Sunday Sermon for February 6, 2011, the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Is 58:7-10; 1Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16

In the Gospel reading Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. This is an interesting point since St. John tells us in his Gospel that Jesus is the light that came into the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it. However, he also says that our Lord is the light that enlightens every man. It is in this manner that we must understand ourselves to be the light of the world.

What does this mean for us? It means that for those who are in the State of Grace, the Lord lives within them. Beyond this, He wants to shine through them. Even if we are in the State of Grace, it is still very possible for us to be worldly people caught up in materialism, selfishness and a life of empty show. If this is the case, even though the Lord is within, we have essentially placed a bushel basket over the fire of God’s love and we do not allow the light to radiate through us.

The Saints tell us that the more we can get ourselves out of the way, the more the Lord can work through us. The inverse is, of course, true: the more there is of us, the less there is of Christ. We live in a world that has chosen darkness, yet there are many souls wandering aimlessly in the dark who desire the light without really even knowing it. It is our responsibility, and our great privilege, to be the means by which the true Light can be shown to them.

We need to be clear however, that it is Jesus they need, not us. St. Paul understood this well when he told the Corinthians that when he came to them it was not in human wisdom and with sublime speech. Rather, he says, that he decided to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and Him crucified so that their faith would be based, not on human wisdom, but on the power of God.

This means that we have to be convinced, like St. Paul, of the power of God demonstrated through the Cross and the resurrection and even now in the Sacraments. We have to be close to Him in and through prayer so that we not only develop a deep relationship with Him, but that we have the love and the confidence to bring Him to others.

Not everyone is called to preach, but all of us are called to be lights in the world. You may not think yourself to be a very bright light, but when it become very dark, even a faint light appears fairly bright. In other words, we do not have to wait until we are Saints to begin this work; in fact, it is by being this light of the world and the salt of the earth that we will become Saints.

Even if you are not a very gifted speaker, the light can still shine brightly, perhaps even more so, through your works. St. Francis of Assisi spoke of how the Lord desires to make use of our hands, our feet, our tongue, etc. The first reading speaks of sharing our bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked and not turning our backs on our own. Only then, says Isaiah, will our light break forth like the dawn. I suppose one could use the adage “talk is cheap” in this context. We have to back up our words with works. Even if we do not use words, we still have to do the works.

If we are doing the works out of love for Jesus and for those we are serving through these works, the light of Christ will be shining brightly through us. Without speaking a word the universal language of love will have pierced through to the hearts of those who were in darkness and the light of the love of God will begin to shine in them.

This may seem preposterous, but Mother Teresa’s nuns have been doing this for years. They do not try to evangelize the people they serve; instead, they allow the love of God to shine through them. People see this and are touched and many become Catholic because these women allowed their love of Jesus to radiate through them. In their humility and though their prayer they are willing and able to get themselves out of the way so that it is the Lord Who is working, loving and shining through them.

All of us are able to practice charity, to die to self and to live for Christ. If we do this, our light will shine before others, they will see our good works and give glory to our Heavenly Father.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit