David graduated college and started working his first job. He was shocked by the expenses that came along with paying for his apartment, food, and everything else associated with the “real world.” He was even complaining to his mother about the high cost of auto insurance.
“You know,” said his mother, “If you got married already, your premiums would be lower.”
David smiled. “That would be like buying an airline ticket just to get free peanuts.”
Last week, we lit the first of the four Advent candles. The light began to shine in the darkness. In a dark world, a single candle may not appear to be that much, but you have heard the words of Francis of Assisi, and they are true: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” That first candle may provide only a little light, but it cannot be overcome by any amount of darkness. This fire is ours. It was kindled within us by the Holy Spirit, but even though it is in us, it is not for us to keep to ourselves but to give freely, just as it was given freely to us. Yet, to give freely is not the way of the world.
In Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, while discussing “The Russian Monk and his possible Significance,” Father Zossima writes, “The world says: ‘You have needs—satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.’ This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.” Dostoyevsky wrote that in 1880 and it would seem that not much has changed. You’ve got to hold what you’ve got while attempting to gain more. In the context of our lonely candle, the flame is not shared. It withholds all that it has to offer, but Jesus has said to us, “You are the light of the world.” We have this gift of light that we are called to share with others, but what will it cost us if we do?
I came across this story but don’t know its source (I searched!) The boy’s name changes from the versions I read, so we’ll call him Joseph.
Joseph lived in a village on the edge of a forest. The people who lived there were simple folks and somewhat embarrassed by their small church. When visitors would come, they would tell them that they hoped to one day build a grand cathedral like what was on the other side of the forest because it just seemed to them that when you were in the cathedral with all its grandness, you were much nearer to God.
One Christmas Eve, Joseph’s mother—a widow—became very ill and was nearing death, so Joseph decided to make the journey through the woods to the cathedral where he might pray. Setting off in the evening, he took a single candle to light his way through the woods and, once at the cathedral, set the burning candle on the altar as a prayer for his mother.
The woods were a scary place, and Joseph had heard that anyone making the trip to the cathedral through them must pass by an old well that was reported to be haunted. To protect yourself as you went by, you had to toss a coin into the well, but Joseph was poor and had no coin, so as he neared, he broke into a run, only to trip on an old root and fall beside the well. As he was scrambling to get up, he heard a small voice. “Help me! Give me your light so I can see my way out of this place.”
Joseph, terrified, replied, “This candle is for my mother. She is very ill. I’m taking it to the altar at the cathedral to say a prayer so that she can be healed.” The voice from the well spoke again, “How can you refuse to share your light on this night of Christ’s birth?” After another moment’s hesitation, Joseph tossed his candle into the well, yet feeling he had just brought on the death of his mother; he bent over in tears. Then, through his tears, he saw the light of his candle growing from inside the well, and shortly, a small child stepped out, holding his candle. The child smiled at Joseph and said, “Return home. You will find your mother healed.”
Joseph ran and found his mother up and waiting for him. She had been restored to health. She and Joseph went to their small church to give thanks. When they opened the church doors, they were nearly blinded by the light pouring forth from the altar. At that moment, the cathedral could not compare to the glory of that small church.
When their eyes had adjusted, Joseph’s mother was even more astonished. “Joseph,” she said, “there is only one candle on the altar making all this light.” Joseph could not speak, for as he knelt at the altar to pray, he saw that the candle on the altar was the candle he had tossed down the well to the child. The light he had given away had returned to him in great glory.
As a Christian people, we are not to withhold the light that has been so freely given to us, but what will it cost us to give it to others? “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” (Father James Keller)
[Light second Advent candle] Notice the first candle has lost nothing. Its flame is not smaller, its lifetime is not diminished, and the heat and light it produces are not less. We are to be this candle to others.
How do we go about it? We share with them the Gospel message that they may know God. We give of ourselves. We give of our treasures… I looked at all we’ve given just this year through our Community Tithe. It is amazing. We step up and do the fun and exciting things, and we step up and do the small and mundane chores. And all of this is based on the great commandment to love.
We are all aware of the work of the Sisters of Charity, the religious order in India founded by Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa wrote of that work, “What we are doing is but a drop in the ocean. This may be only a drop, but the ocean would be less if it weren’t there. What we do is something small, but we do it with big hearts. At death, we will not be judged by the amount of work we did, but by the amount of love we put into it. We do not strive for spectacular actions. What counts is the gift of yourself, the degree of love you put into each of your deeds. Do you want to be great? Pick up a broom and sweep the floor.”
We will not be judged by the amount of work we do—the greatness or smallness of the work. We will be judged by the amount of love we put into it. What is love? Bishop Robert Barron wrote, “Love actually is a great act of the will. It’s when I say, ‘I desire your good, not for my sake but for yours.’ To love is to break out of the black hole of the ego and say, ‘My life is about you.’” When we love in this way through words and deeds, we are lighting candles, and the glory of their light will bring glory to our Father. Share the flame that is within you.
Let us pray: Gracious Father, we are filled with new light by the coming of your Word among us. May this light, the light of faith, shine in our words and actions. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.