The Light Came Into The World
“And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so his works might not be exposed” (John 3:19-20).
St. John has a lot to say about the conflict between Light and Darkness. It’s the driving force behind all conflicts in history. And it’s the conflict within ourselves.
What is the Light? The Son of God.
Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The First Letter of John says: “God is light, and in him there is no darkness” (1 John 1:5).
The Prologue of John’s Gospel speaks of a light that the Son of God gives, as if to give us a share in his life: “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). St. John says that every created thing is an image of God’s Son and a reflection of his light. St. Thomas Aquinas says everything that is, is light. Light is existence. Light is being. And for men and angels, light is Life.
In the beginning, on the first day of Creation, Genesis 1 says that God created the light. He separated light from the darkness. The light he called Day. The darkness he called Night.
What is the darkness?
It is the revolt of the angels before heaven and earth were made, and before man was created. It is the nothingness of evil. It is the diminishment of light and life. It is the orientation toward isolation and death. It is sin. As St. Paul says in Ephesians: “Our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph. 6:12).
In the end, that is, at the Bible’s end in the Book of Revelation, which is about the end of time, it says, “Night will be no more, nor will they need lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). You see, time begins with the separation of the light and darkness. History is the battle between light and darkness. The coming of the Christ is the light coming into history to conquer the darkness. The End of Time and Last Judgment is the final separation of light and darkness.
This drama is playing itself out today. First, let’s begin with ourselves. We know that each of us has an interior battle. And with God’s grace, we are victorious. Lent is about gaining more ground in the battle for holiness. Lent is about advancing further into the Kingdom of God, which is within. As we hear in Revelation: “To him who conquers, I will grant to eat from the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7).
However, we must also reckon with the battle going on outside of ourselves – in society and the world. Currently, Pope Francis is asking us to fast and pray for the conflicts in Africa, namely in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. He is praying to bring the Light of Christ’s peace to a troubled continent.
“Our heavenly Father always listens to his children who cry out to him in pain and anguish,” he said, making “heartfelt appeal” for us to “hear this cry and, each one according to their own conscience, before God, ask ourselves: ‘What can I do to make peace?’”
Prayer bears fruit, but more can be done, said the Pope. He said that each person “can concretely say no to violence to the extent that it depends on him or herself. Victories obtained with violence are false victories, while working for peace does good for all!”
Pope Francis’ appeal came two months after a November prayer vigil in the two countries. His plans to visit South Sudan and Congo were postponed by the conflict. Therefore, Pope Francis organized the prayer vigil for an end to war in the two countries, begging for the victims’ comfort. He planned to visit South Sudan with Anglican Primate, Joseph Welby, in a peace mission. The visit was postponed until things settled down.
South Sudan has been in a civil war for over three years, dividing the country between loyalists to President Salva Kiir and loyalists to Vice President Reik Machar. The conflict provoked more divisions among militia groups. Since the war’s start, about 4 million people have fled in search of peace, food and work. In August 2017, Uganda received the one-millionth South Sudanese refugee, marking one of the world’s worst refugee crises.
Among those remaining in South Sudan, “Internally Displaced Persons” (IDPs) have sought refuge in churches. Most IDPs are women, children, and people who’ve lost family. People fear staying home due to prospects of death, torture or rape. Some may be forced to fight. Despite cooperation among churches, aid agencies and the government, refugees often lack food. The U.S. recently banned weapons sales in South Sudan.
Political unrest erupted in the Congo in 2015 when presidential and parliamentary elections were delayed. The bill proposing this was seen by opposition groups as a power grab by Kabila. Government and opposition relations deteriorated when a Kasai chief was killed in August, after challenging the government to stop interfering in the territory, demanding local control. Congolese Catholic bishops helped negotiate an agreement intended to prevent a new civil war by securing an election for the successor of Kabila. This January, the bishops said the agreement would fail unless both parties compromised.
In light of a bloody history, fears of violence in Kasai (a political hotspot) spread throughout the nation, involving neighboring countries. Last year, over 3,300 people – including civilians caught in the crossfire – were killed in the Congo’s Kasai region. British sources say that over 7,000 people fled to neighboring Burundi and another 1,200 into Tanzania in February. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization said an “alarming food insecurity” has spread into previously stable areas, like the Kasai and Tanganyika provinces. In the past six months, the number of people experiencing extreme hunger has risen by 2 million, totaling about 7.7 million people.
All of this makes many of our American preoccupations and hot topics look petty and self-centered. Of course, there are serious matters that we must address at home, as evidenced by the deadly violence, drug issues, social conflicts and moral demise that our country continues to struggle with. But we must also get out of ourselves. In today’s totally involved and electronically connected “One World,” Catholics must look upon their Baptism and Confirmation as a sharing in the mission of the Universal Man, Jesus Christ. These are all signs of the times. Two worldviews are in conflict: Christ the Universal Redeemer and Antichrist the Universal “Redeemer.”
“Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the 'mystery of iniquity' in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 675).
There is no partisan worldview that stands somewhere between the two. “There are two ways, the one of life, the other of death; and between the two there is a great difference” (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, circa 60 A.D.). As Catholics, we must be advocates of all life and human development from womb to tomb. Catholic social doctrine insightfully teaches that there is a difference between “progress” and “development.” Progress can be good or evil. It’s not inherently good. But development is inherently good, assuming we know what human nature is – which Christ came to reveal to us. We are men and women, given the gift of an identity by our Creator, who have the dignity of being able to accept God’s grace and to overcome sin and weakness. We can become new again. Adam’s offspring killed each other. Christ’s offspring in Baptism give life. This Lent, fast and pray for this renewal.
Fr. Frederick Edlefsen, Pastor