Thursday, April 7, 2011

Assimilating the Light of Christ

In today's Gospel from daily Mass, Jesus gives a long speech in defense of his ministry to the religious leaders who have called him to account (John 5:31-37). An interesting part of his diatribe refers to the ministry of John the Baptist and how the religious leaders, "for a while...were content to rejoice in his light." However, we know how John the Baptist ended up - namely, with his head on a platter! What accounts for the fact that the light of John, and Jesus for that matter, became attenuated to those who initially rejoiced in it? Why did John's head end up on a platter and Jesus' body hung from a cross? In today's first reading (Exodus 32:7-14) we have a similar dynamic going on between God and the Israelites in the Sinai desert. God has just led the Israelites out of Egypt by a very impressive "pillar of fire" and, after initially rejoicing in this light, they have already begun falling away from God by worshipping idols! What gives? How is it that such an impressive sign of light and fiery concern of God for his people could become attenuated by the Israelites in such quick fashion?

You may have noticed that I highlighted the word "attenuated" twice in the above paragraph. The word means to "reduce the force, effect, or value of" something or someone ( The impressiveness of the light of John the Baptist, Jesus, and even God's fiery pillar was eventually "reduced in force, effect, or value", or, attenuated over time by the fact that it wasn't assimilated into the lives of those who witnessed it. In other words, the outward signs and symbols that God gave in the fiery pillar, John the Baptist, and, above all, Christ must be internalized if it is to illuminate, motivate, and animate our lives for the long haul. To give an example of how the light of Christ can be ritually and practically assimilated, let's consider the Easter Vigil celebration on Holy Saturday. The celebration begins in the darkness, with candles being lit from the Easter Candle and distributed to all who are gathered. The refrain that echoes throughout the Church is, "receive the light of Christ." Than a series of readings are read from the Old Testament which recount the great themes of salvation history. Finally, a New Testament reading is read and than, as the great crescendo, the Gospel account of Jesus' Resurrection. The theme of light and newness of life pervades. To assimilate the light of Christ through this ritual means finding and taking our place in the saving stories that we hear on this sacred night, and, above all, allowing ourselves to be drawn into the saving embrace of Christ. Of course, this is not something that is done once and for all. In order for the saving mysteries of scripture and Christ to become our light and life, we must continually strive to assimilate their meaning for our daily lives. Pat, TOR