Back in college I had a delightful humanities teacher who periodically would depart from his prepared notes, and generously share wonderful insights about culture and religion… perhaps current events or philosophy. Once when we were discussing the impact that architecture and environment make on society, he spoke of how, in medieval times, the church was always the center of the village; it was the tallest building, and it enjoyed the finest of landscaping, while the interior always had fresh flowers. All of this occurred because God was the center of people’s lives. Sadly, he said, banking and insurance, luxury merchandising and boutique hotels have now taken that place. I’ll never forget the melancholic tone in his voice when he spoke of how our currency might declare, “In God We Trust,” but our architecture tells us it’s the almighty dollar we worship. He spoke of the tiers of chrysanthemums around a waterfall decorating the nearby shopping mall; it had become our new shrine.
Today’s readings thunder this message powerfully. The temple which the returning exiles are going to rebuild in Jerusalem is described in various places as the light of the world; this light, set on a mountaintop, will illumine the whole world. In the Gospel, the lamp is never put under a bushel basket; rather, it is displayed on a stand, to be a light for more people.
The light that each of us can bring to our bruised and broken world is truly a treasure. Today, it might simply mean smiling at the clerk in the grocery store, or asking the receptionist how her ailing mother is doing. I want to penetrate the darkness with the Light of Christ, the core of our lives. And tomorrow maybe I can help clean the church!
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.