EVERY Friday night during my novitiate in Hong Kong we would gather to discuss the readings from scripture that would be proclaimed at Mass on the following Sunday.
We were expected to have prayed with the Word of God, contemplated the meaning conveyed by the scriptures, perhaps read a biblical commentary or two and – if we were able – we were even encouraged to consult the text in its original language.
We were broken up into smaller groups for discussion, before re-gathering as an entire novitiate community with the Master to be examined by him; it was understood that we should be able to provide reasons for the answers we gave and show that we had truly engaged with the scriptures.
The week before the Feast of the Epiphany – when we celebrate the Magi bearing their gifts to the Christ Child – one of the novices from Myanmar asked something rather striking over the course of our Friday night discussion.
“Was the star that led the Magi not being selfish in only revealing itself to the Wise Men? If it had shown itself to other people, perhaps they too would have wished to pay homage to Jesus.”
A unique perspective, certainly – and it provoked an interesting thought.
“Not at all,” I responded, “it was not that the star was selfish – it did not only reveal itself to the Magi. It was simply that the Magi were the only ones looking for it.”
To paraphrase St Thomas Aquinas, if people shut their eyes and will not receive rays of streaming light from the sun or stars, their darkness arises not from a fault of the light, but from themselves; they have voluntarily deprived themselves of illumination.
As the star led the Magi to the manger, it rested above Him who is “the light that shines in the darkness.” (John 1:5)
Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. (John 8:12)
In view of events over the past year, however, it is occasionally tempting to feel that the darkness seems to be encroaching ever more closely upon our lives.
We perceive a world and a society becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity –to Christ – and we wonder where this progression will end.
In the dim recesses of our minds we hear the words of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, provoking us:
“Do not go gentle into that good night … rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
We are almost persuaded by those lyrical phrases to throw up our arms in exasperation and hurl ourselves with full force against the encroaching darkness.
But that would be a mistake; it would be a false move based on a false premise.
For the light cannot die: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” (John 1:5)
Rage is a response redolent of pessimism, and pessimism is not a Christian virtue.
The light is not going anywhere; no matter how inky-black the gloom surrounding aflame might be, that flame shines – it still illumines those near to it.
It continues to blaze as a beacon for those who search for it; as the Magi were guided, so can we be.
There is no other true light.
When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the garden, they came bearing, “lanterns and torches.” (John 18:3)
The world came with manufactured light to arrest the true Light of the World.
And the world continues to confect increasingly asinine and aggressive attempts to apprehend that Light, though to no avail.
The final victory has already been won; Christ has conquered, even if the battle for individual souls continues.
Over the course of these battles, great and small, many of our contemporaries continue to choose and follow false lights – indeed, it seems almost to have become the prevailing option.
Those of us who have entered religious life or seminaries in recent years are confronted not only with the incredulity of our families and friends, but often outright hostility.
As T. S. Eliot once sagely remarked, “In a world of fugitives, the one who takes the opposite direction will look like a deserter.”
Our Christian response to recent, dim developments ought not be to “rage” with our own might against the encroaching darkness, but to bring the Light of Christ to those fleeing in the opposite direction.
We draw nearer to the manger – nearer to our incarnate God – in order that His light might shine more brightly in our hearts, in our lives, and so illumine the path of our brothers and sisters; our fellow fugitives in an occasionally incomprehensible world.
It is not enough for us to warm ourselves by the glow of the Holy Infant; we have all been commissioned to act as ‘light to the world’. (Matthew 5:14-16)
Our task is to wander into that encircling gloom bearing our portion of the Light of Christ that we received at Baptism; to shine forth before the world so that, if those around us missed the star that guided the Magi, they might at least see all our lesser-lights pointing in the same direction.
At the conclusion of the Chartres-Paris pilgrimage earlier this year, Cardinal Robert Sarah addressed the assembled pilgrims and spoke a truth so beautiful, it deserves to be written in the original French –
‘Sans Dieu, tout est ténèbres.’ (Without God, all is darkness)
A world without God, a life without Christ, is pitch-black.
Our friends and family, our neighbours and colleagues who are caught in this cloying cloud seem to be more inclined to realise their fugitive plight at particular times of the year – Christmas is one of them.
They are more inclined to ask questions and be responsive to answers.
If asked, you ought to be ready to “give an answer for the hope that is within you.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Our partners in conversation and in life ought to understand that the ‘opposite direction’ towards which we journey is not a place, but a person.
Jesus Christ: Our Redeemer, Our Saviour, The Light of the World.
No situation is irredeemable, and – so long as we are in this life – no person is beyond redemption.
No matter how dim the prospects, we must continue to march out into the gloom, bearing the flambeaux high.
We proceed on our pilgrimage with the joy and hope of people living a victory already won; in the Light of Eternity, the occasional temporal set-back can hardly serve as cause for undue concern.
The Lord continues to guide us and all who seek Him:
“I will lead the blind in a way that they know not;
in paths that they have not known I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.’” (Isaiah 42:16)
This Christmas, when you friends, relatives or colleagues ask you why you seem so jubilant at this time of year – why you seem so unfazed by the rapid multiplication of situations that seem inimical to our Christian faith – you can share a small smile with the infant in the manger and offer your fellow fugitives an invitation to step in the opposite direction, to walk towards theLight: ‘Come, let us adore Him – Christ the Lord.’