The light of the world is the joy of our lives

Father John A. Kiley

The first recorded words, so to speak, from the mouth of God the Father were “Let there be light.” These words, while certainly familiar, are also a bit provocative.

After all, God did not create the sun or the moon or the stars until the fourth day. The source of this primary light remains a mystery – a mystery at least to those who understand science and philosophy and art to be the extent of knowledge. Rather, these first godly words to mankind indicate that God was about to bestow an illumination beyond the heavenly lights, beyond even human reasoning and sensitivity, upon his new human family.

From the start, God shared with his new creatures a gift that later generations would call faith. Like that primitive light on the first day of creation, God’s gift of faith would reveal a larger world, a newer world, a world outside this universe. Faith goes beyond the natural, beyond the sun and the moon and the stars and all the excellence of creation, exposing an even more brilliant supernatural world of divinity, eternity and grace. Faith enables a man to reach beyond his grasp, as the poet wrote. Faith is “the substance of things to be hoped for,” penned St. Paul, “the evidence for things unseen.” Faith uniquely enables a believer to be larger than life.

God would continue his metaphor of illumination when he would meet Abraham at the flaming brazier and encounter Moses at the burning bush and lead the Jews through the desert as a pillar of fire. God would employ the same symbolism when his Spirit descended on the gathered Twelve Apostles in the form of flashes of fire on that first Christian Pentecost. But most of all, God would bring his illuminating graces to fulfillment in his Son, Jesus Christ. Finally after centuries of similes and metaphors and figures of speech, Jesus Christ arrived in this world to be recognized by John the Baptist as the final and authentic light of the world: “the true light, which enlightens every man, was coming into the world.” Jesus accepted the testimony of his cousin John and declared later and boldly, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus’ claim to be the light of world did not indicate that he was merely a model of human excellence to be appreciated and imitated. Jesus was not in this world simply to give mankind good example. Jesus did not just reveal to mankind man’s best self – like the ancient philosophers and moralist might have. Jesus truly came into this world to introduce the human race to truths beyond creation and specifically to “the truth” beyond creation. Christ did not just enlighten the world; Christ ennobled the world.

The light which Jesus Christ brings to this world is the light that the Judaeo-Christian tradition labels revelation. Through Christ God reveals to mankind truths that man would never perceive if left to his own resources. The existence of the Trinity, the reality of the Incarnation, the drama of Redemption, the glory of the Resurrection, the power of grace, the efficacy of the sacraments, the inspiration of Scripture, the horror of sin, the certainty of judgment and the unconditional love of God – these truths would elude mankind were he not enlightened supernaturally.

Christians in the present era tend to view Christ more as a model than a mentor. They view him as a heroic example of the valiant deeds of which mankind is capable. Jesus is the man of peace, the man of compassion, the man of long-suffering, the man of justice. Indeed Christ is all these things. But even more so Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word made flesh, the splendor of the Father and the savior of mankind. Jesus leads the believer beyond this world into a much the larger world of faith, belief and eternal truth.

The man born blind in today’s Gospel was certainly thrilled when Jesus opened his bodily eyes and allowed him to perceive color, motion, depth and nature for the first time. But Jesus had an even greater gift for the man when he opened his eyes to the lordship of Jesus, to his divinity, his sonship, his otherworldliness. Faith is a true revelation, a true window on the next world.