2 Timothy 1:8b-10
Remember that popular 70s song, “Blinded By The Light? The rest of the song’s refrain was almost unintelligible -- until the advent of internet-based lyrics websites.
“Blinded By The Light.” This is what’s going on here in today’s Gospel message. Jesus is transfigured and radiated light, blinding his disciples to the reality before them. The three disciples are just as bewildered about the experience as we were about those song lyrics.
In the transfiguration, we have proof Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He’s the new Moses. He’s the Suffering Servant; a person we should listen to.
Filled with good intentions, Peter proposes what could be a religiously significant idea, the creation of three tents for Jesus and his two famous friends (commemorating the Jewish Feast of Booths).
“While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.”
How many of us are afraid as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death? How many of us are living in the shadows unable to see the light of Christ?
Perhaps we, too, are “blinded by the light.” Or perhaps we need to do a few things before the light can shine through to our souls.
Lent is a good time to reflect on our spiritual blindness, these feelings of darkness, of fear, of abandonment, of our own sinfulness, and draw closer to the light of Christ.
From the life of St. Teresa of Calcutta, we discovered there are two kinds of shadows. One form of shadow can be divine (as found in today’s Gospel reading and St. Teresa’s life). The other form of shadow is more sinister (like when we sin while operating in the shadows).
Our prayer life can help us discern between the two shadow worlds as we find our way back to God. But even the greats struggle with this.
Archbishop Sartain sent us deacons a beautiful book about St. Teresa of Calcutta called, “I Loved Jesus in the Night,” soon before she became a saint.
A Dominican priest from Ireland, Fr. Paul Murray, penned this beautiful, short and easy-to-read book.(Click HERE to order the book on Amazon)
On the cover the book claims “a secret revealed.” The secret is really no secret to most Catholics who’ve heard about Mother Teresa’s letters or read the book “Come Be My Light.”
Mother Teresa had a transfiguring encounter with Christ while on a train in India headed on spiritual retreat in September 1946. At the time she was head mistress at a private girl’s school.
Her encounter with Christ illumined her heart to the needs of the poorest of the poor in India; the people she saw each and every day, living in the streets, just outside her comfortable and cloistered community.
Jesus called Mother Teresa to go to the darkest place in the world and “be my light.” Go into the slums of Calcutta, minister to untouchables and leave behind everything comfortable and safe.
It took her several years to convince her Bishop, Sisters of Loreto superiors, and the Vatican to let her do what Christ ordered this humble woman to do. But eventually her persistence won out.
As she went about her new ministry and started recruiting young women to join her (many her former students), Mother Teresa began to experience a terrible darkness in her spirit. She could no longer feel Christ or God’s presence in her prayer life. This went on for the remainder of her life. The revelation surprised and shocked many when it came out years after her death.
How could this woman so filled with Christ that it radiated from her very being not feel Jesus or God in her prayer life? Was it a mysterious paradox or a troubling contradiction?
This was the secret revealed in Fr. Paul’s book, and in the book “Come Be My Light.”
Fr. Paul believes Mother Teresa was experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul, referred to by Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross.
Fr. Paul says the darkness was not depression or despair. “Rather it was the shadow cast in her soul by the overwhelming light of God’s presence.”
God was “utterly present and yet utterly hidden” to Mother Teresa for most of her ministry leading the Missionaries of Charity.
As Fr. Paul put it, “His intimate, purifying love (was) experienced as a devastating absence and even, on some occasions, as a complete abandonment.”
Could it be Mother Teresa, too, was blinded by the light?
Maybe you’ve experienced similar feelings of abandonment by God?
Catholic author and priest Henri Nouwen wrote THIS about the overwhelming power of the light of Christ:
"We only know that we're in darkness when we come into the light of God's love. It is only in the light, in the fullness of the sun, that we know there is a shadow."
Many times these shadows are places where we do things that are less than holy… like slander our neighbor, or post Islamophobic or other racist messages on Facebook, or look at things we shouldn’t look at online, or bad mouth homeless people, immigrants, the poor or people who speak on their behalf, or cheat on a spouse?
St. John of the Cross challenges us to see our souls as windows and our sins as smudges on those windows.
“A ray of sunlight shining on a smudgy window is unable to illumine the window completely and transform it into its own light. It could do this if the window were cleaned and polished.”
So, how do we clean and polish the smudges off the windows of our souls?
Through counsel, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Counsel is the gift of right judgment where we come to understand the difference between right and wrong, choose the right, avoid sin, and live out the values taught to us by Jesus.
Counsel builds on both wisdom and understanding. It comes from the Holy Spirit, mostly through prayer, reading sacred scripture or the catechism, or is found in the confessional.
As St. John of the Cross reminds us, “A soul makes room for God by wiping away all the smudges and smears…, by uniting its will perfectly to God’s (will). … When this is done the soul will be illumined and transformed in God.”
The Sacrament of Reconciliation and absolution are the best way to wipe away these smudges.
Mother Teresa knew this perfectly well. It’s why the only people who knew about her suffering in darkness all those years were her confessors and spiritual directors.
In the second letter of Timothy we heard today,
“He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.”
What expectation has Christ bestowed on us? Are we listening to his voice? Have we united our will with the will of God in our lives? Perhaps this is the reason for so much darkness in the world today.
For Mother Teresa, this darkness, these shadows, were her suffering (50 years of suffering!). This suffering united her with the suffering of the poor in their desolation, and the suffering of Jesus on the Cross.
Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr shared something enlightening about suffering, and it definitely applies to St. Teresa, and all of us:
“If suffering is ‘whenever we are not in control’ then you can see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and give that control back to God. Then we become usable instruments because we can share our power with God’s power.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta was a usable instrument in God’s hands and radiated the light of Jesus to the world. She’s now a saint to those living in darkness; those who feel bewildered, abandoned or lost, but who are determined to keep walking the path of faith.
As we walk on our Lenten journey, may we each grab a bottle of Windex and starting cleaning the smudges on the windows of our souls, and let Christ’s light shine through before all.
May we discern if our darkness is a sign of our own closeness to Jesus or something else.
May our spiritual sight be made pure by Christ.
Then, and only then, we will no longer by blinded by the light, but transformed by it.