A living lighthouse

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Gospel Commentary JN 1:29-34

“It is too little … for you to raise up the tribes of Jacob … I will make you a light to the nations.” These words of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading not only apply to the suffering servant we know as Jesus of Nazareth but they can also be applied to His church.

Three great images of the church have been given emphasis by the Second Vatican Council. They are the church as the Body of Christ, the church as the People of God and the church as the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Each of these entails a powerful and challenging theology that enables us to grasp something of the mystery of the church. As the Body of Christ, we are united in our diversity. As the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the church is energized and animated not only by human enthusiasm and ingenuity but by the very Spirit of God. As the People of God, the church is called to reach out to the whole human race without exception.

Each of these images, however, is difficult to visualize. There is another image from secular society that captures an important dimension of the church and that is the image of the lighthouse. In today’s first reading, the Lord summons the people of Judah to be a light to the nations.

We have all seen various pictures of a lighthouse standing strong, tall and commanding on a cliff, sometimes shown with waves crashing at its base while the lighthouse shines its light to guide and warn people at sea.

The lighthouse shines its light for small boats and great ships. It shines its light for rich and for poor. It shines its light for the powerful and the powerless. It shines its light, steady and bright, in all kinds of weather.

That is also the mission of the church. The church is called and anointed to preach Gospel truth to all people, to all political parties and to every generation. People may ignore the lighthouse’s beam at their own peril, but it continues to spread its light into the darkest night.

The lighthouse is a vivid image because it is direct, clear and familiar. Lighthouses were essential for safe navigation in the last century. Today, navigation relies on the Global Positioning System or GPS. But the lighthouse is still a potent image.

We could say that the church is a living lighthouse, built not of stone and mortar but of disciples. Each of us is called to be a carrier of Christ’s light and truth. Each parish is called also to be an expression of the universal church. Each parish in its own way is a manifestation of the universal church that lives, as St. Paul writes, in Corinth or, we could add, in Paris, Los Angeles, Berlin, Luray or Alexandria. We are all called to manifest the church where we live, as St. Paul writes, in union with Christians everywhere. The church is not an abstraction but lives in and through each of us.

This is an important point on which to reflect since these weeks between the Christmas and Lenten seasons call us to reflect on our mission as a church. We are not spiritual lone rangers fighting the good fight or shining the good light all by ourselves. We are part of a church. There are many issues we are called to confront today. No one can engage them all. But collectively, precisely because we are the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit and the People of God, we can be the lighthouse for our world. Like John the Baptist in today’s Gospel, we point the way to Christ. He saw and testified that Christ is the Son of God. Now, John’s mission is our own.

Fr. Krempa is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester.

                                                                                       

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017