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Light of the Nations

31 May

The Church is the light to the nations. In fact, the central document of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), on the mystery of the Church, bears the Latin title Lumen Gentium, or “Light of the Nations.”

Indeed the mission of the Church is to shine the light of Christ to the world, to extend Christ through space and time. Christ’s explicit instructions to His Church before ascending to the Father amounted to a sacred commissioning: His Apostles were sent into the whole world in order to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:18-20; Mk 16:15). For this reason, the popes in recent decades have emphasized that the Church’s perennial mission is evangelization.

Pope John Paul II’s 2003 encyclical letter on the Eucharist focuses on the intimate connection between the Eucharist and the Church, as the latter draws her life from the former. This speaks volumes as to the desired life-giving effects of receiving our Lord in Holy Communion. Regardless of our state in life, our participation in the Eucharist is necessarily connected to the great work of evangelization.

In explaining this truth, the Holy Father draws an important parallel between the individual believer and the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Visitation. He writes that when the Blessed Mother “bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a ‘tabernacle’–the first ‘tabernacle’ in history–in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed Himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating His light as it were through the eyes and voice of Mary” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 55).

When we receive Christ in us, just as our Lady received Him in her womb, it’s not merely a private, “me and Jesus” matter. He does not desire to remain hidden within us. That would be like trying to put the light of Christ under a bushel basket (see Mt 5:15). So, when Christ comes to us in Communion, it’s not to diminish, impede, or conceal His light, but to multiply it! He uses each one of us as His lamps in the world. Lamps of themselves provide no light, but act as conduits of the light provided by an energy source. Similarly, we are not the “light of the world” except inasmuch as the Lord shines through us, as He did through she who was “full of grace.”

All generations call Mary blessed (see Lk 1:48) precisely because of the singular way she “magnified” the light of Christ through her cooperation with divine grace. The intensity of the light of Christ that we are able to bring to the world is dependent upon our own cooperation with divine grace. This again points to the need to be properly disposed to receive our Lord in Communion. The Church teaches that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion” (Catechism, no. 1385).

We further dispose ourselves by observing the required fast, by the way we dress, and the way we conduct ourselves at Mass (Catechism, no. 1387), and more generally through giving and receiving mercy.

In a spirit of praise, gratitude, and wonderment, we recognize that Holy Communion is the moment when our Lord comes to us most intimately and completely. After Communion, we should take ample time in prayer and thanksgiving, fostering an interior awareness of Christ in us. We must not allow the “busy-ness” of our daily lives to obscure the light of Christ. Rather, we must strive in humility to become increasingly transparent, so that the Mystery of Light can shine in us and through us.