April 8, 2012

The darkness did not overcome it

I don't know if it's against the rules to critique a homily -- an Easter homily no less -- by the Pope.  It feels like it ought to be verboten, even if, by some strange oversight, it's not.  Nevertheless, here I go.

At the Easter Vigil at the Vatican, the highest of high holy liturgies for Catholic Christians, the Pope delivered what is, in my view, a beautiful teaching.  Except for this passage:
The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil. The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general.
My soul cries, "No!"  The whole point of the resurrection and the realization of the kingship of Jesus is that darkness can no longer pose any real threat to mankind!  Look at Saint Paul in Romans 8:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… 2....For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …3637No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv 1, 31b-35, 37-39)
Understand, I don't mean to say that I know more than the Pope.  That would just be ignorant, not to mention arrogant.  And yet, and yet...  The church has been overtaken recently, both traditionalist Catholics and Evangelical Protestants, by a cacophony of hand-wringing about moral decay.  Maybe it's not recent.  Maybe it's always, and it's just seemed extra loud of late with all the press about the health care law and contraception.  Is that really what we were baptized into Christ to talk about?

The Pope's sermon, the passage quoted above in particular, was brought to my attention because it was reprinted in a newsfeed.  I read the whole thing (you can too, here). 

There was a time in my own faith walk when I was convinced that we had to do something, or else!  I think now that this is a deeply unChristian way of approaching the darkness in the world.  I was coming from the left.  I thought that more social programs, more money, more people who thought like I did could solve all the problems of poverty and injustice.  The current conversation, while from the right, says the same kind of thing from the other end:  Less sex, less license, less freedom.  But aren't we saying the same thing?  We have to do something, or else!

It is right to recognize the ways in which the world still seems to tend in the direction of hell-in-a-hand-basket.  To deny that this is true is just whistling in the dark (as I said here ).  What I think the Pope fails to make clear (though I feel quite sure he'd agree with me here) is that we know beyond any shadow of doubt, that no matter how dark things may still seem, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" (John 1:5).

The darkness cannot, will not, overcome the light.  Now, none of that is to say that there isn't work for the Body of Christ.  We are called to shine the light in the dark places.  By the Spirit, we must illumine the places of injustice and the places of moral failure.  What's more, we've got to start in our own backyards (cf. Matthew 7:3-5).

But let's not forget that we know the ultimate outcome.  That is what Easter is all about.  Death and all of its minions -- hatred, malice, envy, greed, covetousness, and all the rest -- have been defeated once for all (cf., for example, Hebrews 10:12-14).

With all due respect to Pope Benedict, I contend that there is no longer any "real threat to our existence and to the world in general."  All we have to do is say, Yes, and join in the feast of the Lamb.

He is risen!

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