Once in a while, I get to church early enough that they haven’t turned all the lights on yet. I sit in the hushed church, with the shadows around me. Light only partially reveals the pews and the holy water font. If it’s Saturday evening, in winter, the effect is even greater. The windows are dark and only the altar and the crucifix behind it are lighted.
Then someone hits the switch, the lights come on and the music begins. We all stand up and sing. That’s real live action about light shining forth in darkness.
Jesus gives us lots of visuals in today’s Gospel about light shining forth: a city on a hill, a lamp in the middle of a house, a bushel basket over a light.
One of my favorite visuals of light shining out in darkness comes from the 1940 film, “Fantasia.” The music of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” plays while dark figures of the dead dance with demons in the dark of night. But then, with the sound of bells, candles appear in the dark. They are held in the hands of nuns walking in procession. The demons flee and the dead return to their rest. The music changes into Schubert’s “Ave Maria” as light triumphs over darkness.
We don’t hear “Night on Bald Mountain” much in church, but the “Ave Maria” is a frequent treat. So are bells ringing in the dark of evening or in the rain of day.
Just as the lights coming fully on in church just before Mass begins give us a triumphant light image, there are other symbols of light overcoming darkness that surround us. There’s the flare of a match as a candle is lit; the sudden flash of sunlight through stained glass; the bright glimmer on the metal of a raised vessel.
There are still other lights. You can especially see them at the sign of peace: it’s that sudden smile on the face of a stranger, the giggle of a baby; the wide eyes of a toddler who is surprised that an adult wants to shake their hand. And, of course, there’s the quick but warm “hello” for people we know.
Suddenly, we all have a chance to be the light of the world for others. All we have to do is reach out our hand and turn up that smile.
Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of “Linking Your Beads: The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers.”