Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday word, 23 Jan 2011

Third Sunday of the Year A (23 January 2011)

Is 8. 23-9. 3-1; Ps 27; 1Co 1. 10-13, 17; Mt 4. 12-23

Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

Light to Light

From Paul’s correspondence with it we note that the Corinthian church did not suffer error in doctrine. Rather, it deviated from the practice of Christian love and example. That is often true of Jesus’ disciples and friends today. Because you and I part with Christian practice more than Christian belief, we will hear, as Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians unfolds over the coming weeks, the Apostle address us directly.

The great light of Jesus, whose birth and manifestation to all peoples we so recently celebrated, describes his church as much as it described him. Yet, rather than reflected with greater brilliance and clarity, the great light gets fractured, blurred and dimmed by the church. Christians do not always do those intentionally; they do not choose with focused intention to practice what they profess.

That happens in various ways: we give in to our fears instead of standing with Jesus, who is our refuge; we clutch anguish close rather than let it go; we court gloom rather than look beyond it; and we seem more fascinated with darkness and gloom than with the light and loveliness of our Messiah Jesus. One practical result of these sorts of behavior is division: we compartmentalize ourselves; we stand uneasily with others, at best, and we stand against one another, at worst. That has been so in the church from its beginnings.

People of the ancient Mediterranean relied on patrons. Standing with one often pitted people against others with different patrons. Mediterranean people were family- and clan-centered in ways we are not. We often tout a name less as a patron and more as an emblem for our point of view. Commenting on St. Paul’s passage we heard, someone recently reechoed the cast St. Paul listed this way: “In the Catholic church, it often goes like this: I am for Ratzinger. I am for Rahner. I am the Pope’s. I am for protest, I’m for restoration. I’m for reform. I’m for women. I’m for tradition.”1 Clinging to a name or label divides people and dims the great light the church is called to be.

It isn’t that emblems for thought are bad; they are more limited than we give them credit. Nor are categories of thinking of no help to live the faith of Jesus in reasonable ways. Neither, Rahner or Ratzinger in our time nor Apollos or Cephas in Paul’s, died for us. We ought not idolize them. So what are we to do? Certainly not to stop thinking nor to shut up and never try to express our faith in deed or word. Pondering Isaiah’s great light prophecy of Jesus and Jesus’ reminder that his church shed great light for the world2 presented me with an image for ourselves: prisms.

A prism divides white light into its spectrum of colors. We appreciate light more, indeed light fascinates us, when a prism reveals that light is not a monochrome of brightness but a compilation of colors ordered to serve human sight as well as to bring life into darkness, to sustain life the eye can behold and what it cannot. One prism reveals light’s rainbow; a second reunites the colors into white light, which allows us to see.

The Christian vocation I suggest is to function not as single prisms but in concert. We can clarify, and indeed times will cry for the ministry of one person to clarify, something as in line with Jesus’ gospel or not. That person will need the aid of other Christians to return that point of view to the fullness of light. The sanctity of life is one color of the light of Christ that needs greater clarity in our time. Sadly, many allow it to be a color wrenched from the light of Christ. As a result, sanctity of life polarizes people rather than bringing people in closer unity with each other and with Jesus.

St. Paul was no idealist when he pleaded for the Corinthians to be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. He was preaching Jesus, our crucified Messiah, who gave us his mind and his attitude so we may advance his purpose by being his light for one another and our world. To be prisms working in concert is no ideal; it describes our vocation as the light of Christ.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, rest in the light of our triune God. Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus. Praise Jesus for being the world’s light and inviting you to join his mission of enlightening the world. Ask Jesus for the grace to see all things--not one thing--clearly so you may represent him more faithfully in your life, work and play. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which is not just another prayer. It is Jesus’ prayer given to each and to all in the church to help us grow in greater unity as his disciples and his light.


  1. John Kavanaugh, S.J., his “Divided Hearts, Divided Church.”
  2. See Matthew 5.14-16: You are the light of the world.


Wiki-image by BishkekRocks of detail of Jesus proclaiming himself light of the world is used according to the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wiki-image by MarcellusWallace of prisms is used according to the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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