“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
—John 9:5

“Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”
—Ephesians 5:8-9

Once, a group of workers from the Detroit Salt Mine in southwest Detroit requested a blessing of a shrine they had built down in the mine. The shrine was dedicated to St. Barbara, one of the patron saints of miners. Archbishop Vigneron gave the blessing, and I had the privilege of being present for the occasion.

In order to enter the mine, we needed to take an open elevator about 1,200 feet straight down a mine-shaft. We didn’t move very quickly, and the rock walls were close around us. I have been in some dark places before, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place of such absolute darkness as on that elevator.

When we reached the bottom, however, I could see that the first chamber of the mine was flooded with light. There were electric lights illuminating the entire space, and I could later see that the tunnels shooting off from that chamber like spokes were also filled with light. Plus, the walls were covered with white salt, making the whole place even brighter. And then there was the spiritual “brightness” of all the miners gathered for the blessing and of the shrine itself, which was visible as soon as we walked out into the main chamber. It was really impressive to see a Catholic shrine in a workplace such as the mine. The foreman at that time was a devout Catholic and the owner was happy to have the shrine.

Light illuminate the base of the mineshaft in the Detroit Salt Mine.

I mention this story because it illustrates the sharp contrast between light and darkness. It was really a contrast of absolute darkness and brilliant light. And to some degree it gives us a good image for the metaphors of light and darkness about which we hear in this Sunday’s second reading and Gospel (for those who hear the “A-Cycle” readings, usually read at Masses with RCIA candidates present).

The image of “darkness” is often used to describe evil and the sinfulness of the world, whereas Jesus comes as the “light of the world,” the “light (that) shines in the darkness.” And we know that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also says that we are supposed to be the “light of the world,” as He is.

But the story about the salt mine blessing differs with the message of the Scriptures insofar as it sets up a contrast between two seemingly equal forces of darkness and light. Good and evil, or we might just cut to the chase and say God and Satan, are not two equal but opposing forces battling for mastery of the world. There are religions that believe in this kind of fundamental duality in the order of things, but that is not the faith of the Catholic Church. 

God’s power is the only absolute power. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Lord and King of the universe. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” It’s easy to sail quickly by the words “I am” but this is one of the many instances in John’s Gospel when Jesus uses the expression used by the Lord in the Old Testament to identify Himself, “I AM.”

We know that Satan is powerful, and that sin has a terrible influence in this world. Yet the devil is still a creature. God is the Creator. He is not only of a different order of being, but God is being itself. Jesus comes to cast out the darkness of this world — healing the blind man, casting out demons, teaching the truth about God and about our lives, forgiving sins, dying and rising for us, and giving us the Gift of the Holy Spirit. He casts supernatural light upon the world, enkindling a divine flame in our hearts.

I think it is especially important to make this point today, when the world can seem to be so very dark. We often think about how challenging today’s world is, how hostile it can be to Christianity. In our own country there are infringements on our liberty being proposed, and violations of God’s law being perpetrated, that would have been unthinkable only two generations ago. It can be easy for us to slip into thinking that the world has a kind of “yin and yang” dynamic to it, with good holding sway for a period, followed by a time when evil dominates.

That is not the Catholic faith, which is to say that God has revealed to us that the world works very differently from this. Yes, we live in a fallen world. Mankind has chosen sin and became enslaved by it. But Jesus Christ has come, has won a definitive and final victory over sin and death, and invites us to share in His victory forever.

And through us Christ wants to invite the whole world to share in His victory. Sometimes, we can slip into thinking that we’ve been drafted onto the winning team because of some special quality of ours, and we can look down on others as the world’s losers. But we will be the losers if we give in to pride. And we may find ourselves “cut” from Jesus’ “team” if we don’t get off the bench and compete for our own salvation and for the salvation of the people around us!

Stefen Zima, representing one of three shift crews at the mine, holds a candle at the shrine of St. Barbara in the Detroit Salt Mine.

We can all go through times — maybe a bad day, or a few weeks, or even a really rough year — when goodness seems to be eclipsed, when the light of our lives seems to be all but snuffed out. We can become depressed about the situation of the world around us. We can feel crushed by an avalanche of family problems, or work problems, or sickness. Sometimes we realize our own sins are making our hearts dark and we need to go to confession. But sometimes we just see darkness all around us, and we feel powerless to do anything about it. What do we do then? Here are a few suggestions:

• Admit your powerlessness! Sometimes, well-meaning self-help advice focuses on harnessing all of your personal power, but the truth is that we need God’s power. That’s not an excuse for laziness, but it is a simple truth about life: God is in charge of the world, and we need to ask and allow Him to take charge of us.

• Give thanks for the “bright spots” in your life. There are always things for which we need to give thanks, and it can become all too easy to become absorbed by the evil and negative elements of life.

• “Cast all your cares on him, because he cares for you” (I Pet 5:7). The Lord is our Shepherd, as we pray in Psalm 23. When we are tempted to doubt God’s presence and care for us and those we love, we need to be very intentional about putting our trust in Him and asking Him for the gift of even greater faith.

• Know that God is calling and empowering you! Having admitted that alone we are powerless, we become empty not so that we can stay empty, but so that God can fill us with His life and power. He has in mind for each of us some mission to bring His healing and peace, His truth and goodness into the world. All of us share in the mission, not only of growing close to God ourselves, but of bringing other people to God and God to them. If we don’t understand what God is calling us to do, we should pray about it and ask Him. We can also ask someone we trust to help us figure out what are our particular missions. It is OK to work together — Christianity is a “team sport!”

These are just some steps we can take to do what St. Paul teaches us to do when he writes, “live as children of light.” The surest sign that we are not alone, and the guarantee of God’s light and power coming to fill us, is in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. What looks like bread and wine is really and truly the light and love, the Body and Blood of the Son of God, given to us as our food and drink. May we always be grateful that Jesus is our Shepherd and King, and that the Father has “so loved the world that he gave us his only Son” (Jn 3:16).

Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.