his disciples: "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. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father."
You are the light of the world,” Our Lord says to His disciples (Mt 5:14). He compares this light to a lamp set on a lampstand to give light to all in the house (cf. Mt 5:15). We who have light at the flip of a switch or the press of a button might miss this image’s significance. In ancient Israel the light of a lamp was precious and tender. We grow accustomed to the night being illuminated, even to the point of speaking about “light pollution.” For them the lamp of a household had to be tended carefully and gave only the simplest light to the room. They knew that the darkness around them was great, so all the more did they value the light.
The spiritual darkness of the world around us is great as well — sometimes discouraging. This simple image of the church as a light — a lamp — encourages us in addressing that darkness. Light’s various aspects provide a blueprint for what the church is to be for those “who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79).
Light reveals the truth. If you wake up at night you may, in the shadows, confuse a familiar object for something frightening. The bathrobe on the hook looks like a person, the shoe on the floor resembles a rodent. Walking across the room you might stub a toe or bang a knee on the table. By flipping the switch, however, you dispel the fright of the ominous bathrobe and menacing shoe, you avoid the assault of the stationary table.
So also the light of the Gospel reveals the truth — about the world, about man and about God. We, with all our artificial light, do not see these clearly. And in our darkness we harm ourselves terribly. We need the light of the Gospel to see the created world not as our own selfish possession but as intended for the glory of God. In the darkness we confuse man for just another object in our disposable culture — to be used and dispatched as we see fit. As an “expert in humanity” (Paul VI), the church enables us to see man for who he is — God’s image and the summit of His creation. Most importantly, we see God Himself more clearly — not as distant and aloof but as the loving Father Who has drawn close to us through His Son.
Light provides guidance. Think of your car’s headlights. They are designed to show you the road ahead — how to proceed and what to avoid. Difficult to read by and terrible mood lighting, they do not serve any other purpose. So also the light of the Gospel is not for the stationary. It is meant for those who are on a journey — to reveal how to go and what to avoid. If we sit still with this light, it loses its purpose and power.
Light welcomes. In one of advertising’s greatest taglines, Tom Bodett pledges, “We’ll leave the light on for you.” His line makes us think of arriving at last, after a long journey, to the warm glow of a lamp that promises security, warmth and welcome. And this is precisely what the Gospel promises to souls that seek protection from evil, the warmth of charity and a welcome into the household of God. The church must be this light, lest souls turn aside and try to content themselves with false lights.
But light can also blind. You hate it when someone wakes you up with a bright light. It hurts your eyes and forces you to close them — as if to return to the comfortable darkness. The light of the Gospel, therefore, should be shined in such a way that it does not blind. For many people the direct force of it all at once may prove too much, and they close their eyes to it. We do better to shine the warm light of welcome and enlightenment than the klieg lights of condemnation.
Most importantly, light has a source. It never exists on its own but receives its power to enlighten from something else — a spark, a match, a generator. We are the light of the world only to the extent that we look to Christ and allow the glory of His countenance to be reflected from us.
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