Sunday, 19 June 2011

June Prayers to the Sacred Heart ( 13) Lighting a candle

The act of lighting a candle is a form of prayer which is common in many Christian traditions - as it is in the Jewish tradition. Of course, in the Catholic tradition a votive candle is usually placed by a statue - but the use of icons is increasingly more common. In the Orthodox tradition there is an important relationship between prayer, candles and icons. So it is fitting that my prayer for today was/is lighting a candle for Ian's work by a statue of the Sacred Heart in my local Church before Mass. I have often been asked by people who do not quite 'get' why Catholics light candles. I usually explain that the tradition goes way back to the earliest times of Church. I was taught that the early Christians would light candles as part of the funeral ceremony. That sounds reasonable to me. We still light candles to remember a loved one who is no longer with us. And we light candles for people who are ill or facing a challenging time. In these instances I feel that I am reminding myself of the baptism we share in Christ and that Jesus is the' light of the world.' It is an outward sign of the light that illuminates even the darkest moments of our lives in this 'vale of tears'. It is also an act of solidarity : a sign that we are with that person in spirit. And the Holy Spirit came as fire. Thus when a light a candle for a person I feel closer to that person - alive or dead. By lighting a candle I am praying and that prayer, I believe, will help to bring some light, hope, faith and love. In a sense the candle helps my prayer by enabling me to focus in a more intense way. A while ago I noticed a young woman light two votive candles with such reverence. She then took the candles and stood directly under the statue of the Sacred Heart, bowed her head and prayed. She then placed the candles in the candle holder and made the sign of the cross and returned to her seat. It was a simple and beautiful demonstration of what lighting a candle can do to focus a prayer of trust in God's mercy and love. In the simple act of lighting a candle we can grasp some of the mystery of prayer. When someone tells that they have lit a candle for me I always feel closer to God. Why, I do not know. I also think that when we light a candle we somehow pray less with words and allow our hearts to do the talking. Lighting a candle is a heart felt prayer.

And so, that is my prayer for Ian today. It is a light glowing and illuminating - together with many thousands of others all over the world - the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

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