Letting My Light Shine
It’s hard to read this Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew 5:13-16, without thinking of this old Bible School song. I can’t tell you when I first learned these lyrics; I feel like I’ve known this song forever, and I’m guessing that you are familiar with it, too. In fact, I’m willing to bet that some of you didn’t just read that line, but sang it to yourself.
I must be honest and say that I never thought very deeply about the scriptural reference of this song. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” As a child, this was a pretty simple concept that we have a light and we are to let it shine. What more do you need to know? I imagined myself walking through dark spaces with a candle or a flashlight. My “little light” would be just enough to guide me in the darkness, to get me safely through my nighttime adventure.
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.”
As with most Bible songs that we learn as children, the song did a good job of helping me to learn a snippet of scripture, but maybe it left out the most important part. At the end of the Gospel, we read “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Letting my light shine is not some means by which I guide myself. It also is not meant to serve as a way to attract attention to me. Our light must shine for others so that they can glorify God.
In baptism we receive the Light of Christ, and as baptized people we are commissioned to go out into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). This task can seem overwhelming and, at times, insurmountable, but how encouraging is to know that we can accomplish this mission simply by letting our lights shine? The best part is that we’re not alone; Jesus promises to be with us (Matthew 28:20)!
We are met daily with opportunities to let our light shine, to point others toward Christ through our good deeds. Little by little, day by day we can help others to glorify our heavenly Father. I can’t think of any better reason to sing and to let my light shine!
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Jesus spoke to the crowds many times throughout his public ministry. At times, there were conversations that happened one on one while breaking bread together. Sometimes He spoke to twelve of His closest friends. Other times He spoke to a crowd that was as far as the eye could see.
The one thing all these moments had in common is that He always spoke truth to the people. This Sunday, we get to hear and focus on the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew when He spoke to the multitudes.
Many people are familiar with the Beatitudes. You can find artwork of them that you can hang in your house and prayer cards that can be passed out to people. Some may also know all of them by heart, but the question we should ask ourselves is, “What do they mean, and am I living them out?”
Do we understand what it means to be poor in spirit? Is it something we look at through a positive lens, or is it something we tell ourselves is for other people?
I have wondered at times if I live out the Beatitudes in my life. At times, I can say yes. Other times the answer is no, but I always try.
I desire to be poor in spirit and recognize my need for God. I desire to be a voice for righteousness and justice. I desire to show mercy and forgiveness to all. I desire to love others unconditionally even when I am being persecuted. I desire to be more like Jesus.
John 3:30 says it best, “He must increase; I must decrease”. That is what the Beatitudes is about. They are all characteristics of Jesus and how He lived. The Beatitudes are giving us a road map to becoming more like Him.
I encourage you to sit with the Beatitudes this weekend. With Lent approaching in less than a month, this is a good time to begin to focus on what we would like our Lenten journey to look like.
Instead of waiting until Ash Wednesday to begin praying more, begin that today. Pick one of the Beatitudes below and live it out with joy. It’s never too soon to commit to diving deeper into our beautiful Catholic faith.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Thinking about Repentance
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Our readings since Advent often focus on darkness and light. This is especially true again this weekend. For me, light is about opening my eyes to see and feel, and then to recognize what darkness exists in both my life and the lives of our brothers and sisters everywhere. Everything I say and do reflects my understanding of what Jesus calls me to be and to do. Sometimes, I am “in the dark” not seeing the connectedness of all of life. Jesus spent his entire ministry on earth being a “light” to the nations, offering hope for all. You and I have that same call.
Two significant experiences for me regarding repentance and building the kingdom of heaven on earth are a reflection guide and a video webinar. I share those with you.
In Living the Word: Scripture Reflections and Commentaries for Sundays and Holy Days, Thomas F. Ryan and Deborah L. Wilhelm offered these ideas for consideration and discussion:
We often imagine repentance as sorrow for personal wrongs we’ve committed, like lying or missing Mass. But truly, every sin affects others somehow, and some of our sin affects others profoundly. To repent, then, is also to see what causes violence, to pray for those in its grip—and to work for a world in which no one need fear it. To repent is to see what’s causing the pain in our economies, our jobs, our relationships—and to be a force for healing restoration. Where do you see this kind of repentance taking place? Where is it needed? (p. 51)
The video comes from Georgetown University, a Jesuit-sponsored and staffed institution that has a strong emphasis on Catholic initiatives around social thought. The online public dialogue/panel discussion focuses on “The Consistent Ethic of Life in 2023: Solidarity with Those Who are Poor and Vulnerable.” It connected so many aspects of what Jesus named and lived as a call to build the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. The link to the YouTube video is here. It is one hour in length, but it is definitely worth it.
For me, both are powerful experiences of the call to be a force for repentance and healing restoration. Jesus said, “I have come to bring the fullness of life to all.” For this let us all work and pray!
Called to be Holy
Paul says that we have been “consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be a holy people.” What does it mean to “be holy”? Who are the persons we consider to be holy? What is it that makes them holy? How is it that we experience “holiness”?
In Holy Moments, our Christmas gift book, Matthew Kelly provides this definition:
A Holy Moment is a single moment in which you open yourself to God. You make yourself available to Him. You set aside personal preference and self-interest, and for one moment you do what you prayerfully believe God is calling you to do.
Each of us has experienced the call to holiness in our Baptism. We remember that call often in our prayers and our rituals, in our reception of sacraments, in our reflection on Scripture readings, as well as in our study of the saints. Those saints might be the ones identified by the church and named as saints, as well as those we know to be “saintly” people. The Church may not recognize them as such; nevertheless, we know them to be saints, to be models of influence in our lives.
Although each of us has our own personal mission, our personal call to holiness, we also respond to that call in our families, in our workplaces, in the various communities we are a part of, and in the life of our parish. What call to holiness are you and your family experiencing in parish life today? What stories of holiness do you tell in your conversations? How are you using those stories to “remember forward”—to create a living legacy of holiness?
I would love to hear stories of “holiness” lived in the St. Francis of Assisi parish community!
New Ways, New Paths
“I had an epiphany!” How many times we hear that expression, perhaps not realizing the full import of what it means. Epiphanies can come from external sources as well as internal sources. In my experience, I would say the expression of epiphany is the same as “seeing the light.” Both indicate that we see things in a different light, or understand in a new way, or somehow experience a revelation, what I would call a gift from God.
For me, the key to receive such new understanding or new insight is openness and curiosity, paying attention, listening, and taking time to reflect for the purpose, the intention of understanding. Such listening can be very transformative. The story of the Magi that we hear this Sunday is an example.
One of my many epiphanies happened when I was discerning the call to ministry at SFA. I was very adamant in the beginning that parish life was not a good fit for me. I was used to convent liturgies, all women group processes, educational settings, and facilitating groups in planning. Parish life was different. I was so near-sighted, so short-sighted, not being able to see myself in this role.
After saying “no” three times, I finally accepted the invitation to attend the Triduum. I didn’t just attend. I participated! At every part of the liturgies, I was drawn into the community experience of foot washing, of reverencing the cross, of renewal of baptismal promises and our experience of “wading in the water.” I saw the light, literally in the experience of God present in the assembly, in the creativity of voices and actions, in the welcome of every person I sat or stood next to each of the three nights. I experienced a new vision of what life could be like. I entered into the process of paying attention and was changed. I not only could say YES, but also did it with great joy. That joy continues even in the ongoing seeking of new ways, new paths in ministry and in parish life.
Last year in his Epiphany Homily, Pope Francis offered us this reflection on how our synodal listening sessions gave us the opportunity to enter into such listening—listening for understanding of the experience of others and not being afraid to enter into the experience of persons whose experience is different from ours. He gives us these insights about how the listening sessions in our parishes indicated that we too might take paths that are “another way” of being and acting. Like the Magi, may we too be blessed with new revelations as individuals, as parish groups, and as a parish community.
Finally, the Magi return “by another way” (Mt 2:12). They challenge us to take new paths. Here we see the creativity of the Spirit who always brings out new things. That is also one of the tasks of the Synod we are currently undertaking: to journey together and to listen to one another, so that the Spirit can suggest to us new ways and paths to bring the Gospel to the hearts of those who are distant, indifferent, or without hope, yet continue to seek what the Magi found: “a great joy” (Mt 2:10). We must always move forwards.
Treasures and Memories
“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Luke’s portrayal of the very, very young mother is very interesting. Imagine all that she has been through! Not at all the kind of pregnancy and birth that most women experience. Luke portrays her as not having all the answers but continuing to possess an openness to God. She not only pays attention. She keeps or treasures her experience and reflects on it in her heart.
When I was born, someone gifted my mother with a Baby Book that documented all my “firsts.” My first visitor at the hospital was not my dad, but my grandfather. Daddy was busy milking the cows while Mom was in labor. Grandpa brought the “good news” of my birth. As Grandpa told the story, Dad, coming from a family of four brothers, visibly sighed and looked disappointed when he learned his first-born was a girl! My first “trip” was to the dairy barn. Mom always worked side by side with my dad, so that meant that as soon as she was physically able, she joined him in the dairy barn and so did I. Yes, all of this is in my Baby Book, a book that occupied space in my mother’s cedar chest among photos, birth certificates, sacramental records, and report cards.
I am not sure how much my mother treasured her experience of mothering for the first time. The one who has reflected on her experience is me. Because I was the first of seven children, and because we lived just a field away from Grandpa Kruppa, I enjoyed a close relationship with him. He “pitched in” not only at the time of my birth but also in taking us to sports practices and events, swimming lessons, catechism, and church. I learned a life lesson of “seeing what needs to be done and doing it” from him. I also learned what it means to “work together” from both my parents and grandparents. To this day, I enjoy being part of a group effort!
How about you? What is one of your treasured memories, something you keep and reflect on in your heart? How is it a memory of God?
And let’s not forget about those shepherds, the first visitors! They were among the outcasts of their day. Yet God chose them to announce the birth of the Christ. Be mindful of the outcasts you run into during your day, and pay attention to what they may be announcing to you about the ways of God.
Some of you may remember the TV series, Joan of Arcadia (2000-2003). The theme song, “What if God was one of us?” ran through every episode. Remember how Joan encountered God in the most ordinary of people? The ones we might least expect, like the school janitor? Or the grocery bagger?
Treasures and ponderings! Seeking and finding God and coming to understand God’s ways and God’s purposes for us in life!
How beautiful it is to hear children singing Happy Birthday to Jesus! As adults, we too, celebrate the birth of Jesus. But how? What role does gift-giving play in celebrating births? And what would be appropriate gifts when we think of the birth of Jesus? What gift, attitude, or act of kindness can we give to the world that will speak of the birth of Jesus in our lives?
One of the predominant Advent themes is “light in the darkness.” We are acutely aware that all is not calm! All is not bright! In what specific ways have we experienced God wanting us to bring the light of enduring love to our darkened world today?
As we gather with family, friends, co-workers, and parishioners, do we experience persons who feel alone, unappreciated and disconnected? How can we bring them acceptance and appreciation? How will Jesus be born in us? How will the Word take flesh in us?
St. Athanasius wrote: “God became human so that human beings might become divine.” As we enjoy the many lights of Christmas, let’s not forget about the light in each of us. “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine” is another children’s favorite. This Christmas, we are invited to sing it too! And not just sing it, but LIVE it!
God with Us
But wait! Think of Ahaz who didn’t ask for a sign, but God gave him one anyway! Has God given you signs that weren’t requested? Is it possible that you miss God’s plans? Why?
Perhaps we are too afraid to respond to God’s calls. If only we had the same assurance that God gave to Joseph in a dream! God was there for Joseph. God is with us still!
And what happens when we do answer God’s call? How are we changed? When do we encounter women who like Mary are pregnant and unable to provide all that is needed—food, healthcare, safety? Who are the “Joseph” figures in their lives? What does it mean to be mother and father?
Joseph was troubled and afraid. But God-with-us gave him assurances. What situations in our society does the Church seem still afraid to answer? And how might our witness, our trust that God is with us, change those situations?
The only way that Jesus could come into this world was by the “obedient faith” of very ordinary people like Mary and Joseph who were willing to do the unexpected when God called them. We are very ordinary people too. How do we overcome fear in order to act for justice—for the well-being of all of God’s creation?
Jesus, Is It Really You?
Jesus and John the Baptist are cousins. Their connection comes from the relationship of Mary and Elizabeth. Even though John baptized Jesus, knows his message, and preaches it with passion, when he is imprisoned, he wonders if Jesus is THE One. Are you the messiah or do we have to look for someone else? Jesus, is it really you?
Once again John is pointing out the difference between his ministry and that of Jesus. Both are proclaiming that the kingdom/reign of God is right at hand. But only Jesus can bring radical transformation to the hearts and lives of his disciples. Only he can give us, by baptism, the power of his Spirit.
Jesus is clear in his answer to John’s question. He asks John (and us) to notice what happens—the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear! The invitation to be the messenger—bold, courageous, prophetic—is not reserved to John only. We too experience the works of Jesus in us. And we too are called to be messengers, of hope, patience, and joy at the wondrous works of God in our very midst.
How has Jesus already healed and empowered you? What within you is making you still resist the Spirit’s transforming power? To whom is Jesus sending you to be the messenger of good news and transformation? Why is the message of Jesus still not transforming the world?
May we experience the life-more-abundant that Jesus came to share with us. May we too be people of hope, patience, and joy in a world that would question: Jesus, is it really you?
What Are We Waiting For?
We often refer to Advent as a time of waiting, perhaps in a passive sense. Like waiting for the sun to rise or waiting in the grocery checkout line. John the Baptist suggests an alternative kind of waiting, one that involves action. In today’s world, a paraphrase of his message might be something like: You better shape up! What are you waiting for?
Isaiah’s vision for the kingdom on earth is one of perceived enemies being at peace, being comfortable, in harmony, unafraid of each other. Where is that possible today? What are we waiting for? What would it take to make that happen?
Our second week of Advent is another “wake up” call to action. What conversion of mind, heart, and life is the Lord asking of me? Where am I called to be a “sprout” of hope? Where are the dead stumps in my life—a destructive habit that has hold on my life, a broken relationship, financial struggles, conflict or terror, the abuse of God’s creation?
John the Baptist is described as a voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. When have I felt like a voice crying out in the desert? When have I failed to use my voice when I should have? Where do I see or experience injustice?
This weekend we gather to celebrate the Eucharist as a community of hope. May we resist the status quo of pain in the world—war, long journeys to escape terror, famine, the effects of climate change, racism, the lack of respect for persons who are not like us—so that all can experience the joy and hope of the birth of Jesus. May our conversion, our transformation be living “sprouts” of that joy and hope!
What are we waiting for? Let’s do it!
Link to “On That Holy Mountain,” a musical version of this Sunday’s reading from Isaiah: