Come to the Light

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B


Imagine you’ve been in bed for a few days due to the flu.  You are on your way to recovery, but you still feel lousy.  Your room reeks of sickness and needs to be aired out.  The waste can by your bed is overflowing with dirty Kleenex.  You haven’t brushed your teeth yet today, and you know your breath stinks.  Your hair is a mess, and there’s sand in your eyes.  You don’t want to see anyone.  You just want to be left alone.  Suddenly there’s a knock at the door, and in barges one of your well-intentioned family members bearing a tray with supper.  It’s a delicious lobster dinner from the Marblehead Chowder House, with all the fixings: a Caesar salad with anchovies, cole slaw, baked potato with sour cream and chives, coffee, and bread pudding for dessert.  Normally, such a meal would send you into a rapture of delight.  Now, however, it’s the last thing you want to see.  “Take it away!” you exclaim.  It’s all you can do to keep yourself from tossing your cookies and throwing the tray across the room.

Here’s the lesson: When we are not healthy, we recoil at the best things in life.  How many people with a temperature of 101° would want to go skiing?  How many people with a severe migraine headache would want to attend a performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor?  Some years ago, I married a young couple at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Bethlehem.  At the wedding reception, the groom and his father-in-law began horsing around and got into a good-natured tussle, as a result of which the groom dislocated his shoulder.  The poor fellow was in serious pain.  How much do you think he enjoyed his honeymoon?  I repeat:  When we are not healthy, we recoil at the best things in life.

What is true of physical sickness is also true of spiritual maladies.  When we are not spiritually healthy—when we are steeped in sin and/or error—we have an aversion to God.  Look what happened to Adam and Eve in the garden.  They ate the forbidden fruit, and what did they do?  They hid from God.[1]

This, I think, is part of what Our Lord is trying to tell us in our Gospel.  He says:


And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.  But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. [2]


There you have it.  Saint Augustine tells us that God made us for Himself and that we will find our ultimate satisfaction only in Him.[3]  Yet when we are spiritually sick, we find ourselves fleeing from God, the only Source of true happiness and peace.

In order to take my spiritual temperature, I have to ask myself some questions.  Do I have a definite longing to be in God’s presence, or do I think of Him more as an inconvenience, Someone whose demands on my life are more an intrusion than anything else?  Do I have a desire to pray, or will I make any excuse to keep from praying?  Do I want to learn more and more about my faith, or do I find myself time and time again preferring to watch nonsense on the internet?  Do I come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly because I want to be made clean and start life over anew, or do I find myself dreading the experience of confession?  Do I want to instill faith in young people, or am I indifferent about their religious instruction?  Do I treat people as individuals made in the image of God, or do I use people as means to my own ends?

How, by the way, do I regard death?  In his book Love Is Stronger than Death, Peter Kreeft argues that, as we grow closer to God, our perception of death undergoes a gradual change.  First, Kreeft says, we regard death as an enemy, someone who will put an end to all our hopes and dreams. Then, if we grow closer to God, death becomes a stranger, someone with whom we could strike up a conversation but would rather not. If our relationship to God grows closer, death becomes for us a friend, someone with whom we are feeling more comfortable. If we persist in traveling on the path toward God, death is transformed into a mother, someone who will bring us new birth. Finally, if we are really intimate with God, death becomes a lover, someone who will bring us into intimate union with God. In short, do I regard death as a gateway into a better life, or do I think of death as an enemy?

To use the analogy of Jesus, am I drawn to the light, or do I flee from it?  Am I a celestial moth, or am I an infernal cockroach?

One of the greatest highs I have ever experienced in life is the feeling that comes with restored health after a long illness.  Awareness is heightened.  The world seems to sparkle, and there’s a certain joie de vivre, a joy in living.  After weeks of eating bland food and having to struggle just to get the next mouthful down, dinner at the Marblehead Chowder House is pure ecstasy.  If you want to know the truth, it’s just like that when we turn our back on the darkness and begin heading home toward the Light.  Delicious!

[1] Genesis 3:8.

[2] John 3:19-21.

 [3] Fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te.  “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”  (See Confessions, Book I, Chapter 1.)