Sunday, January 22, 2017

Daily Meditation: Bringing Light to a Darkened World


Today's readings mirror, in many ways, the re-creation of the world.  In Genesis 1, we are told that the first creation of God was light:

Genesis 1:1-4:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
Just as God's first act of physical creation was to bring light to a darkened world, so in bringing us to eternal redemption, the first thing Our Lord does is bring light into our darkened lives.  


The first reading is 

IS 8:23—9:3


First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali
The first reading talks of the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali. These were part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and were the very first tribes to be deported by the Assyrians. These tribes had rejected the God of Israel and they were the first tribes He punished through captivity. Yet, we are given the following prophecy:
but in the end he has glorified the seaward road,
the land west of the Jordan,
the District of the Gentiles.
The prophecy tells us that God will once again glorify this land.  How?
Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness:
for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
This is what Our Lord wishes for all the world.  It is not His desire to see us suffer, to live in darkness and despair, even though this is what each of us reaped through our sins.  He wants to lift each one of us out of the darkness caused by our sins and into His Glorious Light, the Light of Life.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.
This is an amazing picture of people who are burdened down with deep despair and anguish, separated from their God, and suddenly brought into the great joy of the Lord. This is what happens with each one of us when Jesus comes into our lives and lifts the burden of sin from us, releasing us from the certain death to which we are headed and setting us on the course of Eternal Life with Him:
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
How many people sat in Church today and heard these verses read with no comprehension of the great meaning?  I wish there was some way to really make people hear what the scriptures say to us, of the great message of God's love for each individual human being.  God does not want to lose one single person,  He wants us all to come to eternal salvation.  But sadly, most people don't even know what that means, they barely realize how much in need they are of God's saving grace.

The responsorial psalm celebrates the message of God's saving power given to us in the first reading:
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life's refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?

One thing I ask of the LORD;
this I seek:
To dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD
and contemplate his temple.

I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
With God by our side, we need never fear anything or anyone.  Though the world around us be in a total uproar, we can be at peace, drawing on the love and the courage with which Our Lord infuses us.

The second reading is:

1 COR 1:10-13, 17

This passage has great meaning for us especially at this moment in the Church.  Everywhere on the Catholic blogosphere we see people taking sides - I'm with Cardinal Burke, I'm with Pope Francis, etc. etc.  This kind of division is directly from the devil, meant to separate brother from brother, as St. Paul tells us.

St. Paul starts out by admonishing us that we should have no divisions among us.  And truly, if we are all following the same spirit - the Holy Spirit - we will be all united.  There will be no divisions:
I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.
But in the First Century, when St. Paul wrote, as it is true today, there were great divisions, people taking sides, choosing which person they followed:
For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters,
by Chloe's people, that there are rivalries among you.
I mean that each of you is saying,
"I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos,"
or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ."
I love that last thought, that some actually say "I belong to Christ."  That would seem to be the right thing to say, but even that can be divisive because it is a way of pointing the finger at another, saying "I belong to Christ, but because you don't agree with me, you don't belong to Christ", thus causing more division.  

When people take sides, it means they are acting self righteously and out of pride.  Love means building up one another, but this is all about tearing down and condemning.  This is what we see all over the Internet in every area of life, and sadly, it is seen in abundance in the Catholic blogosphere.

In his admonition, Paul shows how far this behavior is from that taught by Jesus Christ:
Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
When you align yourself with another human being, ask yourself these questions: Is Christ divided? Was Cardinal Burke crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Bishop Schneider?  Our salvation does not come from any human being, not even from the Pope.  We follow the Holy Father insofar as he follows Christ.  And the same should be true of every individual.  When anyone starts preaching division, it is time to turn away, because they are starting to get into very dangerous territory.  Unlike the first reading, when the Lord leads people from darkness to light, these people are leading us from light to darkness.


We should not follow people based on how eloquent they are, or how spiritual they make us feel.  We should listen to them only if they are leading us directly to Christ, and preaching Christ crucified, which is a Christ of love, mercy and compassion, and never of division.  We are often swayed by those who make a good appearance, who appear charismatic and eloquent.  We must remember that the devil himself can appear as an angel of light.  
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,
and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.
The Gospel reading takes its narrative from the first reading of today in Isaiah.  This is the narrative of the very beginning of Jesus' public ministry, right after John the Baptist had been arrested:

MT 4:12-23

In these verses, we are given an exact quote from the first reading of the day:
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death  light has arisen.
Here we see the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. Jesus goes to the exact lands which are named in Isaiah's prophecy and fulfills this prophecy exactly. It is Jesus who is the Great Light. Jesus is the one who dispels the darkness and brings the people abundant joy and great rejoicing. It is no coincidence that Jesus began His Public Ministry at the exact place where the people of Israel were first taken captive, where God had first exacted His punishment against the Israelites who had rejected Him. Now He was there as a Divine Man bringing them the saving light of the Gospel.

The Gospel reading also tells us that it was in this place that Jesus called four of His disciples - Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and his brother, John. These four men were all fisherman, rugged and crude, smelling of fish, not highly esteemed in their society. Just as Jesus first preached the Gospel to the rejected of society, He chose men who were also society's rejects, first a tax collector named Matthew, and now these crude fishermen.

Amazingly, at the calling of Jesus, all four of these men dropped everything and followed Jesus. James and John even left their father to follow Jesus. This is a great lesson to us. We should always be sensitive to the call of Jesus, ready to turn away from everything that distracts us from His Calling, ready to give up everything. I, for one, am still struggling to get there. I still want to hang on to things of this world. It will only be the grace of God that will enable me to let go and fully give myself to my Lord.

The Gospel reading ends with these words:
He went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness among the people.
Jesus' great love for the people knew no bounds.  It was His mission to bring them salvation, and He let nothing stop Him.  He saw a people burdened with sin, and He cured not only their physical diseases but gave them hope and joy.

That should be the mission of each one of us.  We are not here to spread division, but to bring all people to the saving message of the Gospel.


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