Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO
5th Day in the Octave of Christmas
Today’s liturgy is full of references to darkness and light as symbols of spiritual realities. The opening prayer refers to the “invisible God, who dispersed the darkness of this world by the coming of your light”. The first reading declares that “the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining”. And what is God’s light, which is the true light? Simeon answers in the Gospel: “My own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you”.
For us Gentiles who have seen the light of revelation, there are consequences for the way we live our lives, which St John spells out in the first reading: “Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall. Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes”.
This darkness can overcome even the brothers in a monastery, as our Cistercian Fathers were well aware. Isaac of Stella asks, “How is it that when I see in my brother something that cannot be put right, because of either his physical or his moral weakness, I do not bear patiently with him, loving him and caring for him with all my heart….Is it not that I lack in myself the charity that bears all things, suffers all things, and is kind, because it is love? The man who shows himself to be aggressive and overbearing towards his brother who is in difficulties, who thinks of his weakness as a snare, what can I say of him except that he has clearly given himself over to the law of the devil and is showing it?”
Those are strong words, but Isaac is alluding to St Paul’s saying, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” For Isaac, the only law of Christ is love.
He goes on to say: “Love – it is for that alone that we do or do not do anything, change or do not change anything. Love – that is the whole way and the end toward which we are going. In very truth, there is no failure whatever that can take us out of love when it is genuine. May God grant us that love, for without it we can do nothing, nor can we in any way please him who lives and reigns for
ever and ever. Amen.”
From Isaac de L’Etoile, Sermons v.2,end of Sermon 31, in SOURCES CHRETIENNES, p. 202 (Latin) and 203 (French)