Northern Europe is full of magnificent Gothic cathedrals and churches. One of the hallmarks of Gothic architecture are the massive high walls. The walls could rise so high because of the buttresses on the outside of the buildings. The purpose of the walls was not just height but light. These walls hold beautiful stained glass windows that let the light into the building.
There is a story of a mother and her young daughter visiting one of these cathedrals. At one point on the visit the light shining through one of the windows cast a colorful image onto the floor in the large nave of the church. The girl was mesmerized by the beauty and filled with great joy.
Looking up at the window, she said to the guide: “Who are all those people on the glass?” “Why they are the saints and there are many of them.” Later that night as the girl was getting into bed she said to her mother: “I know why those people are saints.” “Why?,” the mother asked. The daughter replied: “Because they let the light shine through.”
Jesus begins his public ministry. St. Matthew describes this as a time of rejoicing and a time of fulfillment. He quotes from the Prophet Isaiah saying: “Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death a light has arisen.”
Then he recalls Jesus’ first proclamation: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The next scene has Jesus calling his first disciples, Peter and Andrew, with the words: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Thus begins the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. The proclamation is accompanied by Jesus gathering to himself disciples. The disciples will accompany him and learn from him the way that leads to life — that leads to his Kingdom. The following will grow as the public ministry continues and as more and more people come to know Jesus. The light will grow stronger and brighter as the Lord gathers his disciples. As they walk along with Jesus they will see this Light. They will witness his “teaching in [their] synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and curing every disease and illness among the people.”
Jesus’ mission today continues. He continues to gather people to himself and invites them to share life in his Kingdom. His work continues through his followers who come to know, love and serve him. The Light which is Christ shines brightly in these followers and many people come to know Christ through them.
All of us who are called Christian are called to share the light of Christ with those around us. We walk this path of life seeking to live life in the manner which he shows us. In other words we seek to live life in the Kingdom, now so that we can partake of its fullness in heaven. Again, in other words, we seek to be saints.
The story of the little girl in the cathedral gives us a great insight into becoming saints. The Light, which is Christ, has to shine through in our lives. In a world where pain and sorrow, loneliness and despair, fear and anguish are so real for many people in many different ways, we recognize darkness. The only way for that darkness to be lifted or dispelled is by a light coming into it.
When the light comes in contact with darkness, the darkness dissipates as the light becomes stronger. It is like the movement from night to dawn to daylight. Christ is that Light and he calls us to be his vehicle.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.