Radiating the Love that Moves the Sun and Stars
Arguably the most important official document to proceed from the Second Vatican Council was the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” written “to unfold more fully” the “inner nature and universal mission” of the Church. (LG 1.) The document is better known by its Latin title, “Lumen Gentium,” taken from its first sentence: “Christ is the light of nations.” By proclaiming the Gospel, explains Lumen Gentium, the Church “brings the light of Christ to all people.” It is fitting, therefore, that the theme of the bicentennial year of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is “Radiate Christ.”
We can contemplate what it means to radiate Christ in at least a couple ways.
First, to radiate means to “permeate.” If we are to radiate Christ, we must not merely reflect the light of Christ, but rather be saturated by it. Christ must fill and spread through us, transforming us into different people from who we would be without His light.
One of the errors of many Protestant theologies is the notion that Christ merely “cancels out” our sin by a forensic transaction, but does not effect a real change in our selves.
This is contrary to the Catholic understanding that we are transformed by the grace of Christ; that He does not merely forgive us from our sins, but change us from sinners to saints. He truly enlightens us through the sacraments. Thus, we must allow the grace of Christ to permeate our lives, so we can truly be the light of Christ to others.
As such, of course, we must be the kind of people in whom people see Christ. If the light of Christ has permeated our very being, and is transforming us from sinners to saints, that must be visible to those around us. Again, we do not merely reflect Christ. To be radiated by Christ is to become Christ for others, so when others see us they see Him. Hospitality, generosity, graciousness, and forgiveness are some of the virtues we will exhibit when we are permeated by the light of Christ.
Second, to radiate is to “transmit.” To be sure, our lives should be a reflection of Christ’s love, mercy, and peace. But to radiate Christ means much more than that. If we radiate Christ, we are sending forth that love, mercy, and peace, not merely reflecting it. In other words, we are called to participate in the life of Christ in a real, tangible way. Light is a physical reality. It is comprised of waves that drive out darkness and change the things they touch. To radiate the light of Christ is to send it forth—to emit the rays of love that Christ brings to the world.
Thus, as lights of Christ, we are called always and everywhere to be evangelists. We have a mandate to spread the light of Christ to our families, neighborhoods, cities, and nations. To radiate Christ is to emit transformative grace and beauty. It is to change people around us by driving out the darkness with waves of radiating love, always understanding that it is a participation in the light of Christ who enlightens us.
It is no mere coincidence that light is at the center of two of the most important events in the life of the Catholic Christian: Baptism and the Easter Vigil Mass.
At baptism, through our godparents, we “receive the light of Christ” in the form of a symbolic candle. After giving the candle, the celebrant says to the parents and godparents, “this child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. He is to walk always as a child of the light. May he keep the flame of faith alive in his heart.” That is to say, he has been engulfed by the light of Christ; now may he transmit that light to the world.
And, of course, the baptism candle is lit from the Easter candle, which itself was lit from the Easter Vigil fire, built to symbolize that Christ, in His resurrection, drove out the darkness of death by radiating the light of life. Perhaps this is why the rubrics for this “Service of Light” prescribe a “blazing fire,” suitable to radiate into the night and dispel the darkness.
And the Light of Christ, a light greater than any other, is love. Indeed, in the final words of Dante’s Paradiso, it is the radiating “love that moves the sun and other stars.”
Dr. Kenneth Craycraft is an attorney and the James J. Gardner Family Chair of Moral Theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary & School of Theology. He holds a Ph.D. in moral theology from Boston College, and a J.D. from Duke University School of Law.
This article appeared in the September edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.