A few years ago there was a great power failure in Toronto and in some areas in Ontario. The lights went out. Some civilians voluntarily directed the traffic at crossroads where the traffic lights did not work. The power failure lasted a couple of days in some areas. The food in my refrigerator became rotten. At night, fear descended on many. We did not know where the things we needed were. People stumbled and fell. Accidents occurred.
Many people may not know that there has been an immense worldwide blackout ever since Adam and Eve sinned. Unfortunately, the blackout has continued all through the human history. Some people feel that the world that we are living in today is lost in darkness. This darkness came from the ignorance of God and the rejection of His commandments. With the 911 tragedy at the beginning of this millennium and the recent global financial disaster, many people are stumbling about; many are falling down and hurting themselves; many are living in fear. For many who do not have a religious faith, life has no apparent meaning.
No matter how gloomy our life is, and no matter how ominous and frightening the sky is with its black clouds of helplessness, there is always a ray of light and that light is our faith. At the very beginning, when there was ‘darkness covered the abyss’ ( Genesis 1:2 ), God said, “Let there be light.” ( Genesis 1: 3 ) And light came into being and dispersed the darkness. Our belief and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ can dispel the darkness in our life because He is “the light of the world”. “I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life.” ( John 8: 12 )
Therefore we, followers of Jesus, shall possess the light of life. But how can we keep that light burning? How can we make our faith grow brighter? How can we avoid another power failure in our faith?
We can find our Christian mission in the Gospel of Matthew: “Full authority has been given to me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name ‘of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!” ( Matthew 28: 18 – 20 ) St. Paul echoed the same idea in his first epistle to the Corinthians: “Yet preaching the gospel is not the subject of a boast; I am under compulsion and have no choice. I am ruined if I do not preach it!” ( 1 Corinthians 9: 16 )
It is obvious that from the words of our Lord Jesus, and also from St. Paul, every single Christian has a mission to tell others what our faith is all about. Otherwise our faith would wither away and die.
But how do we tell others about our Catholic faith? It is beyond doubt that not every Christian is endowed with the talent of teaching, or the talent of speaking, or preaching. Yet every Christian can be someone’s light in darkness if we live like a real Christian. In fact, Jesus wants us to be good examples for others.
“In the same way, your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father.” ( Matthew 5: 16 )
“In a word, you must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ( Matthew 5: 48 )
Thomas Merton, a famous 20th century Catholic writer, also a Trappist monk, wrote numerous essays on spirituality. In one of his books, New Seeds of Contemplation, he attempted to explain the concept that we can glorify God when we do what God wants us to do. The following are excerpts from his book:
“A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him……….It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.
The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like Him. If it tried to be like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like God and therefore it would give Him less glory……….
Therefore each particular being, in its individuality, its concrete nature and entity, with all its own characteristics and its private qualities and its own inviolable identity, gives glory to God by being precisely what He wants it to be………..”
Based on Thomas Merton’s explanation, if a teacher acts, lives, and teaches like a teacher should, he/she is glorifying God with his/her actions. Similarly, if a student behaves, acts, and learns like a student should, this student is also glorifying God with his/her actions.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus asked us to shine our light before men and that we should also be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, and if we can really shine our light before men, we are then able to glorify God with our own actions. If we, unfortunately, fail to shine our light before men so no one can see goodness in our acts, then we give less glory to God.
There is wisdom in the axiom ‘Actions speak louder than words’. It is true that not everyone has the talent and ability to teach catechism, but that all Christians have been asked to shine our light before men. And on many occasions, shining our light before men, which is equivalent to setting good examples for others to learn, is a more effective way to evangelize.
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Vianney, the Pope has just announced that from June 19, 2009 to June 19, 2010 will be a special year for priests. St. Jean Vianney, the patron saint of priests, is an outstanding example of shining his light before men, especially before priests. He was a true example of a pastor at the service of Christ’s flock. He used to spend sixteen hours every day hearing confessions from people who came to him. When he was a new priest, he was assigned to a church that he had never been before. When he was on his way to his church, he was lost and he asked a young boy how to get to the church, he said, ‘If you can show me the way to the church, then I can show you the way to heaven.’
Indeed, today we need more people who can shine their light before others so that more people can find the way to heaven through the light they shine forth.