Parish Office
16150 St. Anthony Rd.
Emmitsburg, MD. 21727
Phone: 301-447-2367


Stepping Into the Light

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(3/22/09) Nighttime. Each one of us has usual rituals before we settle down. Once settled we may find ourselves whisked away, as if we were in another world for a few minutes. Frequently the Night carries with it many images as we climb down the tree-trunks of our memories. The blessed darkness of night may cover deeds we do not want others to know -be those deeds good or evil. We realize that whether darkness nervously hides questionable actions or simply lets us relax . . . there is always a light that pierces the darkness.---even though we cannot see that light.

Night is also a traditional time for prayer. Our Hebrew ancestors in faith meditated on the Law of the Lord day and night (Ps 1:2). After you and I have perhaps turned off a stolen hour of TV news or the closing of a John Wayne Western or barely started a new chapter in a favorite reading and just a few minutes before we slink hopefully into a welcoming sleep -with or without the Tylenol-we realize that darkness at times may hide questionable, even sinful actions that may disturb us. But, we are also aware that a loving God is present as an invisible light, a light who is too bright for our mortal vision--- a Light that is always "fracturing the unquiet waters of our lives"; a light "who" constantly welcomes us and takes his delight in us. When we reflect on this Light we realize he is the light who has enlightened all the lights that you and I have kindled during our lives. And we may well mutter: "O Light Invisible, we glorify Thee." John Henry Newman's famous lines easily come to our hearts:

"Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead thou me on.
The night is dark, and I am far from home, Lead thou me on."

The evangelist John in his beautiful Gospel stresses Jesus, the enfleshed Word of God, who is one with God, as embodying the Light. The Word who was present with God before creation has pierced our darkness. The challenge is: "Do we prefer the darkness? Or do we long to come to the light so that our works "may be clearly seen as done in God." There is no "in-between space."

In today's Gospel, Rabbi Nicodemus, a respected member of the governing body, meets Jesus in the darkness. He salutes the young Rabbi as a teacher who has come from God. Perhaps Jesus smiled at that greeting. For young Jesus of Nazareth will point out to his nighttime visitor that he has actually come from God in way that Nicodemus could never have realized. Jesus teaches the revered Rabbi that no one can enter the kingdom of God without being "born from above". Nicodemus misunderstand Jesus and thinks that Jesus is claiming what is impossible that one must be "born again from his mother's womb". Jesus then explains that in the era of the Messiah the Lord Adonai will sprinkle clean water on people and give them a new form of life. (Friends, you and I received that water-sprinkling and the Spirit in our baptism.)

Nicodemus, a teacher turned pupil, wonders what this being born from above-being born from the Spirit-can mean.. To assist him Jesus, the teacher, claims that if someone believes in the wind without knowing how it works one can likewise believe in the Spirit. Nicodemus is still not ready to become a disciple of Jesus. Later in his Gospel the evangelist John will depict Nicodemus as somewhat defending Jesus before his fellow religious leaders who want to arrest him. At the very end of the Gospel he comes with costly spices for the burial of Jesus. As a disciple, he finally comes to the Light.

In your and my coming to the light of Jesus, it is important to focus on the excelling compassionate love that he shows us. He unbinds us from whatever holds us back. In his nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus referred him to the history of the people: the time when the people of Israel had been bitten by poisonous snakes in their trek across the desert. Moses instructed them to look on a bronze serpent that he had fastened to a pole. They did so and were cured. By no means was this magic of superstition. . . rather, their looking on the bronze serpent symbol helped them to look deeply at their sins-and admit to the Lord Adonai that they had done wrong.

Today you and I look at the cross of Jesus to somehow come to grips with our mixed-up lives and to help us realize how far love without limits will go. We are both bathed and enlightened in that crucified love as we find ourselves raised up with Jesus in God's light. Perhaps at one of those special moments the words of one of the most famous verses in Scripture target us as straight as an arrow: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that you and I and everyone who believes in him may have this new life-this eternal life. (3:14) The One who is the Way, the Truth, the Life - and the Light-of our lives has hit home.

Our response can well be one of grateful adoration. Such praise is captured beautifully in the words of an American-English poet, T.S. Eliot. These words are found in the prayerbook of the church, the Breviary which many of us are privileged to pray every day:

O Light Invisible, we praise Thee! Too bright for mortal vision.
O Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;
The eastern light our spires touch at morning,
The light that slants upon our western doors at evening,
The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,
Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.
O Light Invisible, we worship Thee!
We thank Thee for the lights that we have kindled,
The light of altar and of sanctuary;
Small lights of those who meditate at midnight
And lights directed through the coloured panes of windows
And light reflected from the polished stone,
The gilded carven wood, the coloured fresco.
Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward
And see the light that fractures through unquiet water
We see the light but see not whence it comes.
O light Invisible, we glorify Thee.

Read other homilies by Father Paul