For many of us, today, the idea that Catholics should see ourselves as “the light of the world” is absurd. Some in our community have embarrassed us repeatedly in the most egregious ways. We along with much of society celebrate Pope Francis simply for being a decent and down to earth human being. “Finally,” many are saying, “a public Catholic that we don’t have to apologize for.” Yet his acclaim carries no little irony. The pope is only living the basic gospel that we hear every Sunday. That so few of us who call the Gospel our own are willing to stand up and invite others to find in us the example of human potential and the promise of life’s future raises important questions.
The core of Jesus’ message was the promise of God’s Future for all humanity. He delivered that message in the midst of and in spite of our egotism and failures. There’s a wonderful story in John’s gospel of Jesus rescuing and forgiving of a woman caught in adultery. We miss the power of that story if we overlook the serious harm adultery does to real people: to spouses, kids, relatives and society. Death by stoning was an ancient nomadic people’s way of punishing the most dangerous threats to their welfare. Marriage wasn’t if-it-works-it-works-and-if-it-doesn’t-it-doesn’t thing for Jesus or his world. For him to rescue then forgive this woman was astounding and the lesson it held about God’s Future was profound.
All of us fail – morally and every other way. We fail in ways that do serious harm to ourselves and others. That is a fact of life. God promises the fulfillment of our dreams in the face of those failures.
The light that we bring the world isn’t our virtue. It isn’t that we always get it right or that we don’t at times make a shameful spectacle of ourselves. Our light is that we acknowledge our failure, we forgive ourselves and we keep moving toward the Future God promises. We do that for ourselves. We do that for everyone else. Our light for the world is that evil – anyone’s evil – is never the last word. The Creator’s Love is.