A light in the darkness

In today’s gospel, Jesus talks about the light of our faith, to not keep it hidden. A lighted candle has its proper place – not under a basket, but in the lamp stand where it can provide light to the room, so too our faith has a place in the world, not hidden away, but on display for all to see.

An interesting element of this parable is the translation.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?” (Mark 4:21)

The verb erochomai which is translated as “brought” actually means “comes.” It would make for an awkward rendering… at first: “Does a lamp come in to be placed….” The idea that the lamp has its own mobility to enter the room doesn’t make sense. That is unless the “lamp” is the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.

The gospel continues: “For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.” I think it is easy to think about this verse as follows: “Think of what happens when you suddenly shine a light into a dark corner in your basement or down a lonely alley. The bugs and the vermin reveal themselves. Unsavory things scurry about for cover, afraid of the light.” All true, but consider looking at it another way.

In June of 1944, Allied forces were landing to retake the Marianna Islands (Guam, Tinian, and Siapan). The Japanese understood that the fall of Siapan would allow the Allies to have an airfield that was in striking distance of the Japanese homeland. They responded by sending their 1st Mobile Fleet into action. The hope was to use a combined total of 800 carrier-based aircraft and Saipan-based aircraft to turn away the invasion force. This became known as the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

What stood in their way was the US 5th Fleet consisting of 7 fleet carriers, 8 light carriers, 7 battleships, 8 heavy cruisers, 13 light cruisers. 68 destroyers, 28 submarines, and 900 carrier-based aircraft.

As the engagement played out, the US forces dominated the sky (some 600 enemy planes were downed) and took the battle to the Japanese fleet carriers. Admiral Mitscher, commanding the fleet carriers of Task Force 58, believed he had a chance to deliver a crippling blow to the enemy fleet, especially their aircraft carriers. He wanted to aggressively steam west and chase down the retreating fleet. He had already sunk three Japanese carriers and wanted to sink the remaining five. Admiral Spruance, 5th Fleet Commander, held that the greater priority was protecting the landing forces and did not allow Mitscher to steam west.

He complied, but he also launched a massive air attack – late in the day.  After the protracted air strike, it became clear that most of the aircraft returning to their carriers were running dangerously low on fuel, and to worsen matters, night had fallen. At 20:45, the first returning U.S. aircraft reached TF 58.

The naval aviators had two problems in addition to low fuel levels: (a) finding the carriers and (b) landing in the dark. In 1944 aircraft radar was not available nor the capability for night operations. Knowing his aviators would have difficulty finding their carriers, Joseph J. Clark of the USS Hornet decided to illuminate his carrier, shining searchlights directly up into the night, despite the risk of attack from Japanese submarines and night-flying aircraft. Mitscher instantly backed up the decision, and soon every ship in Task Force 58 was lit up, in spite of the risks involved. Picket destroyers fired starshells to help the aircraft find the task groups.

Think about being one of the returning pilots, estimating the location of the carriers, searching the night skies, running low of fuel, and beginning to think about “ditching” the aircraft into sea and hoping for search-and-rescue to find you…. and suddenly the light comes into your world as the fleet illuminated the skies.

What was lost could now find their way home. Such is the power of the light. “For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.

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