In 2013, I decided to participate in the Ignation exercises, also known as the 19th Annotation. Despite what it may sound like, it had nothing to with pilates, cross fit or yoga. Instead, for thirty weeks, I was guided through a series of daily prayer and other spiritual exercises designed by St. Ignatius of Loyola to deepen the participants relationship with God. Along with our group and individual work, each participant was assigned a prayer guide to help process one’s experience.
The prayer guides usually consisted of lay people and staff members of the Spiritual Renewal Center who had previously participated in the exercises and were willing to again be part of the process. Now because I was a priest, and because I was already a trained spiritual director, I was assigned to Sister Maurice May.
Sister Maurice has spent the entirety of her adult life as a member of the Sisters of St. Francis. After years of teaching and running Catholic Schools in Maryland, she is now retired and living at the mother house in Syracuse. Sister had a reputation for being a tough Spiritual Director. Unlike the lay members of the staff, sister had a knack of zeroing in on the spiritual issues at hand and then asking the tough questions while looking at you as if she was looking right into your heart.
This is what made Sr. Maurice so unique. She could see things that no one else would ever notice despite the fact she was blind. Physically all she could see with her “good” eye was light and shadow, yet with both eyes, she could see deep into one’s heart and see the very things the directee did not want to see.
This morning we heard the story of Jesus healing a blind man. Once again, those with sight, the Pharisees along with much of the crowd, who could literally see Jesus of Nazareth, were blind to the fact that he is the Son of God. The blind man, however, could not see Jesus, but had no problem seeing who Jesus is. What is even more fascinating about this particular story is, even after Jesus gives the blind man his sight, the Pharisees still refuse believe in who Jesus is as they cower and complain about how Jesus violated the sabbath when he gave the blind man his sight.
How many of us, have found ourselves in the midst of revelation, but when that revelation sheds light on something we would rather not see, we literally turn a blind eye to that which may make us uncomfortable? This is what our Gospel addresses this morning and what St. Paul also addresses in his letter to the Ephesians. When read in juxtaposition to this morning’s Gospel, St. Paul changes the metaphor of blindness to the metaphor of light and darkness. Then he extols us to be children of the light.
What Paul asks us to do sounds simple, we all like living in the light, at least during the summer when the days are long and the air is warm. There is however a problem with not just living in the light but being a child of the light. Light illuminates things, it helps us see more clearly the flaws in our lives and the evil that surrounds this world. As children of the light, Paul is asking us to shed light on the darkness of the world, to reveal injustice, to bring attention to those places where God is not. Sometimes we can feel good about this when we feel empowered to make change and perhaps even make the world a little bit better of a place to live. And there are times when that which we discover overwhelms us and to some level may even immobilize us.
In the documentary, Traces of the Trade, Katrina Browne explores the untold story of her family’s past. As a descendant of the Rhode Island DeWolfe family, she uncovers the dark side of her family’s legacy. Slave trading. As one comes to the end of her story, at the end of documentary, the audience is let in on the family’s dilemma, what to do with what they now know and understand. They cannot undo the past, and to make reparation in any form is overwhelming.
Katrina at the end of her journey into darkness finds herself in the same place we found ourselves during the Adult Forum last Sunday. Our topic last week was on the second vow of Baptism, the promise that when we fall into sin we will repent and return to the Lord. Here is the dilemma, St. Augustine’s theory states we are not born with the taint of original sin but born into a cloud of sin. Basically he says, the odds are stacked against us, no matter how hard we try, we will constantly find ourselves participating in the midst of sin. As I pointed out last week, the clothes I buy, the electronics I work with, even the diamond ring I bought Maureen thirty-three years ago connects me with the sins of the world. As St. Paul writes to the Romans, “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”
So what do we do? How can we be the children of the light when the simple act of buying clothes or using a cell phone connects us with sin?
The good news is, God does not call us to be immobilized by the evil in the world. Instead, God calls us to be the light to the world, not the solution, but the conduit of light.
I came to accept this during my second clinical unit at Long Lane School. Long Lane is the former reformatory for the State of Connecticut. My job as student chaplain was to provide pastoral care to the young people who were incarcerated there. There is no place more dark than a youth prison. Young men and women, all under seventeen, serve their sentences as a result of the crimes they had committed. What makes the place so dismal is hearing their stories. Stories of child victims of abuse, neglect, abandonment and a system that had failed them. By the end of the my first weeks I was overcome with the gravity of their lives, I literally wondered if God had truly abandoned these children who now lived in the heart of darkness. In my prayers that summer I actually asked God why God had abandoned them. In God’s answered by showing me the Almighty had not abandoned them, instead God had given them a safe place to stay, and surrounded these children with amazing and caring people to bring light into their darkness. One of those people, to my surprise was me. My job was not to change the realities of their lives or to take away their past, but to be a conduit of light in the darkness of their lives.
Sometimes that is the best we can be, a conduit of the Light to remove the vale of darkness under which evil hides. A conduit of light to illuminate a path for others from despair to hope.