In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Remember that Jesus also tells us, in the Gospel of Matthew: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16).
We are the light of the world only because He is the light of the world. It is through our devotion to Jesus that we obtain the light of life: the light that will guide us from confusion to truth, from fear to courage, from weariness to strength. He does not deny that there is darkness in the world, but He promises that if we follow Him and offer ourselves wholeheartedly to God, He will work through us to overcome it. He came face to face with darkness on the Cross and won; He can overcome the darkness we encounter in our own lives. When our world looks dim, we need to reconnect with Jesus, the Source of all light. He will help us to stay firm in the truth and radiate His light into the world, even into a world that seems filled with confusion and despair.
When we allow ourselves to dwell too long in caves of sin and ignorance, we can find it hard to come outside and look at the light. It hurts our eyes; it is too much to process. It seems easier to go back into the cave than to allow our eyes to adjust to the light. This is why the pure of heart are looked upon with scorn; this is why Jesus was so hated by the Pharisees. Light is powerful, and if we are brave enough to pull away the blinds from our windows, we will see with sudden clarity all the dust and grime that needs cleaning. Are we willing to step out of the darkness and let the light in?
In his message for the 17th World Youth Day in 2002, Pope John Paul II spoke to the crowds of young people about this passage:
The light which Jesus speaks of in the Gospel is the light of faith, God’s free gift, which enlightens the heart and clarifies the mind. “It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). That is why the words of Jesus explaining his identity and his mission are so important: “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).
Our personal encounter with Christ bathes life in new light, sets us on the right path, and sends us out to be his witnesses. This new way of looking at the world and at people, which comes to us from him, leads us more deeply into the mystery of faith, which is not just a collection of theoretical assertions to be accepted and approved by the mind, but an experience to be had, a truth to be lived, the salt and light of all reality (cf. Veritatis Splendor, 88).
The pope went on to identify several young saints who exemplified heroic virtue, including our friend Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Pier Giorgio is a light within the darkness, an example of holiness, purity of heart, and courage that shines outward and illuminates the world. He was unafraid to take an unpopular stance instead of being swayed by the crowd, because he was rooted in a deeper awareness of moral truth. Pier Giorgio’s formation in virtue fortified him to see the path before him more clearly and not be led astray by the many distractions of this world. God shone through him to light his way toward Heaven, and God now lifts up Pier Giorgio as a beacon of light for us, a shining example for us to follow of a holy life lived out in a modern era. His life is a challenge to us—it is so bright, so pure, so warm, that it might be uncomfortable for us at first to get to know him, to realize how far we have to go toward holiness in comparison with him. But if we open ourselves up to receive this light and rise toward the challenge he has set for us, we will begin to see our own lives in a new light, too. We will see our own priorities more clearly and become enabled to make decisions that will guide us toward all that is good, true, and beautiful, instead of settling for the comfortable, shadowy caves we now dwell in.