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A reflection for the fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Stan Chu Ilo reflects on the readings for January 30, 2022.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year C):

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17
1 Corinthians 13:4-13
Luke 4:21-30

Reflection: The light you lit in my life still burns

Mother Teresa of Calcutta recounts in one of her books her visit with some of her sisters to an Aboriginal man in Australia. This man was living by himself and had no family. When the sisters entered his house, they saw that it was in a terrible mess, filled with dust. This man was tired of living and was simply waiting for death. The sisters cleaned his house. In the process of cleaning the house, the saw a very old lamp and asked him if they could clean the lamp and light it.

The man refused, saying, “For whom am I going to light the lamp; there is no light anymore in my life.” Mother Teresa told him that if he let them clean the lamp and light it, she would make sure that the sisters visited him regularly to share the love of God with him. The man agreed, and they cleaned the lamp and lit it and prayed and had a meal with him. Many years later, Mother Teresa received a letter from this man that simply said, “Dear Mother Teresa, I just want to tell you that the light you lit in my life is still burning.”

Whenever I hear St. Paul’s hymn of love, that is, the second reading for this Sunday from I Corinthians 13: 4-13, I think of this testimony of Mother Teresa, and the ordinary and extraordinary acts of kindness and love that many of us show in our relationships with others. To love is to light the flame of life in another person. The fire of love that we are called to light in people’s lives is the divine creative energy that gives them new life, new hope, new purpose, and a new inspiration and courage to believe and to live again.

There are so many people today whose lives are covered by the dust of pain and sorrow; and whose lives are messy like the home of this lonely brother in Australia. Can we be their light? It is our Christian calling to raise those who have fallen, to wipe away the tears from the eyes of those who are despairing, and to bring the light of Christ in a world that is filled with so many pockets of darkness in the brokenness and wounds of our pandemic times.

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In the first reading, Jeremiah receives his vocation from God. It is as if God was saying to the prophet: “You Jeremiah must take up your vocation with courage and determination. I have given you a special mission in life. I have equipped you for this mission so you have no excuse not to carry this mission out. So go out and fulfill the purpose of your life without being afraid.”

Jesus in the gospel begins his public ministry and faces opposition and rejection. Here, we find an all too human reality—the failure to clearly see the presence of God in others, the failure to recognize what God is doing in our lives, and the failure to see how God reveals the face of God’s son in the sufferings and pains of our brothers and sisters. Just like the crowd in the synagogue, sometimes we fail to recognize Jesus in the poor and we fail to see the great miracle that God is doing in our lives by keeping us going to this day in spite of ourselves. This is why we need to ask the Lord for the mysticism of open eyes so that we can see in our naked humanity today our broken lives that need to be mended through the kind of relationships that love alone can bring about.

We must realize that the most fundamental vocation and purpose of our lives as Christians is to love. However, love without sacrifice is empty, and love without pain is vain. Mother Teresa once said that humanity has cured so many incurable diseases, but one disease that afflicts humanity today is that there are many of our brothers and sisters who feel unwanted and unloved. May each and every one of us become God’s light and hand in the world to touch a wounded soul and heal a broken heart through acts of kindness that flows from a deep place. May we remember the immortal words of St. Therese of Lisieux: “My life is for a moment, I am only the breath of God. O, my God teach me that for loving you and loving my neighbor, I have only today for my life is only for a moment.”   

About the author

Father Stan Chu Ilo

Father Stan Chu Ilo is a priest of Awgu Diocese, Nigeria and a research professor of World Christianity and African Studies at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University in Chicago. His latest book is Someone Beautiful to God: Finding the Light of Faith in a Wounded World (Paulist Press). He has preached retreats and facilitated spiritual renewal seminars for parishes, Catholic groups, clergy, and religious in North America, Europe, and Africa.

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