Many of our parishioners are turning their attention south of the border today as our neighbours in Seattle set their hopes on the Super Bowl. I’m not paying much attention myself, since I hardly know the difference between a quarterback and a flashback.
But I did have the U.S. on my mind as I prepared my homily, because today’s Feast of the Presentation brought to mind the inauguration speech of President George H. Bush in 1988. In that speech, President Bush used the phrase “a thousand points of light,” comparing community organizations to stars spread throughout the country, doing good.
It turns out that the words come from the great Christian writer C. S. Lewis. In The Magician's Nephew, wrote: "One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out."
Today’s Gospel doesn’t talk about a thousand points of light, but only one: Jesus Christ, who is the light of the nations (cf. Lk 2:32). Elsewhere, St. John’s Gospel tell us he is the light of the world (Jn 8:12; 9:5), the light of life (cf. Jn 8:12), the light that shines in the darkness (Jn 1:5), the true light that enlightens everyone (Jn 1:9).
Today is a good day to pause and ask ourselves whether knowing the light of Christ makes a difference or whether it’s just a beautiful religious image: because the question has been on the table since the First Sunday of Advent. On that first day of our liturgical year, the prophet Isaiah urged us “let us walk in the light of the Lord!” We also read St. Paul’s words “let us lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light.”
Two months after the start of Advent and five weeks after Christmas, let's take stock. Is there still some darkness in our lives that’s waiting for the light to overpower it (cf. Jn 1:5)? Are we walking by the Word of God, allowing it guide our decisions like a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, as the psalm says (Ps 119:105)?
Often we think that we need to overcome the areas of darkness in our lives. That’s a bit like trying to get rid of the darkness in a room by vacuuming it. There’s only one way to remove darkness, and that’s by admitting the light.
We let the light shine in our hearts first by the sacraments. Confession turns the lights on in even the deepest shadows, while receiving the Eucharist fills us with the divine Presence. Prayer—especially prayer with Scripture—also banishes the night, because the power of the Word of God exposes to the light everything that’s hidden in our heart (cf. Heb 4:12-13).
But what’s true for us as individuals is also true for the whole world. In today’s Gospel, the elderly prophet Simeon proclaims Jesus as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles”: in other words, a light for all nations, not only Israel—a light for everyone.
In his first audience of 2012, Pope Benedict underlined that this light shines on all humanity. “Christ’s coming,” he said, “dispels the shadows of the world.”
But here we’re confronted by a big question. How does this happen? How does the light shine on every person?
Our Pope Emeritus answered this by challenging individual Catholics not only to be transformed by Christ’s gift of light but to share it with the world. He invited the whole Church, and each one of us, to become more aware of the mission and the responsibility we have to bring the new light of the Gospel to the world.
And that’s why today’s feast made me think of a thousand points of light. At Easter, we sing “Christ our light!” as we raise high the paschal candle. A single flame is shared passed through the pews until the whole church glows with light.
Before I talk about the wonder of this, I should mention that I spoke in a homily at the school Mass about how poorly I did in math and science. Afterwards, a parent said “I wish you wouldn’t do that!” When I asked why, she said “because you can be sure that the next time I tell my son to buckle down to his math homework he’ll say, ‘but look how well Monsignor managed without it’”!
So cover the children’s ears for a moment. I’m still so poor at science that one small flame increasing to a blaze is almost a miracle to me! But even if you do understand the physics, it’s a wonderful symbol of how Christians work to banish darkness in the world.
As we share the good news one-on-one, the flame spreads. We become points of light—not a thousand, but a thousand thousand (whatever that is, I told you I was no good at math). The true light that enlightens each person will spread from heart to heart.
The physics of flame may confuse me, but nothing could be simpler. First we make sure that the light burns brightly within us, and then by personal, gentle and dedicated evangelization we offer that light to others.