First of all, I would like to thank those of you who sent expressions of sympathy on the death of my mother. Receiving the news of her passing when I had just landed at O'Hare was not easy; nor was the return to Malta, another 24 hour journey. However, your words were a comfort as was the presence of my daughter, Alexia, as travel companion. Somehow, we made it through the dark days and are now back in Chicago doing our best to catch up with the responsibilities we left behind while practicing a little more "self-care" than usual. I returned to the classroom without syllabi in hand and
is late in production-- yet again-- but sleep summoned and I was too exhausted to resist!
Today's readings are about Light in Darkness. Whether one has experienced a personal loss or whether one is distraught over the state of the nation or the state of the world, that Light still shines. In two of my classes at Roosevelt University, I have assigned Roy Scranton's
We're Doomed. Now What?
It's a difficult read, both in terms of content and style, but it poses some critical questions that I want to explore with my students. Faced with the breakup of the post-1945 global order, the mass extinction of species and apocalyptic planetary warming, how can we find meaning?
Scranton, a Buddhist, writes:
"Yet it's at just this moment of crisis that our human drive to make meaning reappears as our only salvation ...if we're willing to reflect consciously on the ways we make life meaningful--on how we decide what is good, what our goals are, what's worth living and dying for, and what we do every day, day to day, and how we do it" (7).
Can we, as Christians, change our lives not only in response to the Darkness that engulfs our planet but in response to the Christ Light which shines in the land of gloom? How can we see that Great Light, no matter how dark our world becomes?
There is something to ponder here....
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.
It is interesting that both our first reading and today's Gospel incorporate a text we would normally associate with Christmas -- Is 9:1-6. Though many preachers will probably focus on the call of the first apostles, the Light that darkness cannot overcome seems to be a more appropriate focus. In fact, the shorter lectionary version of the Gospel excludes the call of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John altogether. Instead, we learn that Jesus, upon learning of John's arrest, leaves Nazareth for Galilee, a cultural crossroads where he begins to preach repentance.
"For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
Reading the signs of the times, he moves away from John's stomping grounds but carries the same message.
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
This is the core message of Christianity, the belief that Heaven is accessible in the here and now, no matter how dark the world around us seems to be. Heaven, of course, is not so much a geographical reality as a state of mind. In John Milton's
, Book IV, ll. 75-78, Satan bemoans the hell he carries with him:
And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven."
Milton explains that Satan brings Hell with him and around him and that he cannot fly from Hell even by changing location. So, too, with Heaven though I'm not sure if Milton made this claim. If Heaven is a state of mind, nothing can separate us from this reality. St. Paul claims as much in Rom 8:31-39 when he writes that nothing can separate us from the love of God:
"Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell."
No matter what befalls us, then, we can carry Heaven with us, but this involves conscious choice. If we allow fear to control us, or if we allow hatred to dominate us, or greed to possess us, or anger to consume us, then we descend into Hell. In contrast, if we invite God to become our guest, then we can enjoy the Divine Companionship wherever we are, in all the seasons of our lives.