Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The Scripture readings for this day have three major themes: the concept of light, the concept of Christian unity, and the concept of vocation. This homily focuses on the concept of light, the concept we read about in our selections from Isaiah and the psalm.
In Isaiah, we read,
Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness:
for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shown.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils (Is 9: 1-2).
And in our psalm for today, we hear:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
whom should I dread? (Psalm 27: 1).
Before exploring the importance of the concept of “light” in our Catholic Christian faith, let’s look at a story by G.H. Beaulaurier called “Why Were Our Landing Lights On?”
For many people, especially people of faith, there are no such things as “coincidences.” Rather, things happen because God wills them to happen. Thus, so-called “coincidences” would better be named “God-incidences.”
Such is the story we have today. It was a cold January night, and the United Airlines captain of Flight 840 had just taken off from Denver to fly to San Francisco. When the jet had climbed to about 29,000 feet, a flight attendant knocked at the cockpit door. She reported that a passenger had just reported seeing a flashing S-O-S emergency signal in the mountains beneath the plane.
No sooner had the captain gotten a fix on the jet’s position – 66 miles west of Denver on the I-60 airway – when the intercom chimed and another flight attendant reported that a second passenger reported seeing the S-O-S signal.
The captain immediately called Air Traffic Control, advised them of the passengers’ reports of seeing this international distress signal, and gave the estimated location. The Air Traffic Control staff alerted a commuter flight, scheduled to fly over that area, to watch for the distress signal. The sheriff’s office in that vicinity was alerted to the situation.
Only when Flight 840 landed in San Francisco did the captain of the jet learn the whole story. He learned that two people in a four-wheel drive vehicle had ignored “road closed due to snow” signs that had been posted by the forest service. As a result, an avalanche trapped them.
For two days and two nights, they fought fatigue and frostbite. In desperation, they removed a headlight from the vehicle and rigged it to the battery so they could send out S-O-S signals. They then waited. Unfortunately, all the planes flying overhead were too high for them to see at night – until Flight 840 came along. The only reason the stranded people could see that jet was because the landing lights were on.
The captain was amazed. Why were the landing lights on while the plane was flying over the mountains? To this day, the captain doesn’t know the answer, but he is pretty sure it was a God-incidence.
Now let’s look 3 points we know about the concept of light in our Faith.
First, light is a common concept in all major world religions, including our own religion – Christianity. Light is frequently used to refer to God, heaven, grace, the Bible, good works, and other concepts. For Christians, Jesus Christ is the light we are called to follow.
Second, light is necessary to guide us on our life journeys, for if we walked in total darkness, we would continually be in danger. Light, for the believer, is like the beacon of light put out by lighthouses, guiding ships and preventing them from crashing on the rocks of the shores.
And third, we often talk about the “light of Christ,” and many of our hymns have this theme. But where do we find the “light of Christ?”
The “light of Christ” is all around us, and it shines in our world. For Catholic Christians, the light shines not only in the sacraments, but also in the Bible, Church teaching, homilies we hear in Mass, in good works, and in each other. For Catholic Christians, the light of Christ is everywhere and in everyone. For the true Catholic Christian, light and goodness and love are the common, everyday reality we should expect. Darkness and evil and hatred are, on the contrary, the exception to human nature. Thus, it is virtually impossible to have a strong Catholic Christian faith and be a pessimist, for that would be like talking about a square circle.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on our own vision of the world. Do we walk confidently as Children of the Light? Or do we stumble on our life journeys as Children of Darkness?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
Story source: G.H. Beaulaurier, “Why Were Our Landing Lights On?” in Arthur Gordon,
Elizabeth Searle Lamb, and Others, A Light in the Darkness: Stories About God’s Mysterious Ways from Guideposts, Nashville, TN: Dimensions for Living 1993, pp. 9-10.