“O Rising sun, You are the splendor of eternal light, and the sun of justice.
O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness, those who dwell in the shadow of death.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, come”

                

What can be a better metaphor or image to depict the reality of salvation given by God to human beings than light and darkness? Even without going deep into the metaphysics of light by Grosseteste, Or the reflections on light by St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure or other theologians and philosophers, or without further specific analysis of light as knowledge, truth, goodness, life, etc., we immediately grasp the meaning of this text. We are very familiar with the word and image of “light” throughout Old Testament and New Testament and numerous sacred religious arts to describe the saving power and act of God from our death, sin, and suffering. 

You are probably familiar with the famous painting of Caravaggio “the calling of St Matthew”. The beam of light from Jesus shone towards Matthew who was sitting at the table in the darkness when Jesus called him.  How about “The Light of the World” by William Holman Hunt? In this painting, Jesus is holding a lamp in one of his hands and knocks on the door with the other hand, but interestingly there is no doorknob on the door, which means that the door can be opened only by the person inside the door.  I interpret that the light, grace, and redemption are brought by Jesus Christi in person, but still our cooperation is necessary to receive them.   

During fall last year, about 18 secondary-school girls visited the monastery and had a conversation with the novitiate about Catholicism and our contemplative life. A lot of good questions were asked and one particular question seized my attention because it touches the fundamental aspect of our lives.  If I rephrase it, the question was, what is the sign that our religion can give in this suffering world?  If I read the meaning further, there are so many sufferings in the world, what are the signs that we can give to the world that God saved us and is with us?  What difference does Jesus make, like the title of the book by Sheed?  How do we bear witness as we are supposed to do?  

I could have given answers in many different directions, but I gave an answer like following that can be universally understood by everybody. Suffering is mystery. We still don’t know why. But then, I gave an example of one poignant prayer that was found beside the body of a dead child in the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp. Some of you might remember it because I introduced it during office of reading on St. Edith Stein’s feast day. The prayer is like this:

“O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have bought thanks to this suffering; our comradeship, our loyalty, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this, and when they come to judgment, let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness.”

And I said to them that I believe that this is the supreme free human act of love and faith and hope which can be granted through grace by God. That is one of the signs that God has saved humanity and is with us. If one can pray with this highest human nobility, and with such faith, hope, and love, under the extremely cruel, miserable and inhuman condition of Auschwitz, I am sure that this is a victory of humanity due to grace given by God.

Today I want to add a little bit more related to the O antiphon and the girl’s question.  What I would like to share is my reflection on the light of Christ shed on suffering, which delivers us from the darkness, even though there are still sufferings in our everyday life and in our world.

But, before doing that, I would like to introduce some terms first. St. John Paul II gave his reflection on redemption and said that redemption is victory given as a task to man. He then described the 3 ways or stages- purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways- to follow Jesus.  I would like to adopt these 3 terms – purgative, illuminative, and unitive – to my reflection on suffering since I believe that these terms are also very adequate for what I try to say.

Jesus didn’t come simply to get rid of sufferings. He enlightens our attitude towards our sufferings. The sufferings can be caused by our individual sins or faults. In that case, we suffer in a purgative way, which purifies us. It is painful, but eventually it reminds us of where we are, can help us repent and turn toward God.  In the case of suffering that is caused by others’ faults and sins or by the events beyond our control such as unknown or terminal illnesses or death of our beloved, we suffer in an illuminative way which helps us develop our virtues and grow in holiness. We can offer them up for others in union with Christ. Actually, I know one prayer group of people with chronic illnesses in Chicagoarea, and their mission is to offer their sufferings for the world (they didn’t want to waste their sufferings). The sufferings that we decide to bear willingly and freely for others’ sake purely, that is unitive suffering like St Maximilian Kolbe since that is the purest act of love which is most closely united with God (even though we still offer illuminative suffering in union with God).

Of course, we don’t purposefully seek the sufferings to suffer. Actually we try to minimize and prevent the sufferings as much as possible.  What I would like to say is that we don’t just sit and suffer in the darkness helplessly anymore, like people without hope. Due to Christ, suffering became an active tool that we can use for purification, sanctification for us and for others, when the sufferings occur.  We Catholics share the merits of others-communion of saints, but also share the sufferings of others as we are one body. The light of Christ makes us to look at sufferings in our daily lives and in the world differently now with new perspective, therefore bear and embrace them with hope, faith, and love, and courage, and therefore are capable to pray like one that I read previously.

Before Edith Stein was converted to Catholicism, she had experience of the strength of the Christian faith which influenced her much. One of them was his friend’s death and she was surprised by the acceptance of this death by his wife with faith. That was the moment to receive the light of Christ for her. She wrote later. “This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear it … it was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me – Christ in the mystery of the Cross.”  I believe that this is the one of the lights that Christ brought us and one of the lights that we Catholics must hold for the world.

The following famous quote in the book “The little prince” by Antoine de St Exupery, echoes this reality. “What makes the desert beautiful is that it hides, somewhere, a well.”  We can say that too. What makes our life, even though full of sufferings, beautiful is that we live the reality that there is our God who entered into human history in the midst of our sufferings and death in order to bring us back to life with Him, and His light shine on us to make it possible to realize and discover this reality in our daily lives, and grow in this reality.  This reality is our well. Jesus Christ is our light and our hope.