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People preferred darkness to light.

By 9 March, 2018January 3rd, 2023No Comments
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By F. Luis Casasus, General Superior of idente missionaries
Commentary on the Sunday Gospel of 11-03-18 Fourth Sunday of Lent (2nd Book of Chronicles 36:14-16.19-23; Ephesians 2:4-10; Saint John 3:14-21).

The figure of Nicodemus represents a significant movement from darkness to light, faithful to the inspiration caused by the presence of an extraordinary spiritual Master: Jesus Christ in person. Once upon a time there was a man who seemed normal in all respects but one: He thought he was dead. Everybody around him tried to persuade him that this was not the case, but to no avail. Finally, so the story goes, he was referred to a doctor. This doctor also tried to convince him that he was not dead. After a long, fruitless conversation, in desperation the doctor asked: Well, do dead men bleed? The response of his patient was: No, they don’t. The doctor then took his scalpel and made a little cut in the arm of the patient. Look at that blood, he said confidently. But the patient replied: Wow, dead men do bleed! As this story indicates, change is not easy. This is why the person of Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council and a teacher, is meaningful and worthy of imitation. We all have a tendency to hold on to dysfunctional patterns, illogical as these may appear to others. We cannot change our perspective on life without expending a great deal of effort. The reason that we cling so tenaciously to the status quo is not easy to determine. There are many conscious and unconscious obstacles on the path toward change. There is in us a self-preservation instinct with some potential dangers: we want the status quo to be preserved no matter how painful it is. I may be in a cold and dark cave, but it is my cave and I know how to cope with the situation. Leaving it is very difficult, no matter how painful it also is to stay. This reminds us the famous Plato’s allegory of the cave: a group of prisoners have lived chained to the wall of a cave for their entire lives, unable to move their heads. Day in and day out, they watch shadows projected on a blank wall from things passing in front of a
fire behind them. This is their entire reality; they give names to the shadows and assume they are real, never questioning that they might come from another source. But imagine, Socrates says, that one prisoner is suddenly freed and allowed to turn his head. Once he looked at the fire, the light might hurt his eyes, and he would be disoriented at the fact that the shadows he had believed were real were just illusions cast by the fire. If he left the cave and walked into the sunshine, things would get even more confusing. The sun would be even brighter than the fire, and he might even see reflections of himself in a nearby body of water. What would he think of his companions back in the cave, Socrates asks? He would probably pity them for living in such a tiny bit of reality. If he came back to the cave and told them about it, they would probably think he was crazy. But this is very relevant to our spiritual life. One of the key truths both in the Old and the New Testament is that the work of God always involves the transformation of a person and a people; a change of vision and perspective. God turns darkness into light. But maybe that we, who preach conversion, are unwilling to convert. We who preach transformation are probably unwilling to transform. The deepest challenge to you as a human being is to say “yes” to situations that you initially refuse to accept; to say “yes” to what you want to avoid at all costs. It requires great inner strength, a special grace, to say “yes” to what comes in your life, in your darkness. This is the positive concept of Abnegation; please, remember that Abnegation is not composed merely of renunciation. We abandon what is false to cling to what is true. I abandon my lifestyle to replace it with Christ’s attitudes. I empty my heart of my way of doing good deeds to make room for a Christ-like style. I lose myself to gain Christ. Darkness is something that evokes resistance in you as a human being. No one wants to experience darkness; no one wants to suffer pain, sadness, or fear. Yet it is part of our life. This darkness comes from within. If you persist in saying “no”, you will be filled with resentment, anger, and bitterness. Darkness prevents life from flowing through you; you have put up walls and defenses. In the end, this may attract grave forms of darkness to you, such as deep despair, alienation and depression. You feel dead inside. What are the reasons why we resist change? Firstly, because we are sinful. Ever since Adam and Eve’s first act of disobedience, we have been convinced that we know better than God how to manage our lives. We do our own thing, live our own way, and ignore God’s will. That is the reason we need to change in the first place. God wants us to grow and develop into people who represent him to the world, and take care of the world for him. Sin, the desire to do our own thing and follow our own rules, is the reason we need to change, but it is also the thing that keeps us from becoming who God wants us to be.
It was the appeal of pride -knowing all things- that resulted in the first sin by mankind. Saint Augustine once wrote: We must therefore say that pride, even as denoting a special sin, is the beginning of every sin…Therefore, from this point of view, pride, which is the desire to excel, is said to be the “beginning of every sin.” Yes, pride is the root of all sin. The prideful person believes that he is the most important thing in the world, even more important than God, and every one of us has a great deal of pride even if it does not come to the surface of our lives in such overt fashion. Boasting is one evidence of pride. Another is putting other people down to elevate self and gloating over the misfortunes of others. Pride is also marked by a haughty attitude and a tendency to perform good deeds in order to receive honor from men.
King David recognized the need for changed attitudes when his life took a downward spiral of sin with adultery and murder. What attitude forged his actions? Pride, with its sequels of apathy, lust, selfishness and greed. But David, pressed by the need for change, identified his rebellion against God as he cried out: Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). Like the Israelites and many people in the Bible, we have exercised our freedom wrongly. The thirst for revenge destroys our own happiness. The lack of self-control leads us to give in to lust and a badly dissimulated gluttony. The obsession with power has made us manipulative and destructive of others. Nicodemus overcame his pride. Secondly, resistance is grounded in fear. Change is not familiar and may require work. Sometimes it is just easier not to remove what feels comfortable: familiar habits, strong preferences, or personal relationships. At least we know what to expect with familiarity. any change God brings into our lives can mean uncomfortable alterations. Old habits die hard. Change may mean we are not in control. Never mind that this control is an illusion; we still like to make our own decisions and to follow our own desires. If I abandon myself to God, will God ask me to do something difficult or distasteful? Will God deny me something that I really, really want? We fear the loss of control over our lives.
Moreover, a genuine, spiritual change also may mean we need help. And that sounds like a relinquishment of our independence. Some changes may imply that what was done before was wrong or that our undertakings are ineffective. We become personally connected with our activities…it is difficult to let go of something into which we have poured a great amount of ourselves
We experience an inner division within ourselves. We are attracted to Jesus and his message, we long to know and love God and others as he did, but we also recognize within ourselves a resistance to drawing too close, a reluctance to hand our lives over to God. In the first reading we see that the people did not listen to God and were no longer interested in seeking His ways. it is also our own history. all of us, get attracted to the goods of the present world, especially our judgments and desires It does not matter what it is that attracts, morally good, bad or neutral, but whatever attraction it is, it takes us away from God.
There are countless fears that influence our negative reaction to Jesus and to the changes He sets out for us. We experience fear of a change in our image, of losing our reputation. If I surrender to God, will God’s presence in my life challenge my understanding of who I am? Even though our experience tells us that the nearer we draw to God, the more we become our true selves, we still fear the loss of our identity. It is the darkness of shame when there is something in our lives which we would like to share but are not able to bring out into the open. The reason is their fear of judgment, rejection or ridicule by others. We have a terrible fear of a dramatic change in our understanding of who God is. Most of us would opt for a predictable, controllable God, whose clear expectations we could readily meet. It feels scary to think of abandoning myself to a God I cannot control. Our instinct for happiness involves a fear of no return on my sacrifice. Perhaps we too long to give ourselves freely to God, but wonder what sacrifices might be involved and whether the return is worth the risk. We are afraid that we will be disappointed. Jesus’ self-abandonment to God led him to the Cross; where will our self-abandonment to God lead us? Nicodemus overcame his fear.
Let us not be afraid. Lent is a time for us to believe in God’s love and accept it. This is reiterated by Saint Paul when he says: It is through grace that you have been saved, and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.