Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Coming as they do immediately after the Beatitudes, Jesus' short lessons on hypocrisy and sincerity teach us the difference btw a well-formed and a malformed conscience. He says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light. . .” What is a “sound eye”? Other translations of this verse read, “If your eye is single,” “If your eye is healthy,” unclouded, clear, good. Perhaps the best translation for the Greek here is: “If your eye is simple,” that is, uncomplicated, true. Think in terms of how one's heart and mind must not hold a doubled allegiance—one to Christ and one to the world. Just as your will is sworn to Christ in love; and just as your intellect is sworn to him in truth, so your eye—your conscience—must be aligned with his saving light. “If your eye is bad [doubled, complicated, clouded] your whole body will be in darkness.” The well-formed conscience enlightens not the body of the believer but the whole Body of the Church as well. The flame of one candle joins the flames of a thousand, a million, a billion more, bringing more light to the Church to enlighten the whole world. However, “if the light in you is darkness,” greater for the Church and the world will the darkness be.
I don't have to tell you what dangers hide in the darkness. Some are a threat to you and you alone. Some threaten your family. Others harass the nation and the Church so that we will look away while evil does its dirty work. In times past, we have rationalized, psychologized, and pathologized away these dangers so that we might remain prominent in the eyes of the eyes of the world. We've dismissed small daily raids on truth and goodness, calling evil's victories “accommodations to the popular will.” We've minimized full-scale cultural wars against the integrity of the family, calling evil's victories “civil rights advances for the oppressed.” And, of course, we've been busy with internal church battles against our own demons—dissent, abuse, outright rebellion. Now we must deal with not only with our self-inflicted wounds but with the secular powers as well—a gov't pushing us into the sanctuary and ordering us to shut up. “If the light in you is darkness, the darkness will be great.” How great will the darkness be? Exactly as great as the followers of Christ, all men and women of good will, allow it to be.
“If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light. . .” Your body. The body of your family. Your parish, your diocese, your nation, and your Church—the whole Body of Christ. The well-formed conscience of a follower of Christ is not a prudish, squeamish, finger-wagging nag. And the light of Christ is not a blinding burst or a deafening clap. The light that enlightens the human soul is the same light that brought everything out of nothing and gifted each of us with reason and faith. That light is God's love. When tempted by darkness to fudge the truth, we shine that light. When tempted to call evil good, we shine that light. When tempted by the darkness to shine that light elsewhere, we shine it nonetheless and suffer the consequences. The light of Christ that brightens you body and soul is not yours to withhold. Don't wait for me, Fr. Mike, Bishop Gregory, even Pope Benedict to tell you where to shine the light of Christ. Shine out God's love where you are, everywhere you go. Dare the darkness with faith and reason! Just be sure that your eye is simple, wholly aligned with Christ, unclouded by sin, and sharply focused on loving even the unlovable. One flame joined to another. . .becomes a beacon. When the storm hits, the lost among us will need a light to guide them. If the Church is going to be that beacon, she will need your brightest light.
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