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Fifth Sunday of the Year


The ancient philosopher Aristotle wrote somewhere that of all the five senses we possess, sight is the most valued. By the sense of sight, we understand most about the world. By their nature, human beings are creatures who, above all, want to see and understand. That is why phrases like 'I see' can refer to both physical sight and to understanding something. Other phrases like, 'it finally dawned on me' use the imagery of light to indicate understanding something. When cartoon characters like Tom the cat or Wile E. Coyote have one of their 'bright' ideas, it's often represented by a light bulb appearing above their heads and being switched on. (And let's face it, we all want the poor coyote to catch the smug, irritating roadrunner; "Meep- Meep!", indeed.)

The 20th century biblical scholar, Rudolf Bultmann, was so taken by the light bulb and declared it so powerful that the Jewish and Christian imagery of several thousand years was made redundant by it. Whilst we admire his charming enthusiasm for technology we also know that he was wrong, of course. In today's readings the imagery of light and understanding are still vibrant and meaningful.

Isaiah reminds the people that if they act justly then 'Your integrity (or vindication) will go before you and the glory of the Lord behind you.'

This is a beautiful allusion to the pillar of fire by night and pillar of cloud by day, which was the Lord himself, who led the people out of their slavery in Egypt.

The glory of the Lord shines throughout the Old Testament, and is finally and fully revealed in the glorious light of the resurrection of Jesus.

In the gospel reading, Jesus links the idea of the visibility of a city on a hilltop, with a light shining to illuminate a room. Certainly Jesus would have known all the imagery that we find in the Book of Revelation, and is perhaps alluding to it here.

In Revelation the seer reports about the heavenly Jerusalem, 'I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and to it the kings of the earth will bring their treasure. During the day its gates will never be shut, and there will be no night there.'

The invitation of today's scripture readings is to be illuminated ourselves. By grace we can participate in the light of God, and can become a means of spreading that light to others.

The gift which God gives us especially to become enlightened through his grace is, of course, faith. By faith our intellect is strengthened and raised up, to participate, in Fr. Herbert McCabe's words, 'in God's understanding of himself.' This is a breath-taking and awesome gift. Regardless of whether we are physically sighted or not, whether we are academically gifted or not, the gift of faith helps us see and understand supernatural saving realities, even on this earth.

While this may sound all rather ethereal, it actually involves much practical activity. We must become familiar with the truths of the faith proposed for our belief by learning the Creed, by developing an authentic prayer life, by living a sacramental life in the Church and doing spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

By learning about the lives of the saints we see examples of God's grace in action. Although the gift of Faith is entirely God's gift, entirely his initiative, it also becomes part of who we really are, and changes us and raises us up to be fellow-workers of Christ.

In all of this, the imagery of light, understanding, and vision is a way of helping understand the transforming power of the gift of Faith. Last Sunday we heard Christ's teaching that the pure of heart will see God. Faith will one day give way to vision, the beatific vision of eternal life with God and all the saints and angels. Jesus taught this truth to his apostles, face to face. Perhaps the First Letter of John sums it up most concisely and beautifully:

See what love the Father has given us,
That we should become the children of God;
And so we are.
Beloved, we are God's children now;
It does not yet appear what we shall be,
But we know that when he is seen,
We shall be like him, for we shall see God as he is.

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