Being a bright light of love and mercy

As Christians we are to be the “light of the world”.  By our love for God and others we are to be lights shining on those around us.  You could say that each of us is supposed to be a light-bulb.  You have probably noticed that some Christians shine brighter than others.  When we look at our own life, we can probably see that at times our light has been quite dim, at other times more bright.  It is as though we are connected to one of those “dimmer switches”.  You know, those light switches that allow you to control the intensity of the light in a room.  In today’s gospel, Jesus seems to be explaining how we can adjust the dimmer switch in our spiritual life. He is explaining how we can increase the intensity with which we love God and our neighbor.  There seems to be a few steps to turning up the dimmer switch on our Christian life.

The first step is to acknowledge that we are sinners.  If we do not recognize that we are sinners then our dimmer switch is forever off.  Each one of us has done things that have damaged our relationship with God and others.  For example, in the first reading we heard about King David, a man who was specially chosen by God. Even with all his gifts and accomplishments, David was a sinner through and through, he was an adulterer and a murderer and he acknowledged this.  Even the great saints recognized they were sinners.  Mother Teresa had a wonderful expression that highlights this.  She would say that before going to confession, she entered the confessional “a sinner with sin”.  After the confession she left the confessional “a sinner without sin”.  She always thought of herself as a sinner. The reality is that we are all sinners and we should just acknowledge this fact.

The second step is to realize that the damage done by our sin has been repaired by Jesus.    St. Catherine of Sienna had a great analogy to describe the effects of sin on our life and how Jesus has remedied the situation.  She explained that because of our sin there is a great chasm that separates us from God.  In between this abyss there flows a mighty river.  Whatever we try, we cannot on our own do anything to cross the river and get back to God.  Our sin has caused damage to our relationship with God that we cannot fix.  Because of our sin we owe God a debt that we can never repay on our own.  How then do we cross this abyss to be unified with God?  St. Catherine explains that it is only on account of Jesus’ sacrifice.  The Cross of Jesus is the bridge that connects us back to God.  Jesus has paid the debt we owe God.  The damage that sin has caused to our relationship to God can only be repaired by Jesus.

We love God to the extent that we realize how much He has done for us, that he has paid our huge debt in full.  The woman in today’s Gospel loved Jesus so much because she realized how much she required His mercy. If our love for God is a light-bulb, then our dimmer-switch is how much we recognize the gift God has given us.  The other day I was in the kindergarten class during the class’ Father’s day celebration.  I will be honest; I went because I heard there would be ice-cream.  The students were all there doing activities with their dads.  It was awesome to watch how the kids interacted with their fathers.  They all had so much love and appreciation for their dads.  For each student no one in the world could compare with how great their dad was. I think the kids love their dads in this way because they realize all that their dads have done for them:  how they always provide for them, care for them, are there when they need them.  Somehow when we get older, we lose this appreciation for our fathers.  We forget their many sacrifices.  We run this same risk with the way we view our heavenly Father. Do we realize how much our Heavenly Father has done for us?  That He sent His son to die for us.  The more we let this truth sink in, the more we appreciate what God has done for us, the more we will love Him.

The more we realize how generous God has been in showing us mercy, the more we will show mercy to others.  If the mercy and compassion we show to others is a light-bulb, then our dimmer switch is how much we realize that God has first forgiven us.  The Pharisee in today’s gospel is so quick to judge the woman because he does not see himself as a sinner in need of God’s mercy.  Because he does not realize that God has forgiven his debt, he is unable to show compassion to the woman.  Though we should never approve of sin, we need to show patience and compassion for those who struggle with sin.  Just think of how patient God is with us.  When we are generous in showing mercy and compassion to those who struggle we help lead them closer to Jesus.  When I was at the seminary, my spiritual director was an old monk who has since passed away.  He often repeated a saying that struck me.  Whenever he would talk about people who have fallen into sin, no matter how great, he would always say “there go I but for the grace of God”.  He showed such great compassion to those who sinned because he was so aware of how much mercy God had shown Him throughout his life.  The more we realize how much we have been forgiven by God, the less stingy we will be in showing mercy to others.

Today we have the opportunity to look at our life and see if we are truly being a light to others.  How brightly does our love of God and others shine?  Are we compassionate and merciful to others or are we judgmental?  If our bulb is a bit dim, perhaps we need to increase the intensity on our dimmer switch.  Today let us do this by turning to our heavenly Father with great gratitude for all the mercy and forgiveness He has shown us, especially by sending us the gift on His only Son.