My Dear Friends in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ who sent his Spirit into the world to be its light. As most of you know, I’ve spent almost all of my priesthood, in one way or another, working full or part time with either college or high school aged people. One of the things that always amazed me about this age group is how excited they are for service projects. At St. Thomas, we would get between thirty and fifty students to give up their spring breaks in order to travel to different places in this country and abroad to dedicate time for constructing roofs for the poor, playing with hundreds of homeless children, or bringing clothing to the poorest of poor people. And I’m pretty sure activities like this take place at every college campus. What was truly amazing is how it changed the students. They would go away thinking that they were going on a vacation and come back with a sense of purpose. It taught them that homeless and impoverished people aren’t that way because they are lazy or drug addled. It was amazing to watch a young person realize just how good their life is compared to most people.
The readings this week talk about how important it is for us to let our light shine for all the world. This is a kind of code that the first reading and gospel use to talk about how we, as Christians, all bear the responsibility of evangelization. Oftentimes, when we think of evangelization, we think of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses going door to door asking us if we want to talk about Jesus. In the past few years, there have been some Catholic Commentators who believe that this is a direction we should go. There’s a fellow named Scott Hahn who talks about going into the house of a person he was attempting to evangelize when a Jehovah’s Witness came to the door at the same time. The person seemed very understanding and told them both to make their best sales pitch. To me, this sounds like the worst case scenario. And I’m a trained theologian. But, even I will admit that I’m sure there’s a passage of scripture that the person could bring up that I’d be hard pressed to explain. I have a feeling that if we Catholics mandated that every person has to go somewhere and evangelize as a year of service to the church like the Mormons do, we’d lose probably lose a good number of you. And, to be honest, if we really listen to the scriptures for this weekend, we may feel justified in this attitude.
In the Gospel, Jesus is continuing his sermon on the mount. Last week we heard the beginning of the sermon with the beatitudes, those commands that turn the world’s values on their head. You are truly blessed when you are poor in spirit, when you mourn or are meek, when you hunger and thirst for righteousness, when you are merciful and clean of heart, when you are peacemakers, or when you are persecuted. It’s those times when we are most thankful for the gifts that God has given us not when we are comfortable, well fed, and taken care-of. Jesus follows up that teaching this week with this command to let our light shine. It seems to me that part of what Jesus is doing is alluding to the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah. In that reading, Isaiah says that if we share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed, and homeless, clothe the naked when we see them, and don’t turn our back on our own that our light shall shine and God will hear our prayer. The prophet isn’t mandating that we go from door-to-door and give a high pressure sales pitch to get people to come to church. He’s just saying that, when we see someone who needs our help, we should offer it. And, when we do that, people will know that we are a believer and will know that this good act comes from God.
So, our real challenge is to figure out what our light is. What is it that God is calling you to utilize in order to offer him praise? For some of you, it may be reaching out to a charity to share your money with them. For others, it may be organizing a group of people to reach out to someone in need. Still others may purchase some food for someone they know doesn’t have the money to buy their own. Others of you may be part of an organization like the Knights of Columbus or the Catholic Daughters that frequently make donations to charitable organizations. In whatever capacity you are called by God, let your light shine so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.