Let There Be LightSunday ReadingsPodcast of the Sunday Readings Sunday Bible Study QuestionsVideo Reflections Lecturas y Comentarios New American BiblePrayer of the HoursBQ: Do Catholics "worship" Mary as we do Jesus?
Third Sunday in Advent, Dec. 11, 2011 (3AdvB)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
When you have been walking in the dark for a long time, even a speck of light changes everything.
In certain circumstances darkness can terrify us, consume us. But the right kind of dark can give us peace, can let us relax. A night of sleep, for instance; or a “lovely soft day,” as the Irish call a shady, rainy time.
I have seen both the frightening and the soothing night, and at Advent time I crave for the latter. One experience from a long time ago gives me a model, or at least a metaphor. I was fortunate to be in Hawaii at the time, working hard of course. A brother Jesuit and I decided to climb all the way up the side of the volcanic mountain on Maui—with a guide, I am happy to say—and then back down into the crater itself. But no one had mentioned the great dark cave we were slated to enter.
It was actually a “lava tube,” formed when a huge lava stream began to cool and harden on its outside, but kept flowing on the inside until it was empty. We entered obediently and wound around a bit until there was no morsel of light possible except for an electric light bulb that the guide had turned on ahead of time.
Then he turned it off. With a kind warning, but still, off. There were perhaps a dozen of us in the cave, and our movement and our nervous talk hushed simultaneously. Deep, unrelieved darkness nestled around everything including us. Eyes open, eyes closed, it was all the same.
The guide finally whispered that he was about to turn on the bulb, and you might think we were relieved to hear it. But many of us responded by saying “no, no, leave it off. Give us more time.” So we sat, together but unseeing, consoled by the deepness of the absolute dark. When the tiny bulb finally lit again, the spell was broken and once again eyesight ruled.
It seems that sometimes darkness is a container for what we call light, a resting place where the batteries can re-charge, where our eyes can recover from their assumption that the daylight world is ordinary, usual, and just a tool we can use. If we ever grasped the really miraculous nature of light, we would be amazed and even stricken by the sheer gift that it is. In the tube/cave, my eyes could rest and change worlds for a while. The daylight looked much different after that.
What are your experiences of darkness? Maybe they are the opposite of quiet. Maybe terror is their name. If so, know that, however gloomy it may be, there is still, always, the promise of light. The smallest light conquers darkness cannot be quenched.
But perhaps you have found, at least sometimes, the comfort that quiet night can be, a time for rest, to make us ready to behold the light however slight it may be. If so, you know already the experience of Advent. In Sunday's Gospel, the people are hungry for daylight. “Are you the light?” they shouted to John. Will you “bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives and release the prisoners” (First Reading)?
No, he replied, “I am pointing you toward the light. He will be here soon.” . . . Let the dark console you and prepare you for the tiny speck of light that illuminates the world.