There are a limited number of days I rank highest on my list of favorites. December 23 is one of those. It is the winter solstice, the day with the least amount of light for us in the northern hemisphere. From this day on, the amount of light we experience each day begins to grow again until we reach mid-summer when light begins to dwindle again. In 1982, I was on a retreat team who hosted a two week Institute for men and women of religious communities. I spent a good deal of time with 33 year old Brother Jerry who was from Nome, Alaska. His full time ministry was suicide prevention and accompanying families of those who succeeded in ending their lives. The pressing concern was focused on the fact that Nome has six months without sunlight. The darkness became oppressive and magnified whatever personal problems many faced. I couldn’t even imagine what that might be like. It takes an entirely different attitude of mind and heart than we have down here in the continental USA. I came to admire him greatly and continue to pray for him and all who live in those circumstances.
Our Sacred Scriptures for today focus our attention on the light arriving and dispelling the darkness. Isaiah prophesied about it to a conquered people of Israel and promised that the light would dispel the darkness of oppression and hopelessness in their lives. Matthew tells us that the arrival of Jesus and the beginning of His public ministry was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy. With Jesus and His message of the kingdom, the light has arrived to dispel the darkness. Paul focuses on one particular form of darkness – disunity and petty divisions within the fledgling faith community and tells them in no uncertain terms that Jesus had come to dispel the darkness of jealousy, elitism, and divisiveness and gathered all into the unity that only He is able to enlighten.
Just as we in the north experience the increased darkness of winter and Brother Jerry lived through the months of wearying shadows, so we too might find ourselves in darkness within, perhaps of our own making or a darkness with which we must deal from outside ourselves. Those kind of shadows affect our hearts and minds through realities like abiding anger and resentments, inability to forgive, pride and elitism, factionalism and intolerance of those different than ourselves, self centeredness that is only interested in our own benefit, choices to refuse to accompany others in need with care, concern and compassion. We are each able to draw up our own list. When we recognize one or another of these forms of darkness lurking around our lives, like the first disciples in today’s gospel, we are invited by Jesus to deeper followership. We are reminded that Jesus rejected the darkness of abiding anger and revenge and brought the light of forgiveness and reconciliation. He brought sinners out of darkness into the light of God’s grace and love. He called outcasts out of the darkness of rejection into the light of faith community acceptance. He brought the sick and wounded out of the darkness of pain into the light of healing and wellness. He brought Zacchaeus out of self-centeredness and greed into the light of sharing. He brought Martha and Mary out of the darkness of grief into the light of hope and life. As Jesus brought light to all in the various circumstances of their lives, so we, as called disciples, are invited to be avid messengers of the light, of His light to all in our lives. We are called to be children of the light at all times dispelling any darkness within or outside ourselves which might prevent or hamper a closer walk with God for ourselves, our families, our fellow parishioners, co-workers and social circles. Living in His light and with His light empowers us to live through the prolonged darkness of winter and the gloom of sunless months in the far north. It empowers us to live in the Light amidst whatever darkness or shadow we might find ourselves dealing with and work to dispel it in His name. We are commissioned disciples of the Light who is the Lord Jesus. In Him and with Him and through Him, we can make a difference in the world.
Fr. Richard Burke, CP, is a member of St. Paul of the Cross Province. He lives at St. Ann’s Monastery in Scranton, Pennsylvania.