IT'S FREQUENTLY SUGGESTED in the popular media that Christianity teaches us not to shine, to be down and depressed.
What a lie.
St. Gregory of Nyssa writes:
The sky was not made in God’s image, not the moon, not the sun, not the beauty of the stars, no other things which appear in creation. Only you (human soul) were made to be the image of nature that surpasses every intellect, likeness of incorruptible beauty, mark of true divinity, vessel of blessed life, image of true light, that when you look upon it, you become what He is, because through the reflected ray, coming from your purity, you imitate Him who shines within you. Nothing that exists can measure up to your greatness.(1)How do we shine? According the passage above, we must, in the first place, look to God. Do we? This requires an investment of time and intention. Either we give them or we don't. Only then will we reflect what we see.
Another, parallel lie is that sin and unholiness will make us free. I recently saw the film Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky. With great skill, the actors portray Chanel and Stravinski's complex affair, one that all but devastates Stravinsky's family.
Sin, in all its candy-wrapper beauty, is ugly, boring and draining in its details.
In this vein, St. Gregory also talks of the little deposits that sin leaves on our hearts:
If, with a diligent and attentive standard of living, you wash away the bad things that have deposited upon your heart, the divine beauty will shine in you...contemplating yourself, you will see within you Him who is the desire of your heart, and you will be blessed.(2)To scrub off these deposits, we need that diligence and attentiveness to become our way of life, our "standard of living." How much trouble could we avoid by simply paying attention!
If we pay attention - - and only when we pay attention -- will we even know, in the first place, that these deposits are lying on your hearts. Some of us are moving along, half dead, because we live with this inner junk like it's some normal part of us that should be there.
Finally, St. Chromatius of Aquileia reminds us of our true support in our desperation:
Let us pray to the Lord with all our hear and all our faith, let us pray him to deliver us from all enemy incursions, from all fear of adversaries. Do not look at our merits, but at his mercy, at him who also in the past set...the Children of Israel free, not for their own merits, but through his mercy. May he protect us with his customary, merciful love and bring about for us what holy Moses said to the Children of Israel: The Lord will fight to defend you, and you will be silent (Exod. 14:14). It is he who fights, it is he who wins the victory...And so that he may condescend to do so, we must pray as much as possible. He himself said, in fact, through the mouth of the prophet: Call on Me on the day of tribulations; I will set you free and you will give me glory.” (Ps. 49:15)(3).God knows us and we need to know ourselves. That is, we need to know when the danger is coming, when the incursion into our heart is about to happen.
But I can only know this if we do the “looking into my heart” discussed above. It’s then, at each of those tiny moments, time and again, that we call upon him. That’s how, brick-by-brick, we build a victorious life.
(1)St. Gregory of Nyssa, Homily on the Song of Songs, 2
(2)St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Beatitudes, 6
(3)St. Chromatius of Aquileia, Commentary on Matthew