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Learning from the Darkness

First Reading: Isaiah 8:23—9:3

First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun
and the land of Naphtali;
but in the end he has glorified the seaward road,
the land west of the Jordan,
the District of the Gentiles.

Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness:
for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14

R. (1a) The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
One thing I ask of the LORD;
this I seek:
To dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD
and contemplate his temple.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Second reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters,
by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you.
I mean that each of you is saying,
“I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,”
or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,
and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.

Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested,
he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea,
in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled:
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.
From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers,
Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew,
casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.
He said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
At once they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along from there and saw two other brothers,
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.
He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father
and followed him.
He went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness among the people.

NAB

When I was a child, my family visited the famous former prison at Alcatraz Island. At that time—the early eighties—the tour guide would briefly shut the tourists in the solitary confinement cell, to get an unforgettable glimpse of what it felt like to be a prisoner. (It’s apparently no longer part of the tour, likely due to the very real possibility of triggering panic attacks among the visitors.) To this day, it was the most all-encompassing darkness I’ve ever experienced. It was the kind of darkness where your eyes search wildly for something, anything on which to focus and yet come up empty, leading you to doubt that your sense of sight is even working at all.

To go from light to that kind of darkness is something that’s hard to forget. It made me understand the experience of being a prisoner in ways that nothing else on the tour did.

Today’s readings bring us the wonderfully comforting promise: “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light.” And yet my Alcatraz experience represents a symbolic truth: often, people who are accustomed to light end up seeing a great darkness. Every life involves suffering, and even the strongest faith doesn’t protect us from the darkness of pain. It doesn’t prevent experiences like the death of a loved one, a bout with depression, the end of a relationship, or being victimized by racial or sexual injustice. And these experiences, these episodes of darkness where we are used to light, can shake us.  They can make us panic and wonder if we will ever find the way out.

But there is often grace that comes from these experiences of darkness. Once we’re out of them—which, yes, can sometimes take a very long time—we emerge with a more complete, visceral  understanding of the range of human suffering in the world. This in turn can make us more compassionate, more involved in advocacy, more willing to do concrete acts of mercy for those who are still in pain. And all this makes us better ministers of the light than we could ever have been before.

How has your own experience of suffering made you a better minister of God’s light?

Ginny Kubitz Moyer is a mother, high school English teacher, and BBC period drama junkie. She is the author of Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses and Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God. Ginny lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two boys, and about thirty thousand Legos.  You can find out more about her here

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