Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP gave the following homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time on 6 February 2011 at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory
‘Nobody lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel but on a stand so that it gives light to the all in the house.’ This may have been one of Jesus’ many little jokes, because according to one distinguished biblical scholar there probably were people who did exactly that. There were, it seems, three conflicting laws to be obeyed on the night of the Sabbath. One must light a candle; one should have sex to honour God; and one must not have sex with the lights on. Solution! Light a candle and then put it under a bucket!
This is probably not a problem that many of us face. For us the challenge is how to be a light of the world. How do we shed light on people and on creation? There is a saying attributed to the Talmud, but I have not been able to track it down there and so I suspect it comes from California; ‘We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.’ So an angry person sees a world filled with violence and threat. A greedy person always has an eye for what can be eaten. Herbert McCabe, Dominican brother, gave up smoking when he became aware that he was looking at everyone, the moment that they came into the room, as a potential source of cigarettes! A consumer lives in a vast shopping mall. A lustful person sees lot of objects of sexual gratification. In Anna Karenina, when Anna falls out of love with her husband, she ceases to see his face. She comes obsessed with his big hairy ears. His face is just a space between his ears!
Jean Vanier describes a sad man who came to see him in his office. Jean was sitting with Jean Claude who has Down’s syndrome. The visitor looked at Jean Claude and said, ‘Isn’t it sad that there are children like that.’ But Jean said: ‘The great pain in all of this was that this man was totally blind. He had barriers inside of him and was unable to see that Jean Claude was happy. You could not find anyone more relaxed and happy than Jean Claude...Which is the greater handicap? Is it that there are men like Jean Claude or is it that Mr Normal has this barrier which renders him totally blind to the beauty of people.’ Sad people see a sad world.
One of the ancient words for baptism is ‘illumination.’ Our eyes should be opened. And in the gospels, perhaps the first challenge is to see the poor. Often the poor are invisible. We do not want to see them. Outside Blackfriars, there are always people begging, and you can fear to catch their eye. Once you see each other, then bang goes the money for the expedition to the pub that night. The first reading from Isaiah asks us not to turn our back on our own flesh. But we may fear to see because it may turn our lives upside down.
Or how, in our violent world, can you shed Christ’s light on the person who threatens you? Father Raphael is a peace maker in Colombia. He spends a lot of his time going between the government, the military, the paramilitaries and the drug gangs, and trying to open their eyes to each other. He is often at the end of a gun barrel. He said, ‘I always remind myself that behind that pointed gun is a human being, somebody’s son or daughter.’
Gay people are often not seen in Christ’s light! Gay people may be seen as threats, as predators, as temptations, or whatever. You have to shed Christ’s life so that people see that gay people love, have friendships, have gifts such like every one else.
Cardinal Basil Hume, clarifying Catholic teaching on homosexuality, wrote, ‘Love between two persons, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected. ..When two persons love they experience in a limited manner in this world what will be their unending delight when one with God in the next. To love another is in fact to reach out to God who shares his lovableness with the one we love. To be loved is to receive a sign, or a share, of God's unconditional love.’
We are also to be the salt of the earth. The point of salt, I think, is that it brought out the taste of things. If you use salt well, then the fish tastes fishier, the eggs are more egg-like, and the veg. even more vegetable. I believe that chilli does this as well, although my brethren accuse me of smothering the taste of everything with chilly. But it is not true. We could equally be called the chilli of the world.
So we shed light on people by delighting in them, by savouring them, taking pleasure in their quirky individuality, recognising that each is a unique creation of God. When the world becomes just one big market place, and everything is for sale, then everything becomes alike. Everything has a price tag. Everything is coloured dollar green. Our vocation is to restore the savour of the world.
Remember that saying: ‘We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.’ So we need a profound spiritual discipline to become the sort of people who see clearly with the light of Christ, and savour the world. We have to tackle the roots of greed that make us want to eat people, or the anger that makes us see them with hostility, and the competitiveness that makes them look like rivals. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.’ Now we cannot see God, but we can look at each in God’s light. We have to purify our hearts, so that we see people with clear eyes. Then we shall delight in them as God does.
*Jean Vanier quote from: Essential Writings Selected by Carolyn Whitney-Brown London 2008 p.54
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