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MONDAY HOMILY: Light in the Midst of Darkness

By Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds
January 7th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The forces arrayed against Christianity can be daunting.  It seems as though the average person has no power or influence to change things for the better.  However, the Christian is not called to be "average," but to be a saint.

SUGAR LAND, TX (Catholic Online)  Beginning around 740 years before the birth of Christ, the Assyrian empire invaded and occupied the land of Israel.  As part of their strategy of subjugation, a substantial portion of the local population was dispersed, being replaced by people from other conquered lands.  More deportations followed in subsequent centuries.

While a few Jews remained, Galilee and the surrounding territories were given over to Gentile settlement.  Thus the words of the Gospel of St. Matthew, quoting the prophecy of Isaiah:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles,

the people who sit in darkness

have seen a great light,

on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death

light has arisen

(Matthew 4:15-16).

When Jewish patriots reconquered Galilee in the century before Christ, the region once again became home to large numbers of Israelite settlers, who returned to their ancestral homeland.  It was probably during this time that Joseph's family, and perhaps Mary's too, returned to Galilee and settled in a new town they called Nazareth.  In fact, archeologists tell us that the area around Nazareth was only occupied when a group of descendents of King David made it their home in the late second century B.C.

Due to these migrations, Galilee underwent a series of transformations.   From being part of the Kingdom of Israel, it was repopulated by Gentiles.  As a result, Jesus' base of operations, while traditionally a part of the Jewish homeland, had a mixed population and a culture that was Greek as well as Jewish.  In addition, the land was by that time occupied by the Romans, who brought their own religion, customs, and laws.

This cultural climate forms the backdrop to Jesus' public ministry, so much of which was carried out in Galilee.  Isaiah describes this land as "overshadowed by death" (Matthew 4:16).  The Jewish inhabitants of Israel would understand this reference immediately.  Ravaged by war, destruction and exile; torn apart by forced evacuations; existing at that time under the yoke of an oppressive foreign government, Galilee was an early experiment in ethnic cleansing.

But as so often happened in Jewish history, a remnant of faithful remained.  They honored the covenant and awaited the coming of the Messiah.  He is the light of Isaiah's prophecy, who brings hope and healing to a world torn apart by human pride and excess.

There is another sense in which the land was overshadowed by death.  In addition to the litany of human suffering and injustice inflicted upon the Chosen People, they were living in a fallen world, one in which the grace of God was not fully operative. "Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam" (Romans 5:14).  Only God can remove the darkness of sin, and he chose to send his Son as the instrument of that liberation.

The first step in being freed from the darkness of sin is conversion.  "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand," Jesus proclaims (Matthew 4:17).  This is always the starting point of the Lord's preaching.  Openness to conversion and interior repentance, even if it is not yet fully realized in us at any given moment, is the beginning point of our redemption.

"The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus' proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel.Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1989).

Like the Galileans of the first century, we also live in a culture that seems to be "overshadowed by death," with little reference to God or to authentic human flourishing.  The forces arrayed against Christianity can be daunting.  It seems as though the average person has no power or influence to change things for the better.

However, the Christian is not called to be "average," but to be a saint.

"A secret, an open secret: these world crises are crises of saints.  God wants a handful of men 'of his own' in every human activity. And then...pax Christi in regno Christi - the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ" (St. Josemaria Escrivá, The Way, no. 301).

Are we ready to embark upon the adventure of sanctity?  At the beginning of a New Year of grace, and within the context of this special Year of Faith, there is no time better than the present moment for accepting our divine vocation to grow in holiness of life.  This is not simply a work of human effort, as if our wills were sufficiently powerful to shield us from all sin and temptation.  It is first and foremost the work of the Holy Spirit, who wants to transform our lives and to enrich them with the fruits of holiness.

This is why, despite the darkness around us, we are people of hope.  The light of Christ is still radiating his divine energy and power, which is why St. Paul can encourage us to be "children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life" (Philippians 2:15-16).  May we take up that charge and live it with serenity and peace.

As ever, we turn to our Blessed Lady.  Alone among all creatures, the light of Christ filled her completely.  She is ever ready to intercede for us, teaching us how to approach her divine Son in holiness of life.

Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, TX, a suburb of Houston.  You may visit the parish website at: www.SugarLandCatholic.com.

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