I gave a brief personal testimony a few days ago to a group of engaging Catholics about my experience studying theology in graduate school. Since my journey to get to a master’s program in Catholic evangelization and catechesis was an arduous one, and since the opportunity to wake up every day and study about how to proclaim Jesus more boldly to a hurting world is an immeasurably fortunate one, it is easy to understand why giving a talk about the wonders and joys of learning more about my faith is an effortlessly gratifying endeavor.
One of the gentlemen in the room approached me later that evening, attempting to describe what it was like to hear me speak about something with which I had such great fervor. “It was like watching a fluorescent light bulb,” he explained. “When you first turn it on, it’s got a flickering little light, and the longer it stays on, the more it heats up and the greater illumination it gives to everything around it.” He told me that as I spoke, the light inside of me just kept getting brighter and more visible to everyone else.
His compliments and observations were humbling… and challenging. I went home that evening and woke up the next morning still thinking and praying about what he had said. When I proclaim Christ, is this always my modus operandi? Probably not. Some days, I feel cranky and tired and stressed, and probably fail pretty miserably at lighting up a room.
I need to work on being a fluorescent light bulb for Christ at every moment of every day — we all do. And there are four ‘audiences’, so to speak, for whom I must do this for the sake of:
- The Church
First of all, God tells us that our light must be more than a flicker. “Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt. 5:15). Read that again. Our light is meant to give light to all in the house! Furthermore, our light is meant not to bring any attention to ourselves, but to direct praise entirely to God: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16, emphasis added).
All light comes from God and is meant to be directed toward God. Think of what it is like to look at light coming from fire — it’s captivating. This is what Christ’s light is like, and what we should be like. The Holy Trinity is often described as fire: God the Father is the flame, the origin. Christ is the light which illuminates and the Holy Spirit is the heat which radiates. Christ proclaimed: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). We are meant to be Christ in the world by emanating this light. That’s what the saints are: little bursts of light which brighten the world.
For the Church
Evangelization is the mission of the Church. What is evangelization if not to bring the light of Christ to all nations and peoples? Pope John Paul II said, “True holiness does not mean a flight from the world; rather, it lies in the effort to incarnate the Gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement.” The incarnate Gospel in everyday life is light.
Light breeds joy. And the Church should be made up of joyful people — fluorescent evangelists and catechists — so that she may draw more people to herself, into her one, holy, universal and apostolic family. St. Augustine, in his book, Instructing Beginners in Faith, writes, “Our greatest concern is much more about how to make it possible for those who offer instruction in faith to do so with joy. For the more they succeed in this, the more appealing they will be.” Have you ever met a cranky saint? No, the saints are the best arguments for the joyful Church. Let your light so shine so that you may spread joy on behalf of the joyful Church.
St. Mary Joseph Rossello once explained, “Good example is the most efficacious apostolate. You must be as lighted lanterns and shine like brilliant chandeliers among men. By your good example and your words, animate others to know and love God.”
A light bulb does not illuminate for itself, but for the sake of those around it. Light is contagious.
We are living in a world where many people are walking in darkness. But St. Francis reminds us, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” And why can’t we have confidence that a single candle can extinguish darkness in the world? Romans 13:12 speaks of putting on the “armor of light.” Light is armor, but also a weapon. It defeats darkness.
We each must be lights, expelling the darkness in the world around us. But to do this for others, we need first to fill ourselves with light, dispelling the darkness we have in ourselves. Step 1 is to turn to the source of light. Psalm 18:28 — “Yea, thou dost light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.”
I don’t need to tell you that light is more appealing than darkness and joy more pleasing than sorrow or boredom or melancholy, because this you know from repeated experience. We feel more joy when we spread joyfulness, brighter when we emit light. This is what we were created for and we will only be happy when we are living out this calling and fulfilling this purpose.
You were created to be a fluorescent light bulb, which only shines brighter the more you come to know and love God, and the more you share that knowledge and love with others. I need to make sure that my light is not bright just some times, but every time I spread the Gospel — which should be always, whether by words or by witness of life. I said I am a fluorescent light bulb wannabe — but wannabes are a disappointment if they never become what they hope for, what they were created for.
It’s time to BE that light.
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