When we were kids, we would sometimes find ourselves standing at the door of the church in the evening and peering inside. The church looked like a large, gloomy cavern. If we entered, we found ourselves stumbling over pews and often startled by large statues we didn’t know were there. Once in a while, we would be taken by surprise when we heard a snuffle or a wheeze–a signal that someone was praying in one of the pews. The church at night was a spooky place for us kids. The one familiar landmark, I remember, was the flicker of the distant sanctuary lamp in the front of the church.
That little glimmer of light wasn’t very bright. It didn’t fill the church, but it was just enough to help us get our bearings. It was reassuring for us Catholics because of the message it sent: Christ is here. Everything is going to be alright.
I often recall this at Easter time because we process into the dark church at the Easter Vigil service with a much larger candle–the Paschal Candle, the symbol of the Risen Christ. During pauses in the procession, those in the congregation light their own small candles from that Paschal Candle until light fills the church. Enough to see the pews and perhaps even read the songbook in our hands. Certainly enough to dispel the darkness that frightened us as kids.
That’s what Easter should celebrate, I always thought. Light to ward off the ghosts that roam in the darkness. Water to irrigate parched lands and restore strength to thirsty people. New life where once there was death and destruction.
It’s cause for real celebration, isn’t it? But realists that we are, we recognize that in the days following Easter there will still be the nasty office gossip to contend with. Our parish will continue to have three or four funerals a week. People will still be killed in the streets and in schools and on the battlefields around the world. The church on Guam will still be faced with the fall-out from the dozens of claims against the church for sexual abuse of minors. The government here will still be dealing with the substantial budget shortfall that threatens to cripple public services.
In other words, the darkness hasn’t entirely been dispelled. To the contrary, the interior of the church appears every bit as unlit and gloomy as I remember it on those evenings long ago. But there is always that candle that still flickers, the one that reminds us that our God is not dead. After all these years, that light still offers me the hope and cheer that it did way back when I was a kid. May it do the same for you.