“Jesus – The Light of the World” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, January 22, 2023

When the formidable US prison, Alcatraz, was closed down, the cleaners found, in one of the cells, a table with a note on it.

The note said: “If you meet me, and forget me, you lose nothing. But if you meet Jesus, and forget him, you lose everything.”  I sense that this is the year, brothers and sisters, when many of us will encounter Jesus in a whole new way, and it will be life-changing for us. Pope Francis has been writing throughout his pontificate of the absolutely vital need for each one of us to have a personal encounter, a personal relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ. He cannot remain just as some person from history to us, who we know about, but don’t really know

In our gospel today, we see that Peter and Andrew, James and John, have just such a personal encounter with Jesus, and it is electrifying. Such is his charisma, such his authority, that at his invitation, they leave their families and their work, and begin a whole new way of life. They are about to enter into the most exciting, dramatic, life-changing season of their lives. And nothing will ever be the same again for them, or for the world. They will be  part of the “Gang of Twelve” chosen by Jesus to be his apostles, and through them the message of Christ, the good news of divine breakthrough into the world will bring the light of salvation to a people who, in the words of our first reading, “lived and walked in deep darkness”. 

It is entirely because of God’s breakthrough into the world in the person of his only Son, Jesus, that you and I have hope for salvation through forgiveness of sins. If Christ had not come to earth, if he had not lived a fully human life and died a human death, and been raised from the dead, if the good news of his death and resurrection had not been preached throughout the world by his apostles and those who came after them, you and I, right now, would be on our way to “hell in a handbasket”. The sentence of eternal death, which is hell, as punishment for all the sin of the world, stretching from our first parents, Adam and Eve, up to and including our own personal sins, would be all we could expect at the end of our life on earth. Sorry to be so blunt, brothers and sisters, but we have to hear and understand the “bad news” of the fall of mankind through sin, before we can appreciate and hear the “good news” of salvation through repentance and the forgiveness of sins, brought to us in and through our faith and baptism into Jesus Christ.

Don’t be deceived, brothers and sisters.

Belief in Buddha will not save you, belief in Ghandi will not save you, belief in Muhammad will not save you, and belief in any one of the plethora of Hindu gods will not save you. To bring this up to date, and neither will belief in the woke ideology save you. Woke ideology is the neo-paganism of today, which teaches that I can save myself, that what I feel is the only thing that matters, that all religions are false except the religion of personal fulfilment and universal tolerance of all life-styles, except the Christian one. It seems to have replaced traditional models of faith and religion, and like all religions, it has its fanatical, fundamentalist, side, which declares implacable hatred towards any way of belief which contradicts its own. It is demonic in its origins and dynamic, which Is why it is implacably opposed to the Christian faith, as the devil implacably and with total hatred pursued and persecuted Jesus when he was on earth, and continues to do so to Jesus’ disciples today. 

When Christ came into the world, he brought with him the light, and the life and the love of the divine to humankind. “The people who walked in darkness..and lived in a land of deep darkness” in  our first reading were the people in northern Israel, whose geographical location made them very vulnerable to attack from foreign armies, and who had just been invaded by the all-conquering Assyrian army who plundered and devastated them and reduced them to a remnant by taking off most of the population to exile . In their distress and anguish, the prophet Isaiah arises to tell them that one is coming to them to bring the light of healing and deliverance to them. When Jesus chooses this very area to begin his ministry of healing and forgiveness ,as our gospel today shows, it is because he wants to make it clear that He is the one who fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy. Jesus comes into our world, into our darkness, into our suffering, to heal us, to deliver us, to save us. “Jesus is the friend who walks in, when every one else walks out.”

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?” 

So declares the opening lines of our responsorial psalm today, psalm 27. There are so very many things to fear in our world today, brothers and sisters – war, pandemic, poverty, nuclear attack, sudden death, persecution for our faith, etc. The list goes on. Who can help us? Who can save us? Who can we trust? Let us listen to the voices of the people in the Bible who, time and again, proclaim that the Lord “is close to the broken-hearted, and those who are crushed in spirit he will save “ (Psalm 34: 18), who have faced far worse things than us, and have learned through personal experience that “when I sought the Lord, he delivered me from all my fears; this poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble” (Psalm 34: 4,6).

Jesus is the one who fulfils all these promises of God, because He, and only He, is the Lord our God. Buddha is not Lord, Gandhi is not Lord, Mahammad is not Lord, the many Hindu gods are not Lord, and to be fair, none of them claim so to be. But Jesus does, He makes these extravagant claims to be Son of God and we must examine His claims and the reason why the writers of the New Testament, and the Church to this day, make such claims for him. We need to read the writings of the saints and the mystics, become familiar with the testimonies of those, including today, who have come to a personal relationship with Christ, and experienced his light and his salvation breaking into their darkness and setting them free.

I am one of those who can give such testimony.

I have spoken before of how, as a  young 20 year old, at University, I was miserable, full of anger and anguish, in a personal living hell, a land of deep darkness, if you will. I was born and bred a Catholic, and still went to Mass regularly and prayed semi-regularly, but none of that seemed to make much difference to me. Till one night I cried out to God to save me from my darkness and my anguish. And the very next day he brought into my life, in the cafeteria of the university, a total stranger, who sat down at table with me and stunned me with a question I had never considered before: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” I literally did not understand what he was asking. Jesus was a person from history, talked about in the Bible, and that was it for me. When this stranger told me that I could have a personal encounter with this Jesus, that he knew my name, that he loved me with total love, and that I could invite him to be Lord of my life if I chose, it caused scales to fall from my eyes and my heart. And changed my life forever. 

I am here before you, brothers and sisters, as your priest, because of that encounter with that stranger, and because of the encounter with the Lord Jesus that he led me into. Pope St john Paul II once said: “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure”. And so it is, so it is. It is a life-giving, life-changing adventure, if we allow it to be, if we open up our hearts, and our inner darkness to him, and ask him to come in, to be your Lord, the light and salvation of your life.