“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.”
We last heard these familiar words of the prophet Isaiah at the Christmas midnight Mass. There they clearly referred to Christ as the Light overcoming the darkness of human sin. The prophet had originally spoken these words to the insecurities of Israel’s northern kingdom. The darkness that had overshadowed this people had been the constant threat of invasion, economic devastation and faithless leadership.
The details of ancient power struggles are of little concern today. What does concern us is that every generation, every individual, inevitably faces his or her own darkness. In this sense we are always a people journeying from darkness into light. We experience the darkness in different ways. For some it is the darkness of personal sin. For others, it is the shifting values of an increasingly secular society. Scandals within the Church bring their own particular darkness.
The prophet Isaiah clearly identified the root causes of the darkness that afflicted his own generation. He had spoken to a people and leadership who had lost their way, who had courted the values and powers of a rapidly changing world. While that world collapsed around them, he called them back to the God of Israel, the only one who could bring light to their uncertain darkness.
The words of the prophet Isaiah become real only as we acknowledge the darkness within ourselves. Almost unconsciously our lives can descend into the land of deep shadow described by the prophet Isaiah long ago. Where do we, in our own generation, find the light so confidently proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah?
Matthew’s Gospel, citing the words of the prophet Isaiah, identified that light with Christ at the beginning of his ministry in the northern province of Galilee. The prerequisite for any encounter with Christ, the light foretold by Isaiah, was repentance. Jesus began his message with the invitation to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand”.
The repentance that Jesus demanded was something more than an unspecified regret for the past, a longing for something better. The change of heart demanded by Jesus must always involve a consideration of the attitudes that have led us into our own darkness. Only in the humility of such self-knowledge are we able to turn from our darkness so as to welcome Christ as the Light.
The calling of the brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John, perfectly illustrates the dynamism of grace at work in our lives. The first disciples and apostles were immersed in their lives as fishermen when Christ addressed them. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Without hesitation they left their nets and at once followed him. The scene describes an unqualified willingness to turn from the past and embrace the Lord who calls. In different ways Christ touches our hearts, invites us not only to know him, but, more importantly, to follow him with our lives. Christ not only called his first disciples: his grace enabled them to hear and respond to his call.
In quiet prayer let us learn to hear the promptings of our hearts as the call of Christ. Let us believe that, when we hear and respond, our hearts, like those of the first disciples by the sea, are transformed.