Friday, February 27, 2015

Column: Riven by light

This column is the first in a series on the readings from the Easter Vigil for CatholicPhilly.  The reading is Genesis 1:1-22.  You can find all of CatholicPhilly's Lenten material here, including editor Matt Gambino's reflection on the collects for the Sundays in Lent. This piece appeared at CatholicPhilly on 18 February 2015.

God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and them indicate festivals, days and years” (Gn. 1:14).

It was bitterly cold when I left to go home last week, but I stood for a few minutes on the walk outside my office, looking up at the crystal clear sky, shading from deep rose to midnight blue, admiring Venus hanging like a hard, bright ball in the west. “Time for Vespers,” I thought, glad to be reminded to sit down with God at the end of a tiring day. The older name for Evening Prayer means “evening star.” In the days before clocks, the planet’s appearance in the sky was a cue that it was time for evening prayers.

Lent is here. The gradually lengthening days are a hint that spring and Easter will be upon us soon, despite the sharp winds that are still howling down from the arctic. Our foreheads are signed with a cross of ashes, like the sun in the sky, orienting us to the season, reminding us of where we have come from and what our destiny is.

We are made, as this first reading of the Easter vigil reminds us, in the image of God, blessed from our beginning. In his Lenten message for this year Pope Francis urges us to contemplate this great love that created us, not in a general sense, but specifically challenging us to see God’s likeness in those in our communities who are suffering.

How do we care for the troubled and troubling among us, who are equally imago Dei — the image of God  equally redeemed by Christ’s death and resurrection? God touched us in our creation; do we reach out to touch him, here and now, in the lives of our brothers and sisters?

I am reminded by this reading to marvel at the universe, fashioned to work as a whole, from the clocks embedded in the heavens, ticking off centuries as clearly as hours, to the plants that provide food for man and beast alike. But amid the magnificence, I notice, too, the brokenness of the world, and the role my own sinfulness plays in it.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the second week of his Spiritual Exercises, suggests contemplating the Trinity, looking down on the battered earth, seeing the aimless and despairing, the hopeful and joyous, and deciding to quietly go about the work of redemption. In comparison to this glittering tale of creation, Jesus’ coming seems almost tame. But this reading is not just a recounting of how we came to be, but a reminder of what will come. It invites us to contemplate, as theologian Frederick Buechner put it, “unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light … God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, who for us and our salvation came down from heaven.”

As we sit in the darkness of the Easter Vigil six weeks from now, may we wonder at a universe created by a Light beyond all telling, that stretched between earth and heaven to redeem us. May we be moved to carry that Light out to banish the unthinkable darkness that envelops our brothers and sisters in need.

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