Yesterday, March 14, Roman Catholics read and reflected on a teaching in the Gospel of John the Evangelist through the wonderful story of Nicodemus and the call to a new or renewed faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a powerful story for each of us considering our Lenten renewal.
Our friend Nicodemus comes at night to talk with Jesus. The religious/political tensions at the time range from accusations to veritable torture or loss of work and livelihood for Jews finding something real in this magnanimous preacher called Jesus. The Romans hated him for political reasons and the Jews hated him for revolutionizing their cherished traditions. Nicodemus, thus, cannot be seen by his colleagues as he confronts Jesus with his pressing questions. Nicodemus, you see, is not just any Jew; he is a rabbi and a member of the Sanhedrin, or as one translation puts it, the Jewish Council. Therefore, he is respected. He knows the Torah. He is law-oriented. But he doubts. He knows of this preacher’s miracles and is questioning how they could have happened: “No one could have preformed these signs of yours unless God is with him.” (John 3:2) To Jesus, the miracles are not the stuff of faith. They are manifestations of his commitment to the marginalized, but the real stuff, as he points out to Nicodemus, is that a follower must be born again, but this time of water and the Spirit.
What kind of darkness is holding you back from a fuller embrace of the next step in your spiritual life? What is the step that will take you to the light on the other side of the door? A return to your faith? A reconciliation with a friend or family member? A debt that needs payment? A dismissal of the embarrassment of being seen in prayer? The fear of joining a study group or prayer group to deepen your faith? An acceptance of the illness or death of someone?
What most of us do not realize is that the very darkness we struggle with is really where God resides. Deeply. Henry Vaughan, the English seventeenth century metaphysical poet, calls this place the center of a “dazzling darkness,” where God holds us and comforts us while drawing us forward to open the door where the light is shining. Vaughan’s phrase is found in his poem, “The Night,” about Nicodemus and his conversion.
God is in everyone’s cave of darkness because God does not give up on us. In the Apostles Creed, we Catholics pray, “He (Jesus) descended into hell,” after His death, and then into heaven. Yes He did. He descended into everyone’s hell where despair, hurt, illness, struggle, loss all exist keeping us from recognizing Him. But, it is a dazzling darkness because He is there, ready to help. Nicodemus recognized this because he appears later in the crucifixion narrative as a follower.
As we advance to the events of the Passion and Death of Jesus, and ultimately, the Resurrection, try to read the assigned Gospels with reflection. Re-read the story of Nicodemus (John 3: 1-21).
Ask yourself: What is my darkness? What keeps me back from so much?
Ask for the grace to move, with God, into the light.