Sunday, February 9, 2014
Let Your Light Shine (Sunday 5A)
Russia has already won a gold medal at the Sochi Olympics—for the opening ceremony.
I hadn’t turned on a television since the day Father Xavier left for India, but completely by accident I caught the Sochi spectacle from start to finish.
As I watched, I felt sorry for South Korea, the next country to host the winter Olympics: it will be next to impossible to top this show.
At the same time, I felt a bit sorry for the Church. We believe Jesus is the Light of the World, but we have no fireworks. The most magnificent liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica doesn’t hold a candle, literally, to the Sochi pageant.
I felt sorry for the parish. Today’s Gospel tells us that each of us is also the light of the world, called to let our light—Christ’s light—shine for all the world to see. But we don’t even have a decent AV system, much less lasers and lights. It took more than twenty years to put a spotlight on our rooftop cross, thanks to a generous parishioner.
And I felt a bit sorry for myself. St. Paul, the great Apostle and teacher of the faith, says he came to preach in Corinth with fear and trembling, and without “plausible words of wisdom.” Where does that leave me, struggling to preach this morning?
Is it possible to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ in an effective way in a world that’s seen everything? How can a two-thousand year-old message be proclaimed with none of the things that I saw on TV Friday night?
I’m happy to say that a careful look at all three readings today gives us powerful answers to those questions.
First, the Gospel does have a supply of fireworks. Each believing Christian is a light ready to burst into the night sky of our darkened world. You are the light of the world, Jesus says—not as a compliment but as a mission. He tells us “let your light shine” so that others will see our good works and give glory to God.
As the final triumphant notes died out in Sochi, do you think there was massive conversion of TV-watchers, all wanting to become Russians? Even that brilliant glorification of Russian history and culture is most unlikely to have created a flood of applications for citizenship in the Russian Federation.
On the other hand, Jesus tells us, people will give glory to God if they see his light shining in us, particularly by the good things we do.
Sometimes you must feel that Christ the Redeemer Parish or the Archdiocese of Vancouver is one big second collection. Can’t we just worship God and leave our cheque books at home?
Yet the connection between charity and faith is unbreakable. Long before Jesus told us to let the world see the good works that our faith inspires, the prophet Isaiah told the people of Israel that their light “would break forth like the dawn” if they fed the hungry and clothed the poor.
Like fireworks, their light would rise in the darkness and brighten the shadows.
Some of us have the gift of answering questions about the faith, of engaging in good and respectful arguments that can change the minds and hearts of non-practicing Catholics or unbelievers. And some of us don’t. But Paul reminds everyone that Jesus Christ—indeed, the suffering Christ—is the starting point for all evangelization.
You don’t need to be a great debater to share the Gospel; sometimes it’s even a handicap. What you do need is to be salty—to show that the life of faith isn’t bland. What you need to be is bright—letting your face shine when you talk about the Lord or his Church.
Years ago I talked to a Catholic businessman in New York who decided to go to weekday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. When the kiss of peace came, there was no-one in the pew beside him, so he turned around and found himself shaking hands with his boss! Neither knew the other was Catholic.
That shouldn’t happen. I’m pleased to say I kept in touch with that man, and there’s certainly no-one in his office today who doesn’t know him to be a man of faith.
And, of course, people called to be light to the world must let their light shine in the darkest places: places of poverty, disaster, and persecution. This we have done and are doing in our parish, even to the point where it can feel like a burden.
Yet each time our volunteers make a sandwich for the needy, each time we support another of those second collections, each time we show care and concern for the sick, each time we rally around someone in any kind of trouble, people have the chance to see our good works—and to give glory to our Father in heaven.