In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us of who we are as Christians namely the “light of the world” (Matt 5: 12). But what does this mean? We should first understand what ‘light’ means within the context of the Gospel acclamation, “I am the light of the World, says the Lord, anyone who follows me will have the light of life,”. The acclamation makes it clear that Jesus himself is the light. It also teaches us that if we follow Him we will have light which is life. This is how we will be the “light of the world”.
So our light is Christ’s light! The life of our soul is Him!
The challenge this Gospel poses however is for us to think about how we can facilitate this, how we can allow God’s light of life and grace to shine through to the world. How do we become the light of the world? Or put in other words, how can we grow in to Christ who is the light?
The answer is not as complicated as we may think. This growth in light ( of divine life) according to Bl. Columba Marmion is principally through the sacraments and through the exercise of the virtues. Firstly we must recognise that the sacrament of baptism establishes us as Children of God by sanctifying grace. This sanctifying grace given at baptism also gives our actions and good works a supreme dignity and a supernatural efficacy. It allows for us to live out Christ’s own life and so we can say with St. Paul “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” ( Gal 2:20). However Marmion , a Thomist at heart, says out of all the sacraments the Eucharist causes us to grow the most in the divine life. It is the source and summit of our whole spiritual edifice and in a very real way it causes us to be filled with light and life and enables us to be the light of the world that Jesus talks about in the Gospel.
Now besides the sacraments the exercise of the virtues ( especially the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love) are the next means by which the life of grace grows within us. Like the sacraments they are means by which we become more and more the light of the world as they perfect the supernatural life in us. When we practise and live out the virtues we earn more merit because according to St. Thomas every meritorious act is a source for an increase in grace. It follows then that the more virtuous we become the greater is our interior life and the more efficacious are the effect of our good works. Therefore the more interior life we will possess the brighter will be our light to the world!
And so like the the city on the hill-top in the Gospel the soul built on the mountain of the sacraments and built with the bricks and mortar of the virtues stands out and is inevitably seen and noticed. As the hill suggests elevation, the beauty of a soul filled with the divine light and life will cause others to look up to it with a certain reverence and awe because they see in it something ‘out of this world.’ This is why the Gospel goes on to tell us that people seeing the good works of the Christian soul, perfumed with the light of Christ, will praise our Father in heaven. In other words the soul whose being and actions radiates the light of Christ and so radiates Christ himself, will draw the minds of others to heavenly realities and so ultimately to God himself. For me this is what Christ meant by calling us to be a light for the World.
This is our faith and it is a concrete reality. I remember in my own journey of faith how I marvelled at certain Christians who had a ‘light’ and a virtuosity about them that seemed supernatural. I am thinking here of people like Mother Teresa and her total self-giving to the underprivileged but also members of my own parish and family. For me they looked superhuman and impossible to imitate. But now I realise they were truly human because they were flourishing with God’s grace becoming the imago dei of God Himself. Their witness summoned my own mind to rise towards God and heavenly realities though I may not have known it. They were being to me what Jesus calls all of us to be namely the ‘light of the world’.
Matthew 5: 13-16
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”