Our twenty-first century world does its best to keep us away from a contemplative life, away from the things of God. It is shiny, sparkly, noisy, attractive and endlessly distracting. It seems that every important facet of our beautiful Catholic faith has a secular anti-facet, designed by the prince of this world. All are created to distract and move us away us from truth, beauty and goodness, the transcendentals which will naturally draw us to God, their Creator.
This anti-facet tactic is prominently seen contrary to the facet of faith we call the Communion of Saints. In this great gift we are given role models, holy examples of how to live out this challenging Christian life in every possible circumstance and time. Are you poor and alone? There’s a saint for that. Are you rich and dissatisfied? There’s a saint for that. Are you chronically ill and abandoned? There’s a saint for that. Wherever you find yourself in this world and in this life, there’s a saint (or many) for that. Reading and learning about their lives brings us encouragement, consolation, and, yes, help! We believe that we can not only learn about the saints, but actually get to know our canonized brothers and sisters through prayer. When I first came back to the faith 20 years ago, I greatly identified with St. Augustine who had led a life of worldly dissipation, but never found satisfaction in it. I struggled with my past sins, but reading what he wrote about that struggle, and praying with him, and through him to Jesus to heal me, I found relief and even friendship that continues to this day.
This enormous gift and aid for living our lives is not found outside of the Church. But the enemy loves to ape God and has done a “stellar” job in this regard. Where a Catholic home may have several statues and pictures of favorite saints adorning it as “holy reminders,” the world offers a hollow counterfeit: the Stars. People who gain fame, fortune or even just notoriety in today’s culture needn’t be holy, in fact it is often a hindrance. These “Stars” just need to “shine.” Our culture looks to people who shine, who sparkle with fame, fortune and a commercial use of their God-given talents. Often by misusing those talents, their looks or some other gift, they find themselves in the center of a voracious system which rewards them greatly, but consumes them entirely. The public demands a continuous supply of these “Stars” and will adore them, as long as they are shining brightly. As they slowly fade, many will degrade themselves more and more in order to keep the spotlight on themselves, even as they are being consumed. As soon as their luster wears off, due to age, infirmity or scandal, the spotlight turns to the next sparkly victim. We have all watched with horror as bright, young things are eaten alive by drugs, alcohol and a so-called glamorous lifestyle. At first, how they did shine; but is that what we were created for? To shine?
Better to illuminate than merely to shine; to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate. – St. Thomas Aquinas
Long before the era of Hollywood Stars and a global entertainment system, St. Thomas, in these few words, illuminated the truth of what we are here for as Christians, as human beings. We are here to be lights for each other, to show each other the way to Jesus, to His abundant life and to heaven. We are like little solar lights along the pathway for others who are stumbling in the dark. We don’t shine for our own benefit and self-aggrandizement, but because Jesus is in us and will naturally illuminate through us. If we have talents, we use them for the glory of God and the good of others. If we are physically beautiful, we dress modestly and share that beauty in a way that allows others to see the Creator, the way a beautiful sunset does. If we are blessed with riches, we know that they come from God and we share them with His other children. Rather than consuming us and feeding a gluttonous need for more and more “celebrity,” this sharing of our gifts and talents moves people to their source, to God Himself. In the process, this illumination makes us more like the saints we emulate, and ultimately into the very image of God Himself. Where the “Star System” degrades, destroys and consumes, the “Saint System” elevates, creates and fulfills God’s plan for each unique soul.
To Contemplate and to Share the Fruits of Contemplation
In his May 2019 article here at Catholic Stand, David Torkington wrote in part about the Dominican mission “to contemplate and to share the fruits of contemplation”:
When St. Dominic founded his order of friars he wanted to base their lives on the lives of the first apostles. In order to explain the very essence of what this meant, his illustrious spiritual son, St Thomas Aquinas, said that the work of the Dominican Order was, ‘To contemplate and to share the fruits of Contemplation with others’. What he said sums up the vocation of the Dominican order, but it also sums up the vocation of the whole Church.
In order to illuminate, we need to be in constant union with the Light, with Jesus. To return to the solar light analogy, if we don’t stay in the sun, we won’t illumine the way. We may be shiny and sparkly, but things that are shiny and sparkly need to be lit from without. To be illuminated and to illuminate is an inside job, done by God in and through us. When we pray, we charge that solar battery and are able to share the light with others. Whether in words, deeds, or merely by our peace-filled presence, we illuminate for Jesus and fulfill our part of the Church’s vocation.
Illumination of Souls
Saints and blesseds such as St. Catherine Labouré and St. Faustina Kowalska have shared with us a vision of a time to come when an “Illumination of Conscience” will occur. At this time all people will be shown the state of their soul and given the opportunity to repent and receive God’s mercy. This is often referred to as the “Warning” or the “Illumination of Conscience.” In a way our universal Christian vocation to illuminate, rather than to shine, is a tiny prelude to this moment in history. With each act of mercy we offer a stranger, with each duty-of-the-moment we fulfill with love, with each prayer we offer, we allow God’s grace to flow into the world to penetrate and prepare hardened hearts for this moment, whether we live it historically in our lifetime, or it comes as it does for all of us, at life’s end.
The “Stars” offer a reflection of what we think we should be: rich, famous, attractive, whatever. The Christian offers a small reflection of what God is: true, beautiful, good and full of love and mercy for all. We don’t sparkle and shine for ourselves; we illuminate for God and for others. The more we allow ourselves to be who God created us to be and not to reflect the world’s priorities, the more we will bring God’s saving light into the world.
Blessed Mother, true Morning Star, illuminate the way to Jesus for us and help us to be your little illuminators for Him as well.