- The Abbey of the Genesee - https://www.geneseeabbey.org -

January 22, 2017

Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 8:23-9:3; 1Cor 1:10-13, 17; Mt 4:12-23

Imagine yourself having a medium-size fishing boat and going out deep-sea fishing with your young son. Ordinarily, you stay within sight of land, but this afternoon an unexpected storm came up which made visibility difficult. Just when you needed them most, the instruments in the cabin aren’t working for some reason that would help you steer in the right direction. And, as luck would have it, the compass you always keep in your coat pocket as a safety measure just for these situations, fell out and slipped overboard in the excitement of hauling in a big catch. This is before the time of cell phones, and your two-way radio is malfunctioning also. You might say it’s a perfect storm – everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong.

Having lost your bearings, you’ve traveled around in circles trying to make it to land. Or have you just been heading east all the time and getting further and further out into the center of the Atlantic? It’s night now and your fuel gauge keeps slipping lower and lower. You know once that runs out you’re really at the mercy of the ocean. The heavy cloud-cover makes it impossible to navigate by the stars. If this storm gets worse, it could take you out to sea. Your little boat would be no match for the big waves out there. You’re really beginning to fear for your life and the life of your son. Then, suddenly, out of all that pitch darkness, you glimpse a light and start heading toward it. Clouds and mist make it disappear but you keep heading in that direction. Then it appears again even brighter and you recognize it as a familiar lighthouse by the way it blinks. The other lights on shore, as they come into view, help you get your bearings and guide you safely into the harbor.

We have just experienced how welcome a light in the darkness can be. Our first reading presented us with, “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” It seems to be speaking in symbolic terms. How can we unlock its symbolism and figure out what it’s trying to tell us? Who or what is this great light that will come to the rescue of this people who sit in darkness? As often happens, the refrain for our Responsorial Psalm is the key that unlocks the meaning of the other readings for the day. As you remember, we chanted: “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” And our gospel reading quotes the very lines we heard from Isaiah, inferring that the Lord in the form of Jesus is the light that scatters our darkness.

The Lord is the light that shows us in which direction we should be traveling. In the example of the fishing boat, once you saw the light you had hope. As you traveled toward it, you could already taste the warm food in your mouth, you could already hear the laughter of your wife at having you back safe and sound, you could already feel the comfort of that bed that had never felt better. As you moved toward that light, sometimes it would disappear because of the fog, but you still continued moving toward it. You believed that it was still there even though you couldn’t see it; you had faith in it, and your glimpse of it had given you hope.

The opposite of hope is despair. As we navigate the world, there are currents below us and gusts and gales above us that want to take us away from our guiding light and the safe harbor. If we allow ourselves to be swept along by these forces, we can end up out in the middle of the ocean, far from land, and smashed by the crushing waves of despair.

The guidelines and teachings of the Church are the instruments and tools we have for keeping our bearings and missing the reefs and rocks. They keep us pointed in the right direction. As the fishing boat, sometimes it’s bad luck, sometimes it negligence on our part, often it’s a combination of both. Perhaps the pilot of that boat should have heeded the signs that his instruments weren’t quite up to snuff and had them repaired. Perhaps he should have returned to land sooner when he saw the storm developing – but the catch was so good that he decided to extend it just a little bit longer. We too can become a bit reckless with our faith-life and not realize it until we’re heading out to sea.

As the fishing boat was getting closer to land it saw other lights which helped guide it into the safe harbor. We can be those other lights guiding people into the safe harbor of the Church, into the safe harbor of heaven. We can do that by the peace we exude, we can do that by the love and kindness we show for other people – the thoughtfulness – we can do that by the joy on our face. A very powerful way to make our light shine is unity. Our second reading pleaded, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” Division is something that our enemy, the devil, loves. It is a sign that he has his finger in things. God and his angels love unity and peace. What a brighter light Christianity would be to the world if there weren’t so many divisions among us. Division is also rearing its ugly head in our country in regards to the recent election. Let us be forces of good in the world; let us be forces of peace and unity and healing. Let us be on the side of the Lord and do all that we can to overcome darkness with light.