Light Shines in Darkness

Light Shines in Darkness

Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year. Fr Duncan Campbell returns to his childhood to rediscover virtue.

The days are darkening. The gospels become darker. The ‘powers of heaven’ move towards darkness, and cold; and seem to show life ending, in winter. What we now know of physics, chemistry, biology seem to indicate decay as the ‘law’ for all life.

We find that light and warmth and life always return, in the spring. This can provoke thoughts of resurrection.

We know that light shines in darkness. The gospels tell that Christ is born, at night.

His death ends in resurrection. His bright Spirit returns, as we celebrate Pentecost.

Then can come the many ‘green and pleasant’ gospels; describing his cures, his miracles, and his provocative parables, in the summer Sundays of the year.

Now however come darker gospels, full of disturbing warnings…

In today’s gospel, Jesus is finding difficulty with the clergy of his day. He has to lead them to admit that talking and doing aren’t always the same thing. He emphasises the prophets’ wonderful, hopeful messages about ‘thinking better’: repentance. Pointedly he states that this can be more likely – in some very unlikely people. He mentions financiers, and prostitutes. These came to Prophet John for help.

This impressive fact seemed to have met with neglect, perhaps even hostility, in that clergy. They were in no need of any forgiveness. They might even have resented it, that others were forgiven, and got into favour, just for the asking.

They felt how they had to struggle to reach, and keep safe, their favoured status. They seem to have little or no understanding of the love in forgiveness. Perhaps love had just ceased to be, in the world they had made and maintained with regulations. Paul would see this and say this powerfully, again and again, about all such ‘law’.

This was all spelt out strangely, even to my very young self, in the child’s catechism. It told me meticulously what to believe about God and his scheme of things.

Then, telling me what to do about this, in alarming honesty, it detailed seven ‘capital’ vices: Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, Sloth; but also, the virtues: Humility, Liberality, Chastity, Meekness, Temperance, Brotherly love, Diligence.

There they all were to view. Life was quite mapped out. We were in business.

It was even reassuring; quite official. Vice was nothing to panic, or get excited about. It was simply something – in these many ways – to escape.

All that was necessary was, every day, to see vice coming, and replace it on each occasion with virtue. There would be situations called ‘temptations’ with the opportunity to ‘turn the tables’ over Satan or whatever it was that brought such enormities.

What was required was a wise alertness to it all, and patient effort and repeated ‘practice’; just as much, or even more than, at any skill – like piano playing.

If I made the substitution, on each occasion, ‘in good time’, the virtue would become a ‘holding’ or ‘habit’ to me; a ‘second nature’.

I would become a ‘new creature’, with God. More important still: doubt, despair, or even the rancour that Jesus had found in the clergy, could be countered in the same way with the most important virtues — Faith, and Hope, and Love.

We were taught ‘acts’ of these; to recite in prayer; to ‘get’ them.

My God, I believe in you; and all that your church teaches, because you have said it and your word is true.

My God, I hope in you; for grace and for glory; because of your promises, your mercy and your power.

My God, because you are so good, I love you; with all my heart; and for your sake I love others as myself.

There was also thoughtfully provided an ‘act of contrition’, to say when need be, when we may have failed, which might be often.

O my God I am sorry for all my sins; because I love you; and with your help I will not sin again.

This is to ‘enter the kingdom of God’. Those who don’t, become castaways, in a loveless, lifeless cold and dark of winter night. ‘The exterior darkness’; ‘The eternal silence of those infinite spaces’ which terrified Pascal so.

Readings: Ezekiel 18:25-28|Philippians 2:1-11|Matthew 21:28-32

fr Duncan Campbell is a member of St Albert's Priory, Edinburgh, and is currently resident at St Mary's home, Stone.