Earlier this summer, I spent a number of days vacationing in a family home on Lake Huron, the “sunrise side” of “Pure Michigan.” The bedroom in which I slept faced the lake and has a reasonably large window, which gave new meaning to the expression “bright and early.” At about 5:30 a.m., it seemed like the sun was rising in my room, at the foot of my bed!
Of course, at night it was as dark as you would expect in a place with very little outdoor artificial light. It can be very difficult to walk around without some artificial light.
Our spiritual lives can seem to unfold in these kinds of extremes, as if everything is either very bright or very dark. In good times, we feel so close to God, so confident about His love for us and what He is calling us to do. At other times, God can seem very distant, and we can feel both an interior darkness and a darkening of our spiritual vision, including our sense about the future.
There is some validity to this perception of spiritual extremes. For example, we easily think of the spiritual brightness of the saints, but some saints have described a “dark night of the soul,” in which a person very much feels alone and in the dark, reaching out for God by a raw act of faith and love.
Faith always gives us enough light to take the next step on life’s journey. That might be all the light you have at a given moment. You may feel like someone who is carrying a weak flashlight through a dark house and more or less pointing it directly in front of your feet to make sure you aren’t about to step on something that will hurt you. But you will have the light you need to carry on.
In the face of such extremes, we need to remember the basic truth that when we have faith, we always have light. Faith always gives us enough light to take the next step on life’s journey. That might be all the light you have at a given moment. You may feel like someone who is carrying a weak flashlight through a dark house and more or less pointing it directly in front of your feet to make sure you aren’t about to step on something that will hurt you. But you will have the light you need to carry on.
We probably don’t think about the heroes of the Old Testament as often as we ought, but they are great examples of what it means to live by faith. This Sunday’s readings hold up the stories of the Israelites being delivered by the Lord from Egypt and that of Abraham, who trusted in God’s promise that he would have offspring even though he was “as good as dead.” They trusted in God’s promise no matter what, and they did it all without having seen the coming of Christ, except insofar as their whole lives looked ahead to Him.
We have seen the coming of Christ. We know Him. We know His love for us. We know that He died for us — allowed His Body to be broken and His Blood spilled in order to save us from sin and death. We come to God’s altar every Sunday and see His Body and Blood made present to us, offered to the Father once again for us, offered to us so that we might become more like Him.
And yet, isn’t it true that faith can be a great struggle for us? Don’t we have a hard time living the Gospel we hear proclaimed on Sunday? Isn’t it easy to put our trust in success, money, medicine, comfort, power, or any number of things other than God? Isn’t it hard for us to stay ready to meet Jesus, whether when we die or when He comes again at the end of the world?
Something plunges every Christian into darkness at some point in his or her life. Remember that even for Jesus it was dark in the Garden of Gethsemane, and that there were three hours of darkness as He hung upon the Cross. Yet He hung there, as the Light of the World. And He tells us to “light our lamps” in this Sunday’s Gospel. The light He’s talking about is our faith in Him.
Of course, there can be different causes of the darkness we experience. A broken world, broken relationships, and brokenness within us can all cause us to walk in darkness. If our darkness is caused by our sin, we can be sure that God is giving us at least enough light to get into the confessional and receive His forgiveness. When our more serious (or “mortal”) sins are already forgiven, and we still sense that we’re in darkness, then it is a good idea to pray about and pay attention to the light of faith. Each of us could ask, “Am I doing all I can to help the light of faith within me to shine with full power?”
Know that God is with you. Know that He loves you. Know that He doesn’t just call you to live for heaven and not for earth; He also empowers you to do it. This kind of darkness can actually be an opportunity to grow closer to God. Trust in the Lord’s promises and press on in your life’s journey, even if you can only see one step at a time.
May the Body and Blood of Christ, offered and received in the celebration of Holy Mass, bring light to our souls and bring us at last to Him Who is the Light of this world and of the world to come.
Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.