Kindle Festive Lights
Homily given by John Keating, O.Carm., at the Lay Centre, Rome, during Evening Prayer with presidents of Catholic Education in the United States on June 19, 2014.
I consider myself very fortunate that, as a child growing up in a very Catholic Dublin, our neighbours on one side of us were Anglican and on the other Jewish. So from the beginning I was aware of the faith customs and traditions around me.
Many of their customs and some words resonate with me to this day, especially those beautiful words for candle lighting at the Jewish Passover. In the lighting of the lamps, the words “kindle festive lights” seem to me to be the mission of all faith communities. In the empty darkness of pain, suffering, violence, hatred, abuse and war, each one has the mission to kindle light.
In an age where image, symbol and gesture often count more than words, the simple mundane task of lamp-lighting might be overlooked. It takes time to light a candle, sometimes it works, sometimes it goes out and you may have to start again.
Some of us are old enough to remember lighting the multitude of altar candles for Benediction or the Forty Hours and some are young enough to have watched the lighting of the lamps before the liturgical prayer at Taizé. These activities engage our vision and our imagination.
We are people of light – Christ is our light, and the gesture of passing on the Easter light from person to person and candle-to-candle is no mere liturgical rubric, but an invitation to rejoice in the light entrusted to us – and pass it on.
Saint Augustine’s commentary on the text “God is light and in him is no darkness at all”, from the first letter of Saint John, tells us that when John speaks of light he means more than sun, moon, or lamps, he is speaking of the quality of grandeur and brightness, a light that surpasses all other light. Those who look towards the light, are enlightened, as Psalm 34:5 says: “Look towards him and be radiant”.
Thus, as evening fades into darkness, from the earliest times, even in the cavernous dark catacombs, early Christians in Rome continued to look towards the light of Christ that never fades and kindle light. The earliest known Christian hymn recorded outside the bible is a hymn to Christ the light – every Vespers ought to be a hymn to light. This early hymn, known to Saint Basil the Great in the fourth century, reminds us Christians of today of the lamp lit at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, re-echoing in our Creed – God from God, light from light.
Our Vesper prayer this evening might well be one that rekindles that true light within us and brings us home to our places of education – for we have inherited a blessing and we repay that blessing by bringing light into the minds and hearts of those around us might who still walk in darkness.