A virtuoso emailed the other day: “I am reading parts of C.S. Lewis again, and came across this: ‘Virtue, even attempted virtue, brings light; indulgence brings fog.’”
This powerful statement brings to mind the first day of creation when God created light and divided the light from the darkness. The light of virtue, even attempted virtue, brings clarity, good direction, and knowledge of what our goal is. Light points outward toward God, strains toward God, its source. With light, we fearlessly see things as they are in their imperfection and their glory. Our sight may be dimmed by the brightness, but we keep looking.
At Easter, Jesus’ resurrection in his cave-tomb created so much light that a photographic image of his face and body were left on his burial wrappings. This garment, now called the Shroud of Turin, is still displayed occasionally in Italy for public view.
In the fog of indulgence, we’re wrapped up in ourselves with no light escaping, no goal except a fearful stasis, defaulting to stay the same while committing to nothing. No light escapes from the foggy ball we make of ourselves to avoid looking out and no light is allowed in for fear of risk, or change that we’re not in control of.
But perfect love casts out fear. A 4th-century writer put it this way: “The highest good is prayer and conversation with God, because it means that we are in God’s company and in union with him. When light enters our bodily eyes our eyesight is sharpened; when a soul is intent on God, God’s inextinguishable light shines into it and makes it bright and clear. I am talking, of course, of prayer that comes from the heart and not from routine—the prayer that happens continuously by day and by night.
“Prayer is the light of the soul, true knowledge of God, a mediator between God and men. Prayer lifts the soul into the heavens where it hugs God in an indescribable embrace. The soul seeks the milk of God like a baby crying for the breast. It fulfils its own vows and receives in exchange gifts better than anything that can be seen or imagined.
“Prayer is a go-between linking us to God. It gives joy to the soul and calms its emotions. If God gives to someone the gift of such prayer, it is a gift of imperishable riches, a heavenly food that satisfies the spirit. Whoever tastes that food catches fire and his soul burns forever with desire for the Lord.”
Sounds great to let the light of God’s grace into my life, but how do I go about it?
Our ancient writer answers that growth in virtue is the way to unlock this extraordinary grace: “To begin on this path, start by adorning your house with modesty and humility. Make it shine brightly with the light of justice. Decorate it with the gold leaf of good works, with the jewels of faithfulness and greatness of heart. Finally, to make the house perfect, raise a gable above it all, a gable of prayer. Thus you will have prepared a pure and sparkling house for the Lord. Receive the Lord into this royal and splendid dwelling—in other words: receive, by his grace, his image into the temple of your soul.”
He prescribes the virtues of modesty (dressing in a way that preserves your dignity), humility (trying to see yourself as God sees you—no greater, no less!), justice (enabling everyone to have what he or she has a right to), good works (the fruits of virtue), faithfulness (staying true to a promise), greatness of heart (magnanimity means doing great things out of “greatness of soul”), and capping it off by prayer—plugging into the God socket—as the source of all virtue and greatness and love. Love casts out fear as light casts out darkness.
May the light thrown off by the Resurrection shine in your heart, your eyes, and your words and actions this Easter and beyond.