News & Events
Dec 21, 2015
Blessed are the eyes that see ...
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shone.”
~ Isaiah 9:2
These words of the prophet Isaiah from the first reading for Christmas Eve Mass are a hopeful message for hundreds of thousands of displaced people roaming our planet in search of security and a place to call home. We may even wonder if such a light can exist, and if there can be a place of peace, justice and love. Yes, even in our own country the homeless wonder if there can be such a light.
The light of a Saviour born for us is a great contrast to the darkness; it is Jesus’ light that exposes the darkness of sin and grave crimes against people and this garden called earth—our home. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy the light of Christ will shine out showing us new paths and ways to live in tenderness, compassion and covenant with all people and everything created in God’s garden.
Psalm 96 from the lectionary for Christmas Eve Mass announces a Saviour for all and every bit of creation:
“Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and all that fills it. Let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy!
Our Saviour is so full of mercy that even the darkest depths of any human heart cannot escape the penetrating gaze of Love incarnate. The light of Christ enables us to see and behold the blessed hope that dawned in the birth of Jesus, and continues in the saving grace of his death and resurrection, made present for us in the Holy Eucharist.
Recognizing the Saviour and his light dispelling all darkness is something I have experienced profoundly in my own life and among the many people with whom I’ve been privileged to journey over the years. I would like to share one such grace when the light of Christ’s mercy, love and salvation dispelled darkness.
It was Christmas 1977. I was a second-year university student and a very active mountaineer. I and a couple of other outdoor enthusiasts decided to do a winter ascent of Goat Peak in the North Cascades, close to Mt. Baker. It was not the biggest or most demanding mountain, however winter conditions can change everything.
We set out from Twin Lakes Road carrying our skis only a short distance before reaching the snow line. With our skis on we continued upward on a trail in the dark. The shorter days of Christmas time meant a longer opportunity for night skiing, which became quite interesting—especially crossing a number of avalanche slopes with fresh signs of snow slippage. Needless to say we were on high alert, proceeding cautiously and quickly through the zones.
We arrived at a well-protected, forested clearing on the trail at 11 PM, after seven hours of uphill slogging. We stopped for the night, completely exhausted but happy to have covered so much ground safely, and looking forward to some food and then slipping into our sleeping bags. But there was one question burning in the heart of one of our party, Fr. Damasus Payne, our priest mountain climbing mentor and seminary teacher. “I think we should celebrate Mass,” he said, and I remember protesting that God would understand our tiredness and would want us to pray while sleeping. But without further discussion, the portable Mass kit was pulled from Fr. Damasus’ backpack, and I found myself building a kind of snow bench to serve as the altar.
We sat in the snow with every bit of clothing on to prevent the cold night air from turning sweat-filled clothing into lumps of frozen slush. Mass began with a beautiful rendition of Make Me a Channel of Your Peace. The Scripture readings were barely audible as the silent majesty of our winter wonderland quieted our voices lest we be roused from the utter peace of mountain stillness.
The offertory rite and preparing the wine and bread for the Eucharist began by placing the frozen wine inside a deep pocket to bring it back to consumable temperature, and continuing with the Eucharistic prayer.
During the elevation of the consecrated Host, my climbing buddy nudged me and whispered, “Look into the forest.” I peered intently outward, looking around the circle of trees about two meters away. I had to rub my tired eyes more than once, as my vision awoke to an incredible sight. There were myriads of eyes peering at our dimly lit forest cathedral and little snow bank altar—little pin-point eyes and big green and brown eyes!
After the elevation of the Precious Blood we sat for an eternal moment looking away from the flickering candle and flashlight on the altar. We stared in amazement and maybe some fear at what was presented before us: the surrounding forest was full of eyes, staring directly at the centre of our camp. We never even moved our hunched bodies, even though we knew that wolves and mountain lions were a normal part of our environment. Mass ended with the final blessing and silently and carefully we crawled into our sleeping bags whispering to each other, “Did you see what I saw?”
The next morning dawned clear, bright and very cold, but we quickly got up at first light, tugging on our frozen boots, knowing that our feet would become painful blocks of ice until an hour or so of moving would bring the warmth back. With a kind of stumbling jostle we all ventured to the edges of our camp, each wanting to check out the pristine snow for animal prints. And there in the snowy forest circle were every kind of print: little bird feet, squirrels, bears, mountain lions, wolves, deer, fox, raccoon and lots of rabbit prints.
Before anyone thinks I may have been dreaming or suffering from hypothermic delirium on a frozen mountainside, I would like to offer a quote from Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’: “The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things.” (LS, 83) Pope Francis, in Laudato Si’, has indeed given a theological and biblical voice to my own experiences in the grandeur of God’s garden, and to the power of Christ’s light to dispel all darkness. “Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.” (LS, 92)
Yes, the forest creatures drew near that wondrous night to behold him, for “all things have been created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16) The light of Christ dispelled the darkness during our Christmas season climb, and the forest creatures were awakened to behold Jesus, Prince of Peace, and their eyes, like ours, reflected the twinkling lights of the altar—his light that is our privilege to carry to a world in need.
I pray that the light of Christ will dawn for all of us this Christmas season and throughout the Jubilee Year of Mercy; that you and your families grow in communion of love and peace; and that all our relations and actions on our pilgrim journey on earth may bring a true justice, peace and love to this earth we call home.
A blessed Christmas to you all.
Most Reverend Gary Gordon
Bishop of Victoria