10 Jun 2021

Redemptoris Mater Seminary, Villawood

Faust: in German legend he was a learned, successful yet dissatisfied man who made a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. The legend has been retold in books, plays, movies, even an opera. It was popularised in the Anglophone world through Christopher Marlowe’s famous play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, written around 1587. In this version Faust is made the greatest intellect and magician in the world for 24 years, after which he agrees to be damned forever. The once-great scholar squanders his two dozen years on pleasure and greed and is more and more corrupted. In the German version Faust repents at the end, but in the more pessimistic (or realistic?) English version he fails to repent and so is damned. As he lived, so he dies.

Early in Marlowe’s play, Faust is speaking with Mephistopheles about the nature of hell, and the demon tells him:

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d
In one self place; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there must we ever be.[1]

Marlowe’s demon is suggesting that hell is a state of being, created by the human or angelic person themselves, and carried around with them wherever they go. It is then reflected in what-ever they do. In this Marlowe prefigured St. John Paul II who said “Hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.”[2]

But why am I speaking of hell? Is it that the Redemptoris Mater seminarians are in particular danger and need some special warning? Or have I just had a bad day? You’ll be pleased to hear the answer is: neither. I’m quoting Marlowe’s Dr Faustus because it highlights something equally true of heaven, that we see in Paul’s epistle tonight (2 Cor 3:15-4:6).

St. Paul compares two groups of people: those who’ve embraced the Word of God and those who haven’t. He contrasts the two in a very traditional way, using imagery of God as light, the Devil as darkness, God’s followers as children of the light and the opposite as children of darkness, the citizens of the kingdom of heaven versus those belonging to hell. But there are two important differences in Paul’s account: first, the children of darkness have a ‘veil’ over them; and secondly, the children of light are ‘mirrors’. What’s this about?

First, the veil. God wants all to be saved and so casts rays of His love and truth upon all humankind. As the Psalmist puts it: “The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is for all his creatures.” (Ps 145:8-9) In Isaiah God says: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! (Isa 45:22; cf. 55:1 etc.). He tells Ezekiel “Say to them: As I live, says the Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked; rather, let them turn from their ways and live!” (Ezek 33:11; cf. 18:23,32; 33:11; 2Pet 3:9) In Jesus, God cries out “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often have I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling” (Mt 23:37). So ‘universal’ is the hope God holds out for us that “Your heavenly Father makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good alike, and sends rain both on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45). Paul likewise says “God our Saviour desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” and that Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1Tim 2:4,6 etc.). He is “the true light, which enlightens everyone”.[3] 

Yet some resist: rather than basking in the divine sunlight they put on spiritual block-out: “This is judgment: that the Light came into the world and [some] people preferred darkness”.[4] Some, Paul tells us, veil themselves against the light, fearing what it will expose, what it will demand; they shut the eyes of their mind to the truth. Others, it seems, have the veil drawn over them by others, especially by the Evil One. Freedom is found only when we remove the veil, and start soaking up the light of that Divine Son.

Which brings me, secondly, to the light. Jesus teaches that His disciples must become children of the light and lamps to the world.[5] They are, Paul says today, like mirrors reflecting the brightness of the Lord, and grow in brightness as they are conformed to the image of Christ. “It is the same God that said, ‘Let there be light’,” Paul says tonight, “who has shone in our minds to radiate the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ.”

Echoed in Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, then, is the biblical point that we carry our relationship with God with us wherever we go. That’s why those who are freed by the light should not shirk from embracing those who are veiled: because, if we bring the God of Light with us, we need not fear. We are charged with the task of being light for our world, truth for dulled minds, warmth for cold hearts, freedom for the constrained, and we can be all these things because we bring the kingdom of God with us. We are then, reflectors of Christ’s Light not merely receptors, mirrors and magnifiers as Paul puts it. “The Christian who has been cleansed by the Holy Spirit,” writes St John Chrysostom, “is changed… into the likeness of Jesus Christ himself. Not only does he behold the glory of the Lord but he takes some of the features of God’s glory. The soul who is regenerated by the Holy Spirit receives and radiates the splendour of the heavenly glory that has been given him.”[6]

All of which speaks to you, my sons, about the purpose of your formation and the mission of the Neocatechumenal Way. Heavenly light must be with you, the glory of the Lord shine around you, and you, even more than any others because you are missionaries, must share that light with those who are walking in darkness. The light you gain in your formal studies, your formation and your own contemplation of God’s word, should be apparent in your thoughts, words and deeds. “Every evangeliser,” Pope Paul VI told us, “is expected to have a reverence for truth, especially since the truth that he studies and communicates is none other than the revealed truth and hence, more than any other, a sharing in the First Truth who is God himself.”[7]

Yet the light can hurt our eyes and cauterise our souls, so we see what we would rather not and face uncomfortable demands. No wonder so many choose the veil, the moral sunglasses, the spiritual block-out! “The preacher of the Gospel,” St Paul VI continues, “will therefore be a person who even at the price of personal renunciation and suffering always seeks the truth that he must transmit to others. He never betrays or hides… or refuses the truth… he serves it generously, without making it serve him.”

This is no easy task, and many Christians, including some clergy, have been resistant to the light and failed to be light in the darkness for others; some, to our horror, have brought darkness rather than light. So I charge you to be better, to embrace the truth, to be true radiators of Christ’s grace. As Marlowe’s Mephistopheles brings hell with him wherever he treads, so you, as future priests of Jesus Christ, must bring the kingdom of heaven with you in all you do. You must be street signs pointing to The Way, preachers communicating The Truth, livers of The Life, and so mirrors of Christ the true Light come into this world.

[1] Christopher Marlowe, Dr Faustus, A text: https://gutenberg.org/files/779/779-h/779-h.htm
[2] John Paul II, General Audience, 3, Wednesday 28 July 1999 https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_28071999.html
[3] Jn 1:4,9; cf. Mt 4:16; Lk 1:79; 2:32; 8:16; Jn 1:4-8; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 1Jn 1:5-7.
[4] Jn 3:19; cf. Mt 22:14; Jn 3:20-21; 11:9-10; 12:35; ch. 17; Rom 1:18-22; 1Jn 2:9-10.
[5] Mt 5:14-16; Lk 11:33-36; 16:8; Jn 12:36,46; Eph 5:8-14; Col 1:12; 1Thess 5:5; 1Jn 2:10 etc.
[6] St. John Chrysostom, Hom. In 2 Cor., 7
[7] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 70