Sunday, January 03, 2021

The Spiritual Benefits of Eternal Light Therapy


(Epiphany 2021: This homily was given on January 3, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-13; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Epiphany 2021]


Seasonal Affective Disorder (commonly known as “SAD”) is a medical condition similar to depression, except that it manifests itself only during the winter months.  In colloquial terms you might call it “the wintertime blues.”

SAD, unfortunately, has existed for a long time, but it was first identified as a medical condition back in the 1980s, by people like Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University.

Dr. Rosenthal was recently interviewed by the New York Times on this subject along with other mental health professionals, and they said that they expect the problem to be worse this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.  As Kelly Rohan, a professor of psychological science at the University of Vermont, put it: “I think we’re in for a particularly difficult winter for people with SAD, who seem to be especially susceptible to stressful life events.”

And, as we are all well aware, the pandemic has been an extremely “stressful life event” for a lot of people!

So, is there hope?  Is there any hope for people who may be suffering from this emotional disorder at the present time?  The good news is, yes, there is—there’s a lot of hope.  As Rosenthal and his colleagues have discovered, there is something which is highly effective in battling SAD.  It’s called “light therapy.” 

Listen now to 3 paragraphs from an article on SAD that I came across a number of years ago online.  There are some very important insights here:


The exact mechanism by which light affects mood is unknown.  Dr. Rosenthal believes that when light stimuli are carried to the brain, they may stimulate or suppress the levels of certain brain chemicals.  But regardless of how it works, he says the key to treating SAD is getting more light.

“First and foremost, bring more light into your life,” he says, “This can be done naturally by getting outdoors on a bright winter day or by bringing in more lamps.  The light can be just general ways of lighting up the room, but there are some specific light boxes or light fixtures that have been specifically produced to deliver the amount of light that has been used in research studies that have been shown to be effective.”

Typical light therapy involves sitting in front of a lamp for an hour or so every day.  Dr. Rosenthal says most patients will see the benefits from this therapy within a week.  The benefits will remain as long as they use the light; but as soon as they stop, the old symptoms of sluggishness and depression can return relatively quickly.


If Bishop Fulton Sheen were still alive, I think he would read those paragraphs and say, “I’m not at all surprised, because so often there’s a direct parallel in this life between the spiritual and the physical.”

Fr. Ray, please explain.

Okay, I will.

This is the feast of the Epiphany, when we recall how the light of a star guided the Magi to the true Light of the world, Jesus Christ.  Two lights—one physical, the other spiritual—both of which dispelled sadness and brought great joy.  St. Matthew tells us in today’s Gospel that after they left Herod, the Magi “were overjoyed at seeing the star.”  And that joy must have intensified a hundred-fold when they finally arrived at their destination, and presented their gifts to the newborn King of the Jews.

Jesus Christ is the eternal Light worshipped by the Magi; he is “Light from Light,” as we say in the Creed every Sunday.  And this divine Light is still with us in many ways, but most especially in the Holy Eucharist. 

I wonder: Could it be that many Catholics today are depressed, confused, and in spiritual turmoil because they aren’t getting enough “light therapy”—enough Eternal Light therapy—courtesy of Jesus Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament?

I think a very good case can be made for that.

Remember what it said in that article?—“The key to treating SAD is getting more light into your life.”

I believe that’s what more Catholics need to do, spiritually speaking!  How?  Number 1, by receiving the Eucharist worthily, reverently, and prayerfully (this is why it’s so important to eventually get back to Mass); and number 2, by spending more time in the presence of the Eternal Light, who is reserved in the tabernacle of every Catholic Church, and exposed for adoration here on Tuesdays and First Fridays, as well as in the adoration chapel at Immaculate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!

In the physical order (as Dr. Rosenthal and his colleagues have discovered) light therapy dispels sadness.  The same is true in the spiritual order, as Bishop Fulton Sheen would happily remind us.  As many of you know, Bishop Sheen made a Holy Hour in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament every day of his priestly life.  Every single day!  He always said that this was the secret of his powerful preaching and effective ministry in the Church.  It was his “hour of power,” so to speak.  That’s why I’m convinced that he would smile and nod his head in agreement if he were still with us and had the opportunity to learn about SAD.  He knew the importance of spiritual Light therapy in his own life, so he would not have been surprised about the benefits of physical light therapy.

In this regard, did you notice how Dr. Rosenthal said that “light boxes” have become useful in battling this disorder?  I think Bishop Sheen would say, “We Catholics have our ‘light boxes’ too: they’re called tabernacles.  If we pray in front of them with faith in our hearts, then the eternal Light which is inside will gradually heal us of our spiritual ills—and perhaps even some of our physical ones.”

And he would no doubt use the final point in the article I quoted from earlier to encourage us to do this as often as possible.  Listen again to these words: 

Typical light therapy involves sitting in front of a lamp for an hour or so every day.  Dr. Rosenthal says most patients will see the benefits from this therapy within a week.  The benefits will remain as long as they use the light; but as soon as they stop, the old symptoms of sluggishness and depression can return relatively quickly.

Sheen would say, “That’s why I make a Holy Hour every single day!”

The Lord’s message to us today, then, is very simple, my brothers and sisters.  He says, “Get yourself some Eternal Light therapy, and get it often.  Pray in the presence of the true Light of the world, Jesus Christ, who is present to you Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist.  Do that every day, if possible.  It will help you deal with all that makes you sad and bad and mad—and it will help you to do this not only during the winter months, but throughout the year.”