“A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14)
Yesterday, we were honored to host a retreat here in our parish for families of disabled children. Here is the homily that I preached at the closing Mass on Saturday evening.
A week ago at exactly this moment, I was walking with my youth group leaders down a hill after a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. If you’ve ever been there, you know that most of the cemetery overlooks Washington, D.C. As we walked down the hill, with the setting sun painting the sky with all sorts of magnificent colors, I looked down on D.C., and saw how the sun was reflecting off the great monuments and memorials. Our nation’s capital was bathed in a glowing light. The U.S. Capitol dome reflected the dimming sunlight and it seemed like the Washington Monument was an entirely different color. As I saw this wondrous display unfold, I could not help but recall President Reagan’s farewell address when he called our country the “shining city on a hill.” This is a phrase he often used that he lifted from an early pilgrim named John Winthrop who lifted it from today’s gospel reading. When Winthrop left England in 1630 to settle in this new land, he said: “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us."
Jesus call us the light of the world in today’s gospel, and he reminds that we aren’t just a city on a hill, but a city set on a mountain that cannot be hidden. And like Winthrop said, the eyes of all people are upon us, not because we are American, but because we are Christians, because we carry the light of Christ in our lives. Unfortunately in today’s society, Christians aren’t encouraged to cast their light on the world just as the fading sunlight was shining down on our beautiful capital last Saturday evening. Society would prefer that our light remain hidden, that we practice our Christianity in secret, that we keep it to ourselves. Yet this in an option that our Lord does not give us: “your light must shine before others.” It cannot be hidden. Light by it’s very nature cannot be hidden anymore than we can keep the sun from rising in the morning. The rays of the sun overpower the darkness at twilight and soon that light floods the entire sky.
Each of your children is a light that shines brightly in your homes and in our churches. Their disability is viewed by the world as an “imperfection” when they are quite clearly made perfect by God because his standard of perfection is much higher than what the world considers to be perfect. As Pope Francis said last summer during the Jubilee for the Sick and the Disabled: “It is thought that sick or disabled persons cannot be happy, since they cannot live the lifestyle held up by the culture of pleasure and entertainment. In an age when care for one’s body has become an obsession and a big business, anything imperfect has to be hidden away, since it threatens the happiness and serenity of the privileged few and endangers the dominant model… Yet what an illusion it is when people today shut their eyes in the face of sickness and disability! They fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations. The world does not become better because only apparently “perfect” people live there – I say “perfect” rather than “false” – but when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase. How true are the words of the Apostle: “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27)!” That last verse used by the Holy Father was from last Sunday’s second reading. The world wants to hide the light of these children while the Lord and his Church embraces them and loves them as you have. Together, they are the true shining city because they reflect the love of God. As I said earlier during the opening talk of the retreat: I truly believe that children and children with disabilities understand God better than I do…and I’m a priest.
The example of these children who speak of the glory of God with their magnificent smiles should remind us that our spiritual lives should be childlike: “He is God. I am not.” It should remind us that we are called to take that glorious light that was given to us at our baptism and let that light shine before all. We cannot keep that light hidden anymore than we can keep these children hidden. I’ll say it again: hiding the light of Christ is not an option our Lord gives us. We are a shining city on a mountain set forth for all the world to see. Do not be ashamed of your faith. Do not hide the light in your hearts. Let all the world see that we are all members of this luminous Body of Christ, and that whether we are young or old, walking straight or bound to a wheelchair, possess great intellect or grasp only the simple, we are all part of God’s perfect design.