AMONG THE MANY wonderful images in sacred Scripture related to following Christ, I find the images of darkness and of light especially provocative.
Darkness can lead to ignorance, lack of confidence, confusion and even danger. Light can overcome everything negative that darkness can foster. What does it mean to speak of Christ as the light of life? My guess is that if we reflect on our experience of light and darkness in our lives that experience may help us to appreciate what it means to refer to Christ as a special light.
Whenever I go to a motel or hotel for some conference, I always leave the light on in the bathroom during the night with the door of the bathroom partially open. There is just enough light illuminating the room in which I will be sleeping so that if I should wake up in the middle of the night, I will be able to recognize where I am. Complete darkness in a room that we are sleeping in for the first time can be quite frightening and dangerous.
I had an experience of “blindness” once when I was driving a car in a rainstorm. It was the worst rainstorm that I have ever experienced. The windshield wipers, which I had turned up to maximum strength, could not handle the amount of rain that was hitting the windshield. For a few seconds, I was driving “blind.” My car was moving forward but I could not see what was in front of my car. In relation to our Christian lives, we would be driving ”blind” without the Holy Spirit whom Christ has sent to help us.
When I first started teaching philosophy many years ago, I had an experience several times that really surprised me and provided insight that seemed like a gift, not like something that I had personally achieved by my own efforts. The experience was related to teaching some difficult doctrine in philosophy. The evening before I had to teach the doctrine in class I could not grasp its meaning. Though I tried to grasp what the doctrine was saying, I went to bed with the resolution that the next morning I would do my best in class, but I was not very confident. How would I be able to explain something to the students when I myself did not understand it?
The next morning during class, while I was trying to explain the doctrine to the students, I suddenly received an insight that enabled me to understand what I could not understand the previous evening. The insight seemed like a gift, something not due totally to my own effort. It was like a light in the darkness that I was experiencing. That experience may have been something like the light and insight that the Holy Spirit offers us into the mystery of ourselves, the mystery of God and the mystery of our neighbor.
The light that the Holy Spirit provides is not limited to the times we spend in church or the times we are saying private prayers. The Holy Spirit is always present, trying to motivate us, to inspire us, to move us, to teach us. It is not just the pope and the bishops that are accompanied by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit breathes where He will.
I am thinking of a few examples to illustrate how the Holy Spirit might be motivating us. If I go to visit someone in a hospital or nursing home, if I forgive someone, if I reach out to someone who is lonely or depressed, all of those actions might be due to the Spirit’s presence in my life. I believe that when we perform a good action, we do not have to explicitly think of the Holy Spirit inspiring us or moving us. Even if we are not thinking about the Spirit when we are performing some good action, that free action we perform may ultimately be due to the Holy Spirit’s presence.
I have come to believe that the most direct, and perhaps most effective way to allow the light of Christ to illuminate our experience, is through prayer. In prayer we are welcoming God into our lives. This is true even in prayers of petition in which we are asking God for some favor. Prayer may be the most effective activity to help us be sensitive to the presence of the Spirit. In a special way, I think the Sunday Eucharist can immerse us in the light of Christ and help us to be more receptive to the presence of Christ’s Spirit.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Profound Personalism and Poverty” (Resurrection Press).