Ryan McMullen University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017 Notre Dame Vision, Mentor-In-Faith 2014 I remember a particular darkness which surrounded me recently. I did not even recognize it until it had passed; it was something so familiar that it seemed normal. I was truly blind to God for my whole life. I thought I had seen Him, yet when I finally started understanding the real truth I realized how engulfed in this darkness I was. I grew up going through public school, and my parish experience was not the greatest. My involvement in Church was no more than a fulfillment of familial duty; an obligation. Yet my greatest obstacle was my lack of knowledge. I did not understand what it really meant to be a Christian, and therefore, I was unable to praise as I should have been. I was never really taught how to pray or even what exactly to pray for. I was never taught what it means to thank God for his many gifts to humanity. Because of this lack of knowledge I thought of the Eucharist—God’s great sacrifice for the salvation of humanity—as merely a formality. When I would go to Mass on occasion, I would sit and be troubled. I did not feel present because I had no substance to my faith. Deep down I understood that I was in a place far behind where I needed to be. Instead of striving to leave that place, I timidly clenched inward, fearing that I would fail if I tried to move away. I was not refusing to be Catholic, yet I was not really agreeing to be Catholic either. That indifference was caused by my lack of reflection and engagement with faith. Because of my experiences, I had never been introduced to the fact that I could reflect on anything through a lens of faith. Also, coming from a public school, there was never conversation about spirituality, and if there was, it was not the most welcoming atmosphere to be doing so. Consequently, there was no meditation, thought, or even gratitude for my faith. Thankfully, my apathy would soon diminish when I started to think about my faith a little more seriously. The hall director of my college dorm, Fr. Patrick Reidy, C.S.C., first kindled this transformation in me. We were having an ordinary conversation about my integration to Notre Dame. Standard stuff: how was I doing away from home, how were classes treating me, was I enjoying extracurricular activities? I remember being very comfortable in his room. Usually, one-on-one conversations get me a little bit on edge, yet I felt calm speaking to Fr. Pat. At some point in this conversation, he casually mentioned to me the incredible importance of sharing meals. He explained to me that breaking bread with friends and family is an intimate way in which we can share the bountiful gifts of God. It seemed a fine notion to me; eating together for the sake of camaraderie and friendship! That is a nice idea in itself, but it was not the point that was trying so hard to work its way into my life. It would take more time before I truly understood this, yet my mind was, for the first time, being led in the right direction. Then I started taking my ordinary meals more seriously. When I ate with others, I could feel something different. There was more to the interaction than idle small talk. I was actually connecting to others through this act of sharing food. It was one small blessing which I was just beginning to understand. Just one of God’s many gifts which I had not been properly thankful for up to this point. Awoken to the awareness of grace present at the table, I hungered to learn more about my faith. Some weeks later, I was armed with new understanding when I came to Mass. The thoughts of meals kept finding their way into my mind, and I could only wonder why. I pondered this until I walked up to the altar to receive the Eucharist. I said Amen, as usual, yet when I placed the Host in my mouth, I felt something. I resumed my spot on the pew and felt my hunger melt away. My soreness from the day vanished. My mind went clear, and my heart raced in my chest, yet in a calming way. Just as my meals with friends had nourished me, God’s Word in the Eucharist nourished my soul. I look back on those words written in such joyous fervor and see the errors in my speech and what little sense they made. Ironically, I finally felt unquenchable desire to pray as I had never felt before and I barreled through the act blindly. Despite my incoherent prayer, I will always remember the feeling of the Word dwelling within my chest; this gift of the Eucharist which opened my heart—that moment in which I felt the veil of darkness flung from my being. Although I had lived my life without praising His graces, I have recently begun to understand how intimately God calls to each of us. I had been disregarding His Love for too long, but I can finally say that I am stepping in the right direction. I have to make it clear that this is not a story of God entering into my life. He has been in my life from the beginning, even in the midst of darkness.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Vision
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
For five years, my morning commute took me along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago at the crack of dawn. As I made my way south, the lake stretched out to my left – some mornings calm and still like glass, and other days windswept whitecaps and waves crashing upon the shore. Over the course of the year there were a few precious weeks when I could watch the sun rise over the lake.
Slowly, the sky lightens – the first hints brightening in the sky. I begin to see more clearly the details of things around me, as the all-encompassing darkness fades to a mixture of shadows and light. The sky begins to reflect a splendor of color and then, the first rays begin to peek over the horizon.
The light now shines freely across the water, bathing the city in its radiant glow as everything takes on a hint of reflected glory. As the sun rises above the surface of the lake, the reflected rays in the water are almost like a path leading me directly towards the light. All too quickly, the sun rises above the horizon and the day begins. The gentle expectant glow fades into the routine of daily life. Yet I carry with me the memory of hopeful splendor.
On this day we pray O Oriens, O Dayspring, O Radiant Dawn! From the darkness of the shadow of death we yearn for the Light of Christ, Light of the World.
Moving through Advent, the days grow shorter as darkness appears to be overwhelming our world. Until today – the Winter Solstice, the day with the least amount of sunlight – where we proclaim the dawning of Christ’s light into our lives. From this day forward we look to the light that shines in the darkness,
“…because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high
will visit us, to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79).
Each morning we encounter anew the dawning of Christ’s love in our lives. Jesus’ light, the eternal light, shines forth in our lives at all times, yet is sometimes hidden from our view by the obstacles, attitudes, actions, and circumstances that cast a shadow upon our lives. In praying O Oriens we call for the light to break through like the dawn.
During Advent, in the shortest of days when darkness seems to be winning the battle outside and the shadow of death seems to be creeping into our hearts, the Morning Star, the Dayspring, the Light of Life, the Sun of Justice, shines forth.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” (Is 9:1)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015
Notre Dame Vision, Mentor-In-Faith 2013
Making time for prayer has always seemed to be something with which I struggle. Maybe it’s because I think I never have time, maybe it’s laziness, maybe forgetfulness, or maybe a want to control my life and not leave it in the hands of God. Notre Dame Vision was a place where my life revolved around prayer; whether it was in large group sessions, small group discussions, adoration, or confession, prayer was central to everything we did and everything I did. I saw how I viewed life differently when that was the case and I thought I was finally back on track. There was a visible change in how I regarded everything around me; it all became so much more beautiful.
But when I left Vision to come home, I stumbled again. I left Notre Dame when Vision was over and returned to my amazing family but also to the struggles that came with that summer: a French exchange student with a severe lack of manners and a stressed family coping with the fact that Honey, my favorite grandmother, was rapidly declining after a rough fall, dying in a nursing home. I felt guilty for having been at Vision for a month and a half when I could have been home, spending Honey’s last months with her, even though this was an event entirely out of my control. This certainly wasn’t a situation that I thought could ever look beautiful. For weeks I kept thinking to myself, “I must have missed something. God meant for me to get something else out of my Vision experience and I wasn’t paying attention.” But I couldn’t put my finger on it. Instead, it seemed that even after a prayerful summer, everything was going wrong and spiraling out of control. Focus on the stresses continued to consume my time and energy and prayer slipped to the backburner, even when it seems I needed it the most.
I visited Honey many times during the month before I went back to school, but one visit remains the most poignant of them all. I drove to the nursing facility alone the night before I left for Notre Dame, knowing this would be the last time I would ever see her. She had not been responding much to us when we visited so I knew what to expect, but as I talked, telling her how much I loved her, the lack of response drove me to tears. Breaking down crying, I did not know what to do besides pray. So I bowed my head and began the Our Father in thanksgiving for my grandmother; not moments later, she opened her eyes, looking confused by the tears streaming down my face. I smiled and gave her a hug, continuing to tell her how amazing she was and how blessed I was to be her granddaughter. There came a point when I had no words left; we sat in silence and finally, I simply said, “Honey, I love you.” As she closed her eyes she said softly, “I love you, too.” That is the last thing she ever said to me. It was so small but that striking moment of grace was one of the most incredible I have ever experienced and truly solidified the beauty and incomparable power of prayer for me.
I cannot say my prayer life has drastically improved since this moment. I still struggle with a tight schedule and myriad of activities that I allow to dominate my time and I do still forget to pray. But moments of grace are touching reminders of the many blessings for which I must thank God on a daily basis. Because I know He hears me. The answers to my prayers, whether they seem big or small, have been ones of great love from Him. He is a constant presence in my life, which I need only turn towards to see the beauty in my life and feel His tremendous love for me.
The drama of Holy Week continues to unfold as the Church takes yet another step in her observance of the final days in the life of Jesus. Today’s Gospel, again taken from John (Jn 13:21-33, 33-36), chronicles the departure of Judas from the table of the Last Supper. We watch with the confused Apostles as Judas leaves the upper room in order to hand over the One who has just washed his feet in a humble act of self-giving love. Yesterday, the hardness of Judas’ heart showed forth in his criticism of Mary’s anointing Jesus’ feet. Today, Judas separates himself completely from the one true Vine, and the fruits of his hardened heart wither and rot into betrayal and sin. “And it was night” (Jn 13:30b).
Russian realist painter Nikolai Ge (1831-94) helps us enter into the drama and the tragedy of this scene through his work “The Last Supper” (1863). In this work, Ge utilizes the chiaroscuro technique seen in the masterpieces of Caravaggio, creating narrative tension in the stark contrasts between darkness and light. By hiding the light source behind Judas, Ge creates a powerful theological statement: in turning his back on Jesus, Judas has turned his back on the light of the world, thereby fully embracing the darkness of sin and death. Cloaked in this darkness, Judas’ facial features become nearly indistinguishable, and herein lies another unsettling insight from the artist: once Judas has given himself over to sin by allowing Satan to enter his heart (Jn 13:27), the image and likeness of God in which he was created become obscured to the point that he is no longer recognizable as a beloved child of God. Indeed, it is nearly impossible to determine with any certainty what Judas looks like at all in this painting. The light that first drew him to follow Jesus seems to have gone out of his soul completely, and all that remains is darkness.
Yet this theological commentary from the artist is not meant to be restricted only to Judas. In his deliberate choice to portray the betrayer without any distinguishing facial features, the artist compels us to see ourselves in Judas’ darkened face. In our betrayals of Jesus, we, too, become indistinguishable creatures of darkness who are marred beyond recognition, a far cry from the sons and daughters of God we are called to be. By turning our back on Him who is the light of the world, we immerse ourselves in the shadow of sin and the oblivion of death. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). In his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, Christ, the light of the world, pierces the darkness of sin and forever shatters the gloom of death, and in His resurrected glory is the hope of eternal life for all who believe in Him.
We see this hope in the painting by the way in which the artist contrasts the figure of Judas with that of Peter, who stands behind him. Moments after Judas departs, Peter professes to Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you” (Jn 13:37b), and yet we know that Peter, too, will betray Jesus by denying him three times. Both Judas and Peter betray their Master; both are touched by the darkness of sin. And yet, by weeping bitterly in an act of humble repentance, Peter turns his face back toward the light of Christ, and there he receives the mercy that Judas could also have received if he had but sought forgiveness for his betrayal. And so, in the artist’s depiction of Peter—half shadowed, half illuminated—we are also invited to see ourselves. In the example of Peter, we find courage to seek the merciful love of Christ. As we move ever closer to the culmination of Holy Week, preparing ourselves for radiance of resurrected life brought forth from the darkness of death, may we also draw nearer to the merciful heart of Christ—the heart that was pierced on the Cross, opened in order to pour forth love on the world. May we turn away from the darkness of sin in order to receive the light of life by weeping for our sins as Peter did, and by seeking the forgiveness that Christ so desires to offer us.
Image is in the public domain and is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Editorial Note: This series is not intended to be a commentary on the practices or ministry of liturgical music per se. Rather, its goal is to examine recent hymn texts in the light of Scripture, in the hopes of bringing to light new ways of reflecting on the Gospel for each Sunday.
This coming Sunday, the Church will not be observing the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Instead, we will celebrate the feast of the day: the Presentation of the Lord. Rarely does the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord fall on a Sunday—it hasn’t happened since 2003, and it won’t happen again until 2020; therefore, it is a special opportunity to focus on the beauty of Christ, the light of God, who has come into the world to scatter the darkness of sin.
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord: Luke 2:22-40
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him
by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.
Long-Awaited Holy One (Worship, 4th edition #870)
Text: Delores Dufner, O.S.B. (b.1939), ©1984, 1992, 2003, 2011 GIA.
Used with permission.
Long-awaited Holy One,
Simeon hailed you as God’s Son.
Anna welcomed you with praise,
Glad fulfillment of her days.
Light of all the nations, shine!
Show, to those who wait, a sign:
God on earth, our host and guest,
In our flesh made manifest.
Radiance of God’s holy face,
Shine your love in ev’ry place.
Splendor of God’s glory bright,
Lead us to eternal light!
The first line of this hymn addresses the Holy One, the One who is to come into the world, for whom the people of Israel have been waiting, longing. Identified in the second line as “God’s Son,” the One whom Simeon hailed, we know that this hymn addresses the child Jesus, proclaiming Him as the One who will fulfill God’s promise of redemption. This first verse is a poetic proclamation of the events narrated in the Gospel, presenting us with the major figures: Jesus, the Holy One and Son of God; Simeon, the one whose patient waiting and faith in God were rewarded; and Anna, who proclaimed the good news of the Child “to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem,” thus making her one of the first evangelists. In this verse we are invited to see ourselves in these two figures, who in their waiting for the Messiah, fulfill the words of the prophet Malachi: “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with healing in its rays” (Mal 3:20a). In the Incarnation, Jesus Christ is the Sun of Justice, the “glad fulfillment” of God’s word and promise of salvation, “‘prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel’” (Lk 2:31-32).
The second verse begins with a line that draws its inspiration from another translation of Simeon’s canticle, in which he refers to Jesus as “a light to reveal [God] to the nations.” In the hymn, we address Jesus precisely as this “light of all the nations.” The light of Christ is not intended for some of the nations. Just as light does not discriminate or limit where it shines, so too with Christ: the light of His love and His peace shines on all nations, on all people. The second line of the hymn verse pleads for a sign “to those who wait.” The Christ-Child is the sign that the Kingdom of God is at hand, that the events that will culminate in Death and Resurrection have been set into motion. For the shepherds, this sign was an “infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12); for Simeon and Anna, this sign was a poor family who had come to the Temple “to perform the custom of the law in regard to [Jesus]” (Lk 2:27). The sign for all the nations is “God on earth, our host and guest,” God-with-us, God made manifest in Jesus Christ, “the word [who] became flesh” (cf. Jn 1:14) in order to shatter the darkness of death with light of life and love. Simeon himself acknowledges that Jesus is to be a “sign” for all peoples; however, in his prophecy sounds the first note of foreboding for the miraculous Child. Jesus is to be a “sign that will be contradicted;” He is “destined for the rise and fall of many,” and will suffer at the hands of those who reject Him. Yet it is precisely in this suffering, offered out of love for the life of the world, that the light of God’s love blazes forth in Jesus and shatters the darkness of death forever. As John reminds us in the prologue to his Gospel: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:9-12a). The light of the Sun of Justice shines on all nations, and those who leave behind the darkness of sin in order to turn their faces toward the light of Christ will experience the “healing in its rays” by “[becoming] children of God.”
The final verse of the hymn takes the form of an intercession to Jesus, once again utilizing poetic forms of address. Here, Jesus is the “radiance of God’s holy face.” Throughout the Psalms, the reference to the “face” of God is a metaphorical conceit; however, in Jesus Christ, to speak of God’s face is no longer to use metaphorical language. In Jesus Christ, the invisible God has become visible: God now has a human face. And through Jesus Christ, the radiance of God shines forth “in ev’ry place” as precisely as love. The hymn concludes by asking Jesus, “the splendor of the Father,” to “lead us to eternal light.” Jesus, the “light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:32), indeed the light of all nations, shines His light into the darkness even now, guiding along the path of redemption all who seek His illuminating love. He will continue to do so until the day when all things are fulfilled, when those who have followed Him “will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 22:4-5).
In celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we celebrate Jesus Christ, the light of the world. “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:3b-5). May the radiance of Christ illumine our hearts and shine forth in our very lives, so that in us, Christ may continue to dispel the darkness of sin by the light of love.
Much of the focus in the news and social media these past weeks has been on the violence in Syria and the debate surrounding the possibility of a military response. On September 1, Pope Francis appealed to the world community to observe a day of fasting and prayer on September 7, and last night, President Obama appealed to the American community for support as the U.S. government deliberates over its response to danger of chemical weapons in Syria. Today, the nation observes the twelfth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Those of us old enough to recall that fateful day probably remember with crystal clarity where we were and what we were doing when those unforgettable images of tragedy were forever seared into our individual and collective memories. It’s also the first anniversary of the attack on the U.S. consulate building in Benghazi.
The presence of such violence in the world today and the remembrance of violence past give one ample reason to pause and to pray. While this post in no way serves to promote a political viewpoint, it does endeavor to contemplate the reality of violence and the presence of suffering, and how one might gaze into the darkness of that reality and live in the pain of that presence with a clear-eyed vision formed by faith.
The anguish brought on by the presence of violence in the world, and the crises of faith that are so often the result have plagued humanity since Cain raised his hand against his brother Abel. The Psalms, particularly the Psalms of lament, give voice to this anguish felt by every generation, and they continue to speak to us today. Amid today’s violence and turmoil, confronted by our own littleness and seeming powerlessness in the face of the powers of evil, we may often feel forgotten or abandoned by God. Millennia ago, this very human response to violence was not so different from our own.
The psalmist proclaims:
“I will say to God, my rock:
‘Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
oppressed by the foe?’
With cries that pierce me to the heart, my enemies revile me,
saying to me all the day long: ‘Where is your God?’”
(Ps 42:10-11, ICEL translation)
Indeed, faced with violence, people ask every day, all the day long, “Where is God?” When innocents are massacred as they were in the days of Herod, Where is God? When entire generations are wiped out in the blink of an eye, Where is God? When the powerful oppress the vulnerable and atrocities abound, Where is God?
In the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, we have our answer. In the midst of darkness, terror, and violence, God is there in the Person of Jesus Christ, who emptied Himself in self-giving love so that, in the fullness of that love, He might enter the heart of darkness and death itself and transform it into light and life. He who tells us, “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12) is truly “the light [that] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). The darkness has not overcome it. The darkness will not overcome it.
Yet, while we await Christ’s return in the fullness of unending glory, we must still contend with that darkness. Yes, the light shines in the darkness, but until that day when “night will be no more,” when we will need no “light from lamp [nor] sun” (Rev 22:5), we are still a part of the creation that “awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God;” the creation that “is groaning in labor pains even until now” (Rom 8:19, 22). The pangs of those labor pains intensify when darkness looms close and threatens to extinguish the light of Christ within our souls, and it is in those moments that we must return to the faith-filled words of the psalmist: “Why are you cast down, my soul, why groan within me? Hope in God; I will praise him still, my savior and my God” (Ps 42:12).
Our souls groan within us. All creation groans in labor pains. We long for the day when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; [when] one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again” (Is 2:4). In the midst of such darkness, we must continuously seek the light of Christ that shines into our downcast souls so that we might be that light in the world for all. When a cacophony of voices cries for vengeance, we must seek the light of Him who said: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:43), and “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt 5:7). When the weight of futility would drag us into the darkness of despair, we must seek the light of Him who said, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33).
The same One who said “I am the light of the world” also says to us: “You are the light of the world. Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:14a, 16). As we remember the sorrows of a violent past, and struggle with the fear of a violent present, may we cling in hope to the Prince of Peace, who suffered a violent death out of love for the human family in order to restore peace and unity to creation torn apart by sin. Let us continue to follow the Light of the World so that we might “not walk in darkness,” but “have the light of life” (Jn 8:12b). Then, with that light of life burning within us, we may in turn become light for the world so that all may find “the reason for our hope” (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). Then, in the midst of that light, we will be able to pray truly as we gaze unblinkingly into the darkness with the clear eyes of faith: “Hope in God; I will praise him still, my savior and my God.”
3rd year M.Div. student, University of Notre Dame
Last year, on a Thursday evening, I stood outside the doors of the Basilica for a Mass to honor Notre Dame’s own Declan Sullivan, who died in a tragic accident on campus not far from where we stood that night. Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff, most of whom were strangers to Declan, came together as a community to the Eucharistic Table, to give thanks for his life and to honor the person that he was. By the time I arrived, there were a thousand people in the church, and hundreds more standing outside in the forty degree weather. Strangely unwilling to return to the warmth of their own homes, or to view it from LaFortune, we were drawn instead to the comfort of this Eucharistic community, even outside in the cold.
There we stood in a time of darkness. A member of the Notre Dame family had died in a tragic way at a tragically young age. Like that of countless innocent people around the world, Declan’s death was sudden, unexplainable, and inexcusable. We stood there together in mourning.
And here we are, a year later. We remain shocked and troubled, full of questions and still at a loss for words. In Psalm 146, we proclaim together, “Lord, come and save us!” We mean it. We long to be saved from the tragedy that surrounds us, saved from the broken world. As Christians, we look to our Lord, our only hope, and we bring him our sadness and our confusion. We long for the comfort and the strength of our Savior.
Speaking to the suffering of his time and today, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed that the Lord will save us from our “sorrow and mourning.” He says we can “Be strong,” and “fear not!” because the Lord is coming to save us. We tasted that hope year at the Basilica Mass for Declan, where over a thousand people received the Body of Christ, the Living God, present with us then in our sorrow, and present with us today, at this table, and in this sorrow. The Eucharist reminds us to hope in the Living God and His ability to save us from this world. The liturgy that night did not bring Declan back and our mourning did not disappear; rather, we were reminded that we are on the way to something bigger, something we can only begin to see today.
In hope, Isaiah proclaims that at the end, “[t]hose whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy.” In the darkness of grief and mourning, in the darkness of a world that is broken, the prophets call us to patiently wait and hope for the coming of Christ. As we wait, we can look around and see the little ways in which Christ shows us His love, the ways that we live in the Light, pointing us forward to something that is beginning to dawn.
In Matthew’s gospel, John the Baptist’s disciples ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus responds by encouraging them to look around. They see the blind regaining their sight, the lame walking, lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead raised, and the poor listening to the good news… the world is changing. There is goodness, there is hope. Even in the mess, even in the darkness, there is light. Jesus calls John’s disciples to recognize this light in the world around them, and to see that Jesus was and is the “one that is to come.”
The present world can provide us glimpses, moments of hope, hints of the future coming of Christ. Like John the Baptist, who witnessed to the coming of one greater than he, we witness to the Living Christ by living lives of hope. John came to “prepare [the] way” for Jesus. He didn’t even know who he was waiting for—he didn’t know if Jesus was “the one that was to come.” He hoped in what he did not know. This man on the margins attracted disciples by witnessing to a hope that was beyond anything the world had known. John, who did not “dress in fine clothing,” or live in a “royal palac[e],” witnessed to a hope in something greater than this life, something bigger than all that we go through each day, all our disappointments, our sufferings, and our seemingly unmet longings. He witnessed to a hope in the kingdom that is not yet, and he did so in the humblest of ways—in his daily life.
Like John’s disciples, we too long for the Living God, “the one that is to come.” This God who will save us is present here, in many ways, in our messy, broken world. We wait in hope for His future coming, and we glimpse Him in the here and now in small ways that point us to something bigger.
That night outside the Basilica, I encountered our Living God in the warmth of the Eucharistic community, in the darkness of night outside a breathtaking church, in the choir’s beautiful rendition of “You Are Mine”, in Fr. Doyle’s ability to both honor Declan and serve the congregation in his homily, and in the love so present in our mourning community.
The God who will be made fully present, “crowned [at the end] with everlasting joy,” is also the God here with us now, in our work, in our play, in our prayer. The God we long to save us is right here with us, “where two or three are gathered,” and he will be profoundly present in our Eucharistic celebration. We glimpse Him here and now, but we know that any encounter with God on earth is nothing compared to what is to come.
This is not a God who remains absent in times of sorrow. We are not alone. We worship a Living God, a God real and present to me when I stood outside the Basilica in the cold, surrounded by hundreds of people. In the darkness of tragedy, in our tired daily lives, in our brokenness, and in our longing, we glimpse His light.
The light I encountered there, standing outside a church, was not of this world. Knowing a twenty year old student had died, knowing that we can never know on earth why these things happen– I found myself wrapped in the light of a Living God. It wasn’t physical light I could see in the darkness, but rather something I experienced in listening to messages of hope in the Liturgy of the Word, in the homily, and at the Eucharistic table. It was a light I experienced standing close to my roommate to stay warm, surrounded by hundreds in some communion I could not fully describe.
That night outside the Basilica, I glimpsed the light of Christ. I glimpsed the light that in the darkness of pain and sorrow, we cannot always see, but we know to be present and active in our lives. Gathered once again in a community of believers, today we continue to hope in the Living God, the one that is to come, for the day when the darkness will turn into light.