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Let the Light in

In this Sunday’s Gospel, John 3:15–21, we encounter some of the most well-known words in all of Scripture. The passage begins by evoking the image of the bronze serpent lifted by Moses in the wilderness.

Just as those who looked upon the serpent were spared from death, so too are we saved by gazing upon the Son of Man lifted up on the Cross. Jesus Himself makes this connection, foreshadowing His crucifixion as the source of eternal life.

This leads us to the words of John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Here we are reminded of the unfathomable love of God the Father, who offered His only-begotten Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. It is a love that seeks not our condemnation, but our redemption and communion with Him forever.

Yet a sobering contrast is then drawn. Those who stubbornly reject the light of Christ and cling to the darkness of sin and unbelief. They are not condemned by God, but by their own prideful resistance to His merciful love. The Light has entered the world, but some “loved darkness more than the light, for their works were wicked.”

Why would anyone resist God’s infinite love and freely choose darkness over light? The passage suggests the culprit may be human pride and our attachment to sin.

On some level, we can be enticed by the idea of being our own masters, free from accountability to a higher authority. Embracing the light of Christ requires radical humility—admitting our failings, surrendering our self-sufficiency, and allowing Him to purify our disordered desires.

The great Christian writer CS Lewis had profound insights into the vice of pride. He called it the “great sin” and root of all evil, as it is an active scorning and rejection of God’s authoritative truth about who we are and who He is.

In Mere Christianity, Lewis writes that pride is the “complete anti-God state of mind” in which we essentially play the lord over our own lives, excusing our desires and putting ourselves on the throne rightfully belonging to God alone.

Lewis elaborates that pride is distinct from a proper inward self-respect. Rather, it is an obsessive love of self, combined with a desire to be over others and put ourselves first at the expense of all else. This disordered self-absorption erects a self-constructed prison closing us off from the liberating love and grace of God.

There is also such a thing as religious pride with external marks of piety and ritual conformity. Religious pride is an insidious vice that can infect even the most outwardly pious soul.

It is a twisted form of arrogance cloaked in spiritual garb—believing ourselves to be more religiously enlightened or faithful than others. This fallacy clouds our vision, causing us to look down on those we deem ‘less holy’ while wrapping ourselves in self-righteousness.

Toward God, religious pride manifests as a lack of gratitude and humility. Rather than receiving His grace as an unmerited gift, the prideful heart subtly believes it has earned God’s favour through its own moral and spiritual efforts. This severs the proper relationship of creature to Creator. Toward others, religious pride breeds judgementalism, lack of mercy, and a calloused heart. Instead of building others up, it tears them down with a condescending, dismissive spirit.

Religious pride is toxic to authentic faith, which must be rooted in a spirit of meekness, poverty of spirit, and childlike trust in God’s loving-kindness.

During Lent, we must diligently root out this vice, allowing God’s transforming light to purge our hearts of its terribly divisive effects.

For many, the humility required for true repentance and conversion is too bitter a pill to swallow. It is far easier to remain in complacent darkness than be exposed by the penetrating light of the gospel.

As Catholics participating in the Lenten journey, we are invited to take an honest look at the areas of pride and darkness in our own lives.

Have we allowed the brilliant light of Christ to purify and transform us? Or do we, like Adam and Eve, hide ourselves from God out of fear and stubborn self-obsession?