You are the Light of the World

by Fr. Antony Hughes

Sermon Preached by Father Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 17, 2004

We must consider what it means to be the light of the world. The importance of this is self-evident. We are the hands of God in this world. What we do is supposed to reflect Him. We are mirrors, no, even more! We are bearers of mercy and grace. Jesus said of Himself that He is the Light of the world and He has said the same of us. Remarkable indeed!

St. Paul writes that we are to have in us the same mind that was in Christ Jesus “who although he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” In other words, He did not come with power and overwhelming authority. He did not come on clouds of glory with armies of angels working miracles to convince the world of His majesty. What is astounding and surprising is that He reveals to us that that is precisely not what God is like. He came in utter humility, born like the poorest of the poor, in secret, almost totally ignored. And we are to believe and know that this is the very nature of God. If God were prideful and brazen, then we would have every excuse to be, but we do not have such an excuse.

St. Isaac of Syria writes: If your heart is brazenly confident of your works and knowledge, then know that this foreshadows impending tribulation.

St. James writes: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God.”(4:6-10)

St. Paul writes: “If a man thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know as he ought to know.”

So we must be careful not to fall into the temptation of pride, which is always self-delusion, if we want to be the light of the world. Brazenness in religion has given birth to some of the most horrible things: inquisitions, pogroms, persecutions, murders and war. Therefore we must avoid even the appearance of arrogance and pride. Churches, like people, can also become deluded.

When light appears it chases darkness away and reveals what was in the shadows. This is good! But in dealing with others we must understand that people can only endure so much light. We have no right to drag people kicking and screaming out of darkness. We must never do violence to a person’s God-given freedom.

A very fine Roman priest, Fr. Richard Rohr, warns that we must not force those who dwell in shadow into the light prematurely. We must invite not coerce.

Love means accepting people as they are and where they are and to believe that it is God who knows what must be done in their lives and that He with the other will accomplish it. That is how I work. That is what I believe after all these years as a priest. If, together with God I can help a person move from point A to point B that is a miracle! But we must be discerning, patient and faithful so that we can discover by God’s grace what point B is. We must never assume through our “great knowledge” to know what B is. We must also be humble enough to admit when we do not know. But God knows! If we believe in God, then we must know that when a person encounters Him the relationship takes on a life of its own quite apart from us. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “God has an eternity to spend with each of us alone.” It is for us to offer a hand and walk together with those God brings into our lives without judgment or condition. It is only for us to love, we must leave it to God to transform.

Ghandi said that we must become the change we want to see, so, we must also understand that we ourselves also dwell only partially in the light and can only bear so much of it. There are things in us that still live in the shadows. Fr. Rohr advises that we not think of those shadowy things so much as sin in our lives, but on the idea that there is still much in us that fears the light. So we must discover those sad, fearful and lonely parts. This discovery can be frightening and painful, but when we embark on this effort we must not be afraid to embrace and claim what we find as our own and to gradually, with patience and love, invite all we discover into the light of God’s mercy and love. It is like the parable of the Prodigal Son isn’t it? The broken, hungry, naked, damaged one longing to return to the house of the Father is really us and we are the Father as well in this case, for we are the ones whom Jesus has called the light of the world and children of God. We are the ones who must embrace and welcome our own brokenness. We must become even to ourselves bearers of compassion and healing. Still, we are never alone for the Source of the Light is always with us. It is God who makes all this possible. It is God alone who saves.

My friends, the light of God is able to transform and change us. What that transformation will bring we do not know; what it will look like we cannot say. We do not know what is around the bend. We do not know where God is leading us. But we do not need to know. He will reveal what we need to know when the time is right. We walk by faith and not by sight. So we must always walk in faith with ourselves and with others as servants not as masters, in humility forever avoiding all judgment and leaving everything to God who is, after all, the lover, redeemer, healing and sustainer of everyone and everything. Faith belongs in God and not in ourselves.