For the past seven weeks we have kept the Easter Candle here in the sanctuary, lighting it every time we have celebrated Mass. The living flame of the Easter Candle reminds us that Christ is alive, that he rose from the dead just as the sun rises each morning to put an end to the darkness of the night. The tall, white candle with a burning flame on top reminds us of God’s faithfulness throughout all of history. It symbolizes the two miraculous pillars – smoke by day and fire by night – that had guided the ancient Israelites out of Egypt, through the desert, and to the Promised Land. Now it is Christ, the Risen Lord, who is our pillar of smoke and pillar of fire, our sure guide out of slavery to sin, through this world of trials and temptations, and into the Promised Land of Heaven.
Today, however, we remove the Easter Candle from our sanctuary. Until next Easter, we will only use it during baptism ceremonies, when Christ’s risen life is given for the first time to new members of the Church, and at funerals, where it stands by the earthly remains of the deceased, reminding us of Jesus’ promise, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live” (John 11:25) .
Does the removal of the Easter Candle mean that Christ is no longer among us? No. The sanctuary lamp beside the Tabernacle reminds us that Christ has not gone on vacation.
Rather, today is Pentecost, the day when Christ’s risen life was entrusted to the Church by the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, who descended like tongues of fire on the Apostles nine days after Christ has ascended into heaven. That new season in the life of the Church is paralleled by our new liturgical season, Ordinary Time, when we take the Easter Candle out of the sanctuary, because we ourselves become living Easter Candles, burning flames of wisdom, pillars of Christian faith and love spreading Christ’s hope in the world.
Irish legend tells of a dream St. Patrick had when he was an old man, after more than twenty years of working to convert the barbarian Irish. He was standing in a field and could see lights burning in the darkness. In front of him was Jesus, silently motioning to follow him. The Lord led St. Patrick up a high mountain overlooking the valley and there Christ pointed down into the darkness below. “Look,” he said. Patrick looked down and saw, amidst the shadow of the night, a great many flames burning, lighting up the countryside, warming Patrick’s heart. He knew they symbolized the Christian faith he had planted, the faith that had grown and now spread all across Ireland. He looked at Jesus and smiled.
But Jesus wasn’t smiling. He pointed back down the valley and said again, “Look.” Patrick looked. To his horror, he watched as one by one, the flames died out. Puff, puff, puff – and they were gone.
In the darkness, the old and weary bishop looked back at Jesus with tears in his eyes. “Oh tell me,” he said, “Lord, tell me, that Ireland will never lose the faith!” And as he broke down and cried, he felt a strong arm lifting him up and a gentle hand pointing his face down again to the valley below.
There upon the meadow in the darkness was a single lamp burning, a tiny flame that had been there all along, though Patrick had not noticed it before. Suddenly, as before, another flame appeared that seemed to draw itself out of the other, and another from that one; and another and another, until the lights spread once again all across the countryside, and it more ablaze than ever.
Wherever there is a single Christian, there is undying hope, because God himself, the unconquerable light, is present in every Christian heart – that’s what Pentecost is all about.
How can we follow this call to be Easter Candles for the world? Most importantly, we have to make sure we keep the flame burning in our hearts, especially through daily prayer and heartfelt use of the sacraments.
But we are also called to spread the fire. That’s what the sacrament of confirmation was all about. How can we live out this part of our Christian identity?
One spiritual writer has recommended that every Christian learn to follow their “holy discontent.” We all know that there’s a lot wrong with the world. However, not all the wrongs in the world touch our hearts with the same intensity. For each of us, one particular thing resonates more than the others. That could be our “holy discontent.” It may be the homeless, or the injustice of abortion, or the lack of solid religious education, or the weak Christian presence in Hollywood. Maybe God has given us a special sensitivity in that area because he is calling us to shine his light there.
If each of us made the commitment to brighten up just one dark corner of the world with Christ’s light this year, think how much brighter the world would be twelve months from now! Christians are not called to be complainers. Christians are called to be conquerors, like Christ. We are called to conquer evil and darkness with the power of Christ’s risen life, the life that burns in our hearts through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Today, let’s pray for a new Pentecost in our lives, our parish, and our world, and let’s promise to do our part to make that prayer come true.