Saturday, April 14, 2012

Light Pollution

But how is [God’s new day] to come about?  How does all this affect us so that instead of remaining word it becomes a reality that draws us in?  Through the sacrament of baptism and the profession of faith, the Lord has built a bridge across to us, through which the new day reaches us.  The Lord says to the newly-baptized: Fiat lux – let there be light. God’s new day – the day of indestructible life, comes also to us.  Christ takes you by the hand.  From now on you are held by him and walk with him into the light, into real life.  For this reason the early Church called baptism photismos – illumination.

Why was this?  The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil.  The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general.  If God and moral values, the difference between good and evil, remain in darkness, then all other “lights”, that put such incredible technical feats within our reach, are not only progress but also dangers that put us and the world at risk.  Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible.  Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment?  With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify.  Faith, then, which reveals God’s light to us, is the true enlightenment, enabling God’s light to break into our world, opening our eyes to the true light.

Homily, Easter Vigil 2012

Reflection – In this masterly little passage (he is a really good preacher!), Pope Benedict links Genesis, baptism, and light pollution to highlight one of his favourite themes. Namely, that technological ‘light’, the insight as to how the world works and how to make the physical world work for us, does not yield the deeper light—who we are, where we are going, what is truly good and valuable in the world.

This has been a common theme throughout Joseph Ratzinger’s career, and has been often featured on this blog. But you know, since we’re talking here about baptism, which is such a personal intimate reality for all our lives, I think it is worth considering this question from a slightly different angle than usual.

Generally, the Pope discusses this and I discuss it along with him in terms of scientific and technological advances that imperil human life and dignity, or perhaps in more theoretical terms of logical positivism and the spurious atheism that results from it—what Ratzinger has called the arbitrary self-limitation of reason to exclude all non-technical  or non-experimental questions.

But perhaps there is another form of ‘light pollution’ that is a bit more individual and insidious, but which no less blocks out the true light of faith and of God. I’m thinking of the times when we decide that life is, in fact, basically about getting what we want. Life is about building my city and lighting it up as brightly as I can. Life is about being in as much perfect control as I can be, in other words, of my circumstances and arrangements.

This is the scientific-technological attitude applied to the person and their life. And… we can no longer see the stars if we live this way. The illusion of control… and hey presto! God disappears from our ambit. God is irrelevant, if the whole idea of life is for me to get exactly what I want as I want it, or at least the nearest facsimile time and money can manage.

I think this is more common today than anything else. People are not wicked, and they’re not terribly stupid (well, not most of them). But people are (myself included) self-willed. We want what we want. And the more brightly we shine the light of self upon our world, the dimmer the stars become, the less we have any sense that there is any greater path or destiny or purpose to the world outside our own desires and designs.

This is why, while I wish no human being any ill or suffering ever, I think the coming difficult times we appear to be heading towards may be a blessing in disguise. We need to break out of this chokehold of banal self-will and self-limitation. We need a power failure, a blackout, so that the big world of God and his angels and saints may shine out at us, like stars to startled blacked-out city dwellers. We need to learn that our little lives and their little plans really aren’t where it’s at—God is opening for us a bigger reality.

We need to fail, so that God can succeed in us. We need darkness, so that He can be our light.