Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Men have deep superstitions about darkness.

Throughout the ages, it's been nearly a universal human belief that evil forces gained potency after the sun went down. In many myths, folklores, and local beliefs, darkness is associated with strange occurrences and otherworldly beings, such as vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. Some nights, like full moon and Hallowe'en, are thought to contain increased level of grimness. There's even an entire study on how staying too long in the dark can make you lose your mind.

The Christian faith also makes use of this imagery, associating darkness with sin, death, and evil, as evil is the absence of good just like darkness is the absence of light. Vespers and Compline prayers reflect that awareness of evil lurking in the dark:

"Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace."
"May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death." 
"May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us into everlasting life."

There is of course a natural explanation for this phenomenon: darkness makes it easier for accidents to happen, for enemies to attack, etc., so deep down, people have learned to have a certain discomfort with it.

But it’s for this same reason that the desert is also a place of powerful encounters with God. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his book Journey to Easter:

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert…What does this surprising guide intend? Let us reflect a little on what is meant by “the desert.”

The desert is a place of silence, of solitude. It is the absence of the exchanges of daily life, its noise and its superficiality. The desert is the place of the absolute, the place of freedom, which sets man before the ultimate demands. Not by chance is the desert the place where monotheism began. In that sense it is a place of grace. In putting aside all preoccupations we encounter our Creator.

Great things have their beginnings in the desert, in silence, in poverty. It is not possible to share in the mission of Jesus, in the mission of the Gospel, without sharing in the desert experience, its poverty, its hunger. That beautiful hunger for justice of which the Lord speaks in the Sermon on the Mount cannot be born in the fullness of satiety.

The Prophet Zechariah spent nine months in physical silence, in muteness. This is a form of darkness that must be excruciatingly painful for a prophet whose job is to proclaim divine messages. But because of this, Zechariah had plenty of time to think and reflect — to contemplate — about what he was going to say if he ever gained his voice back.

So when he was miraculously cured and filled with the Holy Spirit, this is what he sang:

"In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."
(Luke 1:78-79)

Without first surrendering his voice to the Holy Spirit, perhaps Zechariah would never arrive at his canticle, the prophecy of prophecies. In that particular silence and particular darkness, Zechariah entered into the Mystery of Incarnation even before it took place; and the resulting proclamation was exactly when the Messiah, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is called "the Dawn" — or "Daytime"— for the first time ever.

In a moment, that same Dawn will rise for us who have faithfully waited. Let us persevere in hope, for this terrifying darkness will soon be banished and it will no longer have power over us.


Daily Reading for Tuesday, 24 December 2013

First Reading — 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16
Responsorial Psalm — Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
Gospel — Luke 1:67-69


Image: "Winter (The Flood)", by Nicolas Poussin, 1660-1664

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