Magazine article U.S. Catholic

We'll Keep a Light on for You

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

We'll Keep a Light on for You

Article excerpt

ALL MY LIFE A CATHOLIC, I UNDERSTOOD vigil lights for the first time on my mother's birthday, May 18, eight months after she died. Not quite knowing what to do with myself, I went to morning Mass and was comforted. The beautiful Eastertide readings had an eerie appropriateness: Paul said farewell to the church of Ephesus in these terms: "I know that you . . . will see my face no more." The gospel began with Jesus' words: "And now I am no more in the world."

But after the service, I felt there was more I needed to do, more I wanted to express. I noticed a bank of vigil lights, the kind I had passed many times before in many churches.

I had always felt vaguely embarrassed by vigil lights--they had seemed anachronistic, a throwback to a church we'd thrown out, or so I thought. Their waxy, smoky aroma had had the air of stuffy tradition and outmoded custom.

But this day the candles drew me in with a power I'd never before acknowledged. As they flickered and danced, they whispered to me, "We remember."

"We remember your mother," they said. "We remember all those who have died. We remember because we have caught fire from the hands of those who remember."

Before I knew what I was doing, I was lighting one of the candles. I stepped back and looked at the row of candles. Mom's candle stood among seven or eight others. How it shone! How it stood out from the others! Hers was the most recently lit and thus would burn the longest. I smiled to myself when I realized that this thought pleased me.

I took another step back and noticed how all the candles shining together gave off a gentle glow that filled the corner of the church with a warmth no electric bulb could provide. Now Mom's candle blended with the others, as if she were a member of some heavenly choir. Where did one light end and another begin? …

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