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Saint Ignatius High School

The Lesser Light

In "The Lesser Light," Jim Brennan ’85 reflects
on the lunar eclipse and its parallels with the human condition. Drawing from history, science, and theology, Brennan delves into the significance of humility and reflecting the divine light, offering profound insights into our relationship with God.
The Lesser Light

Monday was an interesting day in Cleveland, to be sure. The women’s NCAA final four reached its conclusion the night before, the Guardians won their home opener, and, oh yeah, the sun was blocked by the moon in a total eclipse that citizens of the metro area will not see again until 2099.

It was a day that saw streets closed, schools called off, and millions of people stopping what they were doing to collectively look at the sky; most wearing glasses that made them look like patrons of a 1950s 3-D movie. Perhaps most striking, for the first time since early 2020, Americans were able to use the word “corona” without it getting political.   

All due to the movements of the moon.

Humanity has had a long and interesting relationship with our rocky iron-laden satellite. The ancients saw in the moon a connection to the divine: Romans spoke of Luna and Diana (among others); the Greeks had Artemis; the Egyptians, Khonsu; the Aztecs, Tecciztecatl; and I could go on. It has been seen as the source of “lunacy” (from the Latin luna or “moon”), epilepsy, and even triggering symptoms of lycanthropy (werewolfism) which would give birth to literary figures such as Remus Lupin (of Harry Potter fame) and seemingly every character in the Twilight series.  Even today, police and medical personnel will attribute the odd behavior of their charges—usually with tongue firmly in cheek—to the presence of a full moon.

On a more rational note, scientists will point to the effect of the moon on tides. The moon has been used to good effect as the basis of timekeeping: the Hijri calendar, lunar-based, is the means by which Muslims are able to mark holidays and days of fasting. Even Catholics mark Easter as the “first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox.” Moreover, it reflects the light of the sun on the earth, making navigating at night easier.

As we reflect on the moon in light of the solar eclipse, we can see its connection to our Catholic faith. Discussing the Blessed Mother in his insightful book, The World’s First Love, Bishop Fulton Sheen, following the lead of the book of Revelation, used the moon as an image of her relationship with the Lord and with us:

"The moon does not take away from the brilliance of the sun. The moon would only be a burnt-out cinder floating in the immensity of space, were it not for the sun. All its light is reflected from the sun. The Blessed Mother reflects her Divine Son, without Him she is nothing… On dark nights we are grateful for the moon; when we see it shining, we know there must be a sun. So in this dark night of the world when men turn their backs on Him Who is the Light of the World, we look to Mary to guide their feet as they await the sunrise."

Mary is the model, par excellence, of what it means to be a Christian disciple. Made in His image and likeness, we too are made to reflect Him. In our intellect, freedom, creativity, and most important, our ability to love, we are called to stand as visible signs of Him from Whom many have “turned their backs” to His Presence.  

The eclipse was fascinating, but it was also disruptive. Temperatures dropped, chickens retreated to their coups to roost, birds grew confused, shadows played strange tricks and, of course, it got dark. But the eclipse also meant mass movements of people and the corresponding traffic headaches such movements bring. Law enforcement officers had to come in on days off, the National Guard was mobilized, and schools were shut down. While to my knowledge all of these disruptions were benign, they were nonetheless distracting.  

In putting ourselves before God, opting to do our will over His, or at the very least, over-elevating our importance in people's minds, we disrupt things too.

Given our exalted status in creation, we often forget our place: we, like the moon compared with the sun, are the “lesser lights.” Theologian Karl Rahner, S.J. claimed in a deceptively simple quote that “God is God and we are not.” The Lord made us and knows us better than we know ourselves. Making His will ours is what leads us to being most fully human and, as a result, most truly happy. Yet time and time again, thinking we know better than He or implicitly making exceptions for ourselves, we thwart His will. Sadly, when we do so, we not only diminish ourselves, we often harm other people as well. Made to reflect Him in a way no other of His creatures can, we—like the moon on Monday—can get in the way.     

Though what the moon did in eclipsing the sun was beautiful and wonderful because it is natural and normal; our “eclipsing” God is not.  Making ourselves the focus of attention at the expense of imaging God may be a simple distraction for us and other people—or it may be a sin.

Either way, it’s lunacy.

A.M.D.G. /B.V.M.H.