He who follows me


“This is the worst movie I have ever seen. Consider that statement. I have seen thousands of movies over the course of my lifetime. This is worse than any other film I can name. Troll 2, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, Leonard: Part 6, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Battleship Earth, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Glen or Glenda, Exorcist II: The Heretic, Kazaam, even Kazaam.

So writes one Catholic blogger on James Cameron’s Avatar. I, on the other hand, for all its flaws, love this movie. I particularly love the music including its theme, I See You sung by Leona Lewis. What is, to me, the blatant Catholicity of the song may not be intentional but even nine words from near the beginning of the song inspired a subsequent 1120 words of reflection. Although I have wanted for some time to write a blog post reflecting on this song, it’s clear that it will have to become a series of blog posts in order to do it justice. On that note, I will tonight look at the following words:

My light in darkness breathing hope of new life

What is darkness? The absence of light. Ignorance of Christ. Slavery to sin. Evil.

How do we remove the darkness? Through God’s grace we receive baptism: our house is swept clean of evil and put into order, our souls are claimed for Christ, we receive new life.

The song talks of breathing hope of new life. In an account of man’s creation, the Book of Genesis tells of how God “breathed into [the] nostrils [of man] the breath of life; and man became a living being” (2:7). But even earlier, we read the account of how “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2). This wind from God, the Holy Spirit, prefigures the great sacrament of Baptism which dispels the darkness of sin and brings not just the hope of but the actuality of new life in Christ. “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so that we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6: 4)

In the traditional rite of Baptism, when blessing the baptismal water, the means by which we become a new creation, the priest breathes thrice upon the water, recalling the breath of God which moved across the waters of creation. In the ordinary form, the priest prays, “At the very dawn of creation Your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness.” And returning to the traditional rite, the priest “breathes three times on the candidate in the form of a Cross, recalling the Spirit (breath, wind, “ruach” of God). He prays, ‘Go forth from him, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.’ ”

I ask again, how do we remove the darkness? I say again that through God’s grace we receive baptism: our house is swept clean of evil and put into order, our souls are claimed for Christ, we receive new life. Yet, through our own actions and choices, the darkness returns and sin restains our soul. We cannot, then, simply sweep out the darkness and no more, for the unclean spirit returns to the house from which it came and upon finding it empty, swept and put in order, “it goes and brings along seven other spirits more eveil than itself” (Mt 12:45).

How do we more permanently sweep out the house? Christ himself instructs us how: “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). The answer is to not merely cast out the darkness but to subsequently fill the emptiness with Christ’s light. Indeed, the action of Christ, true light of the world, is twofold: it dispels the darkness and it replaces it so that the house remains not empty but truly reflects that it has become a temple of the Holy Spirit.

The light of Christ is always there. “The light shines in the darkness” (Jn 1:5). It is not that the light shined in the darkness nor is it that the light will shine for only a fixed amount of time. No, the light shines. The action is ongoing. So if the light continues to shine, how does the darkness return? Is it because the light fades or dims? No. It is because we move away from the light. We, through our own actions and choices, take our eyes off Him. We move away from Him and in so doing, cast Him out of our house. In the absence of the light, darkness returns. And if we totally turn our backs to the light, completely rejecting Him, ahead of us is naught but darkness. However, our Lord is merciful and does not abandon us. As St Paul teaches, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rm 5:20) and so, through the sacrament of Confession, He rewahes us from our sin and sets us so we again face the light.

But the action Christ asks for is not merely that we face the light or watch the light. He asks that we follow the light. This is more more active. It implies a forward motion. It is not just a receptivity of God’s grace, important though that is; it speaks of an active co-operation with God’s grace. Indeed, grace is not a spectator sport; it is “a participation in the life of God” and it is “by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ” (CCC 1997).

The active following of Christ’s light calls to mind the Israelites. For when they were freed from slavery, they still had to travel through the desert, through the wilderness towards teh promised land. God led them by a pillar of cloud during the day and when it was dark, He led them by a pillar of fire (c.f. Ex 13:21). The pillar of fire, of course, can also be called a pillar of light and as this light dispelled darkness and so led to the promised land, so does our baptism of which the pillar is a type (1 Cor 10:2).

We are reminded to not reject our baptism, our freedom from slavery, but to instead follow the light of Christ, persevering until we reached the promised land. The light breathes hope of new life. Indeed, when new life is breathed into us at baptism, we are infused with the theological virtue of hope, a hope of obtaining “the joy of heaven” (CCC 1821). It is through hope which we “desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CC 1817).

The light shines forth from the darkness. It was in the darkness on the first day that Mary Magdalene encountered the empty tomb, a sign of the hope of new life in Christ. It was in the evening of the first day that the risen Christ appeared to the disciples, breathing on them, sending his Holy Spirit upon them. And who is this Christ who appears? It is the one who gave the disciples the power to forgive sins so that we may be washed from our sins and set again facing towards the light. It is the one who not only brings us new life and asks us to follow him but tells us that, truly, he is the way, the truth and the life. It is the Christ who even now appears among us, shining in the darkness, light of the world.

Picture Source: Christian Pictures Blog