Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation (Serra Club)
In the dark, we can lift a lamp to light our way. Or, just flip on the lights and go about our business. Either way we see the way to go. . .unless our eyes are bad, and then the light becomes less and less helpful. If our eyes are completely dark, then the light is no help at all. Jesus takes this line of thought one step further and adds, “And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” It makes perfectly good sense to say that if one is blind, then light itself will be of no help in seeing. This simple fact of seeing also makes perfectly good sense translated into a spiritual truth: if you are willfully spiritually blind, unwilling to see the light of Christ, to use his light for your good, then no amount of his light will help you see. But what does Jesus mean when he says, “…if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be”? How can light be darkness? And why will that darkness be so great?
We have to back up just a bit and rehearse a familiar teaching about the loves of the heart. Jesus teaches us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. . .for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” Entrusting your heart—the tabernacle of the Lord you carry with you everyday—, entrusting that fleshy ark of the covenant to the world is a dangerous gamble, a risk beyond the value of any possible payoff. Rather, store what you most value in heaven, give your heart to God and prize beyond the world the treasures of His love and mercy. These moths and decay cannot touch and thieves cannot steal. And remember the warning of the Psalmist: you become what you love most.
With the warning of the Psalmist ringing in your ears—“you become what you love most”—let’s listen again to Jesus’ caution: “…if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” Shut your eyes to the assistance of the light and become willfully blind—“your whole body will be in the darkness.” Make the darkness your light, in other words, “see” with a dark heart, blinded eyes, and the darkness you welcome into your heart will be great indeed. If you love the darkness more than the light, you will become the darkness. And all you will ever see is night.
It makes sense for us then to ask, how does darkness become our light? Another way to approach this question is to ask the question our brother Thomas Aquinas answered: how do we become fools? How do the otherwise wise lose wisdom and entertain folly, becoming fools along the way? Thomas says: one sin after another begins to twist our gift to choose the Good, to twist this gift so that we come to see Evil as Good and choose Evil as the Good, and we do so over and over again until we have lost the gift to distinguish Good from Evil. In other words, just as growing in holiness means consistently choosing to do the Good (virtue), dying in darkness mean consistently choosing to do Evil (vice). The real irony of our vicious decline is that we almost always feel entitled to the evils we choose, rightfully given the vices we have acquired, and duty-bound to follow the foolish path to our deaths. Walking down a hill easily turns to running down the hill, which quite easily turns into stumbling then falling then wrecking against the merciless stone. How much sadder, more despairing is it to stumble, fall, and wreck against the stone in miserable darkness, wholly alone with your folly?
Who lives in the tabernacle of your heart? What treasures have you stored there? Think of your heart as a large, slowly dissolving mass, a giant lump that fizzes away, feeding your body and soul and then growing again only to begin again to dissolve slowly. Is your heart—the seat of your wisdom from God—nourishing your body or polluting it? Feeding you bright light and life? Or dark-night and death?
Since our Lord sent his Spirit at Pentecost to give birth to his Church, we have remembered his constant presence among us in this sacrificial meal of Thanksgiving. Renewing the food of life in us, our hearts grow wiser, stronger, more loving, and even more merciful. Store up Christ in your hearts and let him fizz away in that tabernacle of yours, making you his more and more and more. What treasure is worth more than God Himself reigning supreme in the hub of everything you are?