22 March 2012

On being a small but brighter light

4th Week of Lent (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

We are all children of the Enlightenment; that is, we were all raised on a daily diet of rational skepticism, the need for scientific proof, and a general suspicion of the supernatural. Add to this mix a uniquely American pragmatism and common good sense, and you have a model for the modern person who strives in live in the real world of things. However, like most children, we've taken bits and pieces of our upbringing and incorporated our own experiences into a worldview that seems coherent to us. Since we are believers, we have rejected the idea that there is no supernatural realm. We've accepted the existence of God; the reality of angels and their fallen kin; the destructive consequences of sin and the free availability of freedom from sin. Though few of us would claim to fully understand how the supernatural world works, most, if not all, of us would agree that there is something like a world beyond the physical world. How did we come to this conclusion? Evidence? Wishful thinking? Just a gamble? Maybe a little of each? If we follow Christ, we do so by choice. We made a decision to believe, a decision to trust the promises of God and to follow His Christ. Evidence plays a supporting role and reason helps us to understand, but ultimately, we choose. We choose to believe the witness of faithful generations.

Jesus confronts his accusers with a radical assertion: I am the Son of God. He shocks the Jews to their religious core by claiming to have the authority to pass judgment on sins, to forgive those sins, and heal the sinner. In effect, he is claiming to be God Himself. So why does he say, “If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not true”? First, let's understand what he is saying. He means, “When I testify for myself, you do not believe me.” He's not saying that his self-witness is false, only that his testimony is not heard as the truth by those who will not to believe. Augustine says it perfectly, “For He knew well that His Own witness of Himself was true; but for the sake of the weak, and hard of belief, and [those] without understanding, the Sun looked out for lamps. For their weakness of sight could not bear the dazzling brightness of the Sun.” The sun, our brightest star, looked for lamps. The Son of God looked for smaller lights to reflect his brightness so that those blinded by the brilliance of his witness could see him for who he really is. 

The Church—for 2,000 yrs—has been and continues to be a global collection of those smaller lights, each reflecting a sliver of Christ's light, each shining out a glimpse of his true glory. The accumulated light of 50 generations, 20 centuries, with each new generation adding to the brightness of our corporate witness, this gathered light tells the true but as yet imperfect story of our collective labors toward bearing a final witness to Christ's triumph over death. Evidence supports our claim that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, even if individual lights in the Church fail at being one or all of the above. Reason—as a divine gift oriented toward the Gift-giver—supports our incomplete understanding of God's complete Self-revelation. But evidence and reason alone do not constitute faith. Reason and evidence do not suffice as truthful testimony. We choose to trust; we choose to love; we choose to hope. And when we choose to trust, love, and hope, our smaller light is added to the global witness, making the Church's testimony to the glory of God's mercy all the brighter. We can choose to brighten the light of our witness, or we can choose to darken it. Join the faithful generations in bearing witness to the saving power of Christ!

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