February 5, 2023
by Eileen Burke-Sullivan
Creighton University's Division of Mission and Missionary
click here for photo and information about the writer

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 73

Isaiah 58:7-10
Psalms 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Matthew 5:13-16

Praying Ordinary Time

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine was suffering from crippling depression.  In the course of a conversation about how it felt.  He spoke of darkness surrounding him, and then added that he felt that death “sat on his chest.” I remembered thinking at the time of the passage from Isaiah, announced at the Christmas Mass during the night: “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light, on those who dwell in the land of gloom, a light has shown.”  To dwell in that light helps drives the power of death away.

Having just celebrated the ancient feast of Candlemas this past week, the Church invites us to consider the means to this light that gives life.  The first reading, also taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, tells us that the light will break forth like the dawn in us when we share our food, when we clothe those who are naked, when we don’t turn our back on the suffering brothers and sisters in the human family.  If we remove oppression through laws, community behavior, attitudes of the self-centered, attend to those who are starving for the good, whether that is food, education, beauty, clean water or whatever else the human family genuinely thirsts for, then the light will rise, and the gloom of our world will transform to midday.  This pronouncement of a prophet hundreds of years before Jesus should challenge us to listen closely to Jesus’ words in the Gospel about being the light of the world.  The light comes from living in God’s presence.  To be with God is to be an agent for God’s mercy in the harsh places of the world.

This does not imply that we have the will or ability to just decide to love the Trinity.  We first need to allow ourselves to be loved – to know the compassion of God.  Saint Paul told the Corinthians and the Church today that life and faith have to rest on the power of God.  Paul sees himself as coming to preach God’s love out of his own weakness rather than great strength.  Like AA and other successful recovery programs we own that we ourselves don’t have the tools to bring the light – it shines through us from God.  We allow ourselves to be transparent so as not to obscure it.

But should we think that we have nothing, Jesus reminds us that we are the light of the world.  If we have been called to faith and the pursuit of love for God, then we must not abandon the way.  The cost of doing so is the land of gloom – the darkness of hopelessness. 

The illness of Clinical Depression is simply that, an illness.  Like cancer, heart disease or other ills of the body it requires more than willing it to go away.  Like all illnesses it is subject to God’s healing, and we should consistently pray for that for others and for ourselves.   For the great swath of humans who experience other forms of the gloom of hopelessness, the light of God’s mercy and forgiveness might well be the light of healing.  The light of compassion, after the death of a loved, one may bring surcease from grief’s most insidious anguish.  The sense of ennui that pervades so much of Western Culture may be addressed by the labor of bringing the light of hope to others.  Anxiety about tomorrow’s possibilities may be healed by confidence that a loving God holds us in care.

It is well for us in the Northern Hemisphere still caught in the throes of deep winter darkness to remember the light that God brings to us through the practices of unselfishness, justice, and compassion.  It is worth seeking the path of those ways given in today’s scriptures and the prayers of the Liturgy.

Care for the needy and your light will break forth like the dawn” - Gospel antiphon of morning prayer.

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