A Light in the Darkness
This week's Sunday reflection is a little different. On the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time,
I gave a talk at St. Malachy Catholic Church in anticipation of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb 2.
You have the option this week to either listen or read it.
In the beginning…
When you hear “in the beginning…,” where does your imagination take you? Does it lead you to think of a fairy tale or epic story? Do you think of your own story? Do you think of God’s story? What story do you think of?
Since I’m going on a spiritual adventure reading the whole Bible in a year with Fr. Mike Schmitz, I can’t help but think of the Scriptures beautifully weaving our story into the Christian story and the Christian story into our story. I love being Catholic because we have many lights that guide us in our walk with Christ. Each and every day we are particularly blessed with Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, and the Mass. No matter how dark the world can seem around us, these guides help us to remember the Light of the World is in our midst.
I love the meaning of words and I think the following definitions will help us throughout this reflection today:
Remember - have in or be able to bring to one's mind an awareness of (someone or something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past).
Story - an account of past events in someone’s life or in the evolution of something.
Light - the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible
Darkness - the partial or total absence of light
The Christian faith is one with a strong personal narrative. Christians are those who heard the story of Christ, believe it, and live it out in the world. Each and every Sunday, we hear a reading from the Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament, and Gospel. After Father connects that day's readings to our lives today, we stand together and proclaim the Nicene creed. This is a ritual that we need on a weekly basis so that we can remember who we are, whose we are, what we believe, and why we believe it. Jesus is real and the Scriptures tell us the story about how the light of Christ saved the world from the darkness of sin and continues to fulfill all of His promises today.
In the Creed, we say: “light from light." St. Augustine says, “The pure light of the Father is in the Son, a clear mirror, for the Father can be seen in the Son.” This reminds us that Christ was not made like you and me. He existed before His birth as He is one with the Creator who made light itself.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light and there was light. And God saw that the light was good;and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night.
God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1: 1-5; 16-18)
God created light, but it does not say that he created darkness. He created light to separate the day from the night. He was so gracious to give us the moon to guide our way through the dark of night. And if you’ve looked up in the sky this week, the moon has been incredibly full and bright. God’s creation is good. He created you and me in His image. He created us from love, in love, and for love. With God’s presence, even the darkest of nights is illuminated in His love. While Christ is the Sun, Mary, Our Mother, teaches us to be the moon in reflecting the light of her son amidst our dark world. Even if we don’t feel as big as the moon, our light can be as small as a candle’s flame and still make an impact.
“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” St. Francis of Assisi
Light shines in the darkness
None of us expected 2020 and the darkness that surrounded us. I can only speak about my own experience and how I was surprised to find so much light in such a time as this. May we not compare our crosses or hardships, but rather help one another carry them. Brené Brown created a short cartoon that is helpful in distinguishing between sympathy and empathy. She describes sympathy as finding another person in a dark pit and shouting words at them from the sunny surface outside Empathy on the other hand leads you to climb inside the dark pit with another to sit with them and BE the light they need most.
I invite us to enter into the darkness together as we reflect on the past year. It’s not so scary when we know that we have Christ’s light in and beside us. No matter the darkness we have faced, are facing or will face, the darkness will never be able to grasp, comprehend, or overcome the light.
As is the custom in our faith, I’d like to use the story of Scripture to help tell my story of 2020.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
Throughout my life, I have always felt like an alien in this world. I always felt misunderstood, weird, and yes, even a little crazy. I was too naïve, too excited, and too overwhelmed. I often felt lonely and confused as to why I act, think, and feel the way I do. The darkness of my identity seemed to get brighter as I learned I had Asperger Syndrome in the summer of 2019. I wondered why I was gaining this insight in my 30s rather than when I was younger, but I was relieved and hopeful that I now had a name of the darkness that had pestered me throughout my life until now. At beginning of 2020, I was exhausted as I was finishing up a long residency at an agency and wondering if someone would want to marry someone like me… a single marriage counselor on the Autism Spectrum.
I became very sick and lost my voice. Since I was pretty incapacitated for days, I began watching The Chosen TV show that I saw advertised on Facebook. I was quickly hooked. Though I was tempted to “binge Jesus,” I soaked up the episodes as much as I could throughout the week.
Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus, was a shining light that was full of joy. He displayed so beautifully that Jesus was truly human AND divine. Saints are also lights for us as they bring us closer to Christ. That Saint for me in The Chosen was Matthew as I was astonished to learn he could have been on the Spectrum. Both the writer and the writer’s daughter have Aspergers and the more they studied the Gospel of Matthew, the more they saw connections.
Jesus had a plan for Matthew just like the other apostles. His diagnosis did not keep Him from the call. As I watched Him follow Jesus, I felt seen. I felt wanted. I felt loved just the way I am.
A few weeks after discovering this TV show, quarantine began. My company made cuts a week before Holy Week. I received an unexpected email on a day off telling me that I was RIFed AKA cut off from the company immediately. I all of a sudden had no job, no insurance, and no idea what God was doing through this. I did however know that I had just completed my hours for licensure! Praise God!
So, here I was at home… alone… with my cat. Every. Day.
When our city announced a lockdown would be happening, I panicked. All I could see was darkness ahead. I asked my sister and brother-in-law if my cat and I could move in with them to wait out the uncertainty.
A dear friend was wiser. She told me to lean into the invitation God was handing me. God knew before I did. I needed quarantine. Quarantine would not only save my mind and heart. It would also save my soul.
Why did it save my soul? Well, I noticed I was attached in unhealthy ways to the light of others, rather than being bold, courageous, and aware enough to know and shine the light that only I can shine.
My weekends became calmer. My mornings became slower. I had time to write, read, and pray. I had space to grow and learn about what God was asking of me.
I found devout Catholics on social media platforms creatively bringing God’s people together through technology. This inspired me to pray boldly on my own social media pages.
As my prayer life deepened, still was in the dark concerning my professional future. I had yet to find a job and the licensing board canceling their meetings delayed my licensure months later. Though I was finding light spiritually, I needed a sense of mission and purpose. It was then that I received an email from a guy named John. I had sent my book to him months earlier since he was a Catholic psychologist in town I wanted to network with. The message said that he enjoyed my book and he had prayed that day for God to send him a Catholic marriage and family therapist to work with him at his practice.
I can’t help but continue reading the 1st chapter of John right here as it resonates with how I was feeling during this time: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.” (John 1:6-8)
John, like John the Baptist, is not the light but has helped to witness to the light of Christ in my personal and professional life. He has met me where I’m at and has testified that my personal story will touch many lives. He didn’t want me to hide the light of my diagnosis, but rather share my story with clients when appropriate to bring them to hope in their own. He has helped me to shine my light as a licensed marriage and family therapist while always challenging me to seek what’s true, good, and beautiful in all things. He has helped me to bear witness to the God who is working in and through me.
Who are the Johns in the life that has helped point you to the light of Christ in the wilderness?
I found a few Johns through social media during my months in quarantine and am so grateful for the sense of solidarity with brothers and sisters in Christ across borders and continents. When I came out of quarantine, I remembered the darkness of social media. Not everyone knows the love of Christ.
St. John the Evangelist tells us then when he writes,
“The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:9-13)
As my practice began to grow in the fall, I began to connect with some beautiful ministries. I was asked to share my story on podcasts and on Catholic radio. I began to deeply recognize how social media can be both a source of light and a source of darkness. Leading up to Election Day, I received a number of messages from followers who took offense at what I was posting because it didn’t align with their expectations of what I “should” post as a Catholic. I experienced my light of authenticity dimming as I was letting others’ voices influence me more than I was letting God influence me.
Someone was always going to be offended, unhappy, or disappointed. I was spreading myself too thin and letting too many “influencers” and “followers” form me before focusing on what God wanted for me. I felt confused, misunderstood, and overwhelmed. I needed to simplify. By getting off of Facebook, I focused my ministry on Instagram. It was then that I started praying a 54-day rosary novena with others from around the world. It was a simplified mission to connect with other brothers and sisters in Christ, pray a rosary, and exchange stories.
It was in the final months of 2020 that I found a community that would extend past quarantine. My fellow prayer warriors gather daily to lift one another's intentions up to Our Lord through the intercession of Our Lady. They pray with me, for me, and accept me as I am. They see the light in me that I don’t always see.
Who knew that Instagram would introduce me to a Canadian deacon and his beautiful, holy family? I have been so inspired and encouraged by this family and many others who remind me each and every day how even though the world does not know God, God knows us and gives us the people we need in our lives at the exact time we need them.
The flickering light was now starting to become more radiant than ever before.
I am learning about the gifts I have to offer and the mission that God has set upon my heart.
As St. John continues, “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father… and from his fulness have we all received grace upon grace.” (John 1:14,16)
And the word became flesh. We know him!! He’s Jesus!!
A little more than a month ago, we celebrated the birth of the Word-Made-Flesh. Advent is my favorite liturgical season and I had all kinds of plans of how I wanted to celebrate the days leading up to Christmas. God had other plans for me. I was exposed by my 94-year-old grandma on Thanksgiving, so I had to quarantine for 10 days. The first day I came back to work, I was exposed by my boss. Instead of all of the traditional festivities the Advent season typically brings, I was simply surrounded by the light that shone from my Christmas decorations that brought me joy and my fireplace that brought me warmth. I learned to surrender to God’s plan even when we don’t understand. Little did I know, this was grace upon grace.
Quarantine is a word we didn’t hear much until 2020 and I was astonished how it drew attention to our faith. Quarantine means 40 days and fittingly began during Lent last year. According to various bible studies, the number 40 in Scripture generally symbolizes a period of testing, trial, or probation. According to Catholic Answers, the number 40 is a complete or rounded number and denotes a transition into another period of time. This number signals that “something extraordinary and definitive” is happening.
Ok, so all of our experiences of quarantine have brought us to this day in 2021. Where is God leading us?
Well, in two days, we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord. This commemorates Jesus being presented in the temple 40 days after his birth in the manger. In that time, moms had to quarantine with their newborn sons for 40 days before they could come back to the Temple and make an offering on their behalf. Mary and Joseph did not have very much so they qualified for the conditions in Leviticus 5:7 “But if you cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring… two turtledoves or two young pigeons.” What we miss is Leviticus 5:11 “But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he shall bring… a tenth of an ephah of fine flour… he should put no oil upon it.”
In our Bible in a Year journey, we read Leviticus 5 this week. Fr. Mike Schmitz reminded us how gracious God is in his mercy. God tells us, “If you can’t afford the offering prescribed, bring what you can.” What God wants from us is to be able to give us His mercy. He asks us to bring ourselves.
I wanted to google what an ephah was to see what God was asking for. I didn’t expect to find more than I was looking for. I came upon an explanation of the name Miller.
A Miller is a person who operates a mill, which is a device that breaks solid materials into smaller pieces by grinding, crushing, or cutting. A “miller” grinds harvested wheat grain into flour. The ground flour is then mixed with olive oil to make bread.
Miller was my grandpa’s last name. He is to thank for bringing the Catholic faith into my family. Not only was I blessed to have him as my godfather, but I was also honored that my parents chose Miller to be my middle name.
See how our stories of the past can bring light to who we are called to be today. All along, God knew what Miller meant. Yet, today, he invites me to simply offer you what I have today… my portion of flour…. my story.
When we are asked to make an offering of flour, we are told not to put oil upon it. Why?
I would like to think that God provides the oil in the Temple in our sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders. We just need to bring 1/10th of an epaph of flour. This is barely anything.
The flour is just to get us in the door. God wants us to meet Him.
Jesus, the “Bread of Life” was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Mary and Joseph are carrying more than just two turtledoves or two pigeons. They bring forth the Bread of Life to the House of the Father so He can shine as not only their beloved son but also as the light of the world.
The Presentation of the Lord is also called Candlemas because in the middle of the 5th century, it became a custom to observe this festival with lighted candles. Simeon held the Infant Jesus in his arms and said that he would be a light for the Gentiles. The feast occurs in between the December solstice and the March equinox. So it’s also known as that “halfway point” to Spring. In the 11th century, it became a tradition to bless candles in celebration.
Each and every night before we go to bed, we are invited to pray the Canticle of Simeon in Night Prayer:
“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32
What is Christ wanting to reveal in your heart this year?
What are the dark parts of your life that desperately need light to shine?
Are you ashamed?
Are you despairing?
Are you afraid?
I’m praying for all of you today and pray that my story helps you to see the light.
You have a brighter light than you realize and the world needs you now. Offer what you have today.
Can you pray the rosary on social media?
Can you ask friends how you can pray for them?
Can you surprise a co-worker with a note of encouragement?
Can you give a client or customer a smile that brings hope?
These are moments where people can see our halos. Halos are used in iconography to indicate holy or sacred figures. It represents an aura or the glow of sanctity which was conventionally drawn encircling the head. This world would certainly not be as dark as it is if everyone was shining the light they were meant to shine.
St. Catherine of Siena said, “If you are what you should be, you should set the world ablaze.”
What is your story?
Today is the beginning of the rest of your life! How do you want to remember 2021?
As I reflected on halos, I thought of Beyoncé’s song (because how can you not?)
I want to close with these lyrics as we are about to spend time with the Light of the World!
Remember those walls I built
Well, baby, they're tumbling down
And they didn't even put up a fight
They didn't even make a sound
What walls have you built that have not let in the light?
I found a way to let you in
But I never really had a doubt
Standing in the light of your halo
I got my angel now
How is Jesus calling you let Him in and stand in His light?
It's like I've been awakened
Every rule I had you breaking
It's the risk that I'm taking
I ain't never gonna shut you out
In what ways do you tend to shut out the light in your life?
How is God asking you to take a risk and step out of the darkness and into the light?
Everywhere I'm looking now
I'm surrounded by your embrace
Baby, I can see your halo
You know you're my saving grace
How is God surrounding you with his embrace? In what areas of your life do you need to be saved by His grace?
You're everything I need and more
It's written all over your face
Baby, I can feel your halo
Pray it won't fade away
Do others know you are a Christian? Are there people or things in your life that dim the light?
Hit me like a ray of sun
Burning through my darkest night
You're the only one that I want
Think I'm addicted to your light
Is there someone or something you want more than Jesus? How does he want to burn through those unhealthy desires attachments?
But this don't even feel like falling
Gravity can't forget
To pull me back to the ground again
Do you ask God to shine His light upon your path when you fall each day? How is He picking you back up?
Venerable Fulton Sheen says, “The greatest love story of all time is hidden in a small white host.”
This love story is true. It’s your story. Jesus wants to encounter you face to face today.
Will you let the love of Christ enter into your heart?
Will you let Christ truly see you, even in the darkness?
Will you let Him love you?
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