HOMILY WEEK 22 02 – Year I
Living with Christ as Children of the Light:
Memorial of St. Gregory the Great
(1 Thess 5:1-11; Ps 27; Lk 4:31-37)
Are you familiar with the term “paradigm shift”? It refers to an idea or event that radically affects the way we see and deal with reality – almost forcing us to refocus and change the way we think, feel and act in this world in the light of that new knowledge. One example might be the title of the book “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein regarding the environment.
The readings today invite us into a spiritual paradigm shift called realized eschatology: Instead of seeing Christianity as living a certain way so that we can enter heaven, we are being invited to live in the kingdom of heaven here and now – to live with Christ as children of the light.
The first reading and Psalm 27 are all about this paradigm shift, about realized eschatology. We are children of the light and children of the day, experiencing salvation already, living with Christ, living in the house of the Lord, and seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
There is no need to worry about the end of time that will come unexpectedly because we are already living in Christ, and have only to stay awake, alert, vigilant and encourage one another to live fully this new profound reality.
In the gospel, Jesus adds the element of liberation, of deliverance from evil and darkness, as he heals a demoniac in the synagogue in Capernaum. The experience of forgiveness for our sins, and healing of our demons, our painful emotions and our negative attitudes, is central to living with Christ in his kingdom. The saying, “The stronger the sunshine, the sharper we see our shadow” applies here.
That brings to mind a very perceptive reflection by the late spiritual writer Henri Nouwen:
“A transparent life, is a life without moral ambiguities in which heart, mind, and gut are united in choosing for the light. I am discovering the importance of naming the darkness in me. By no longer calling the darkness anything else but darkness, the temptation to keep using it for my own selfish purposes gradually becomes less.
A hard task is given to me—to call the darkness, darkness; evil, evil; and the demon, demon. By remaining vague I can avoid commitment and drift along in the mainstream of our society. But Jesus does not allow me to stay there. He requires a clear choice for truth, light, and life. When I recognize my countless inner compromises, I may feel guilty and ashamed at first. But when this leads to repentance and a contrite heart, I will soon discover the immense love of God, who came to lead me out of the darkness into the light and who wants to make me into a transparent witness of his love.”
In describing our life with Christ and the experience of his healing power, Nouwen adds the powerful invitation for us to be “transparent witnesses of his love,” reflecting outwards to others the dynamic reality of being the light of Christ to the world.
Another spiritual writer, the late Jean Vanier, who I believe was divinely inspired to found the movement of L’Arche homes for the mentally challenged, and whose life was transformed by that experience of seeing Christ in the weakest and least of society, boldy proclaims to all the experience of living in true freedom that ensues when one lives in Christ as a child of the light:
“Let us set ourselves free! Free of our fears that build walls between groups and people. Free of our dreams of power that make us dominate others. Free of our rivalries, our desires to win, that blind us. Free of our race for success, our unhealthy possessions and our desire for superiority, which prevent us from living fully the culture of encounter and from making room for a world of peace and unity.”
Today the church remembers someone who can serve as a model for us in the light of this paradigm shift. St Gregory was born about the year 540 into a wealthy Roman family. After a brief but distinguished service as Chief Magistrate of Rome, he resigned to become a Benedictine monk and used his great wealth to establish several monasteries. In 578 he was ordained deacon and sent to Constantinople as papal ambassador. In 586 Gregory was recalled to Rome and became abbot. Four years later he was elected pope. His charity in feeding starving Romans, his protection of Jewish rights and his political diplomacy helped earn him the title ‘great.’ Several centuries after his death Gregory was credited with developing Gregorian chant, although this remains disputed. He is known as the Apostle of England for sending missionaries there, including Augustine of Canterbury. Gregory died in 604, and is a Doctor of the Church.
The Eucharist is our family meal that offers us a foretaste of that eternal banquet awaiting us when we do pass from one way of being with God to the fullness of that eternal reality. For Vanier, around the table we can see the relationship between food, prayer, and celebration. It’s the place of our covenant. We are bonded together.
May our celebration today deepen that spiritual paradigm shift within us, help us see and appreciate our new life in Christ, and empower us to bring that light of Christ to a dark world as children of the light.