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A constant light

In a world that is ever-changing, I really appreciate having some things that are constant. One great example for me is the sanctuary lamp. Whenever I visit a church for the first time, as I try to navigate the layout, art and architecture of the place, I feel grounded once I find the familiar flicker of the sanctuary lamp. The quiet dancing flame acts as a warden, faithfully standing guard in the church and signaling that Jesus is present there, like a lighthouse on the shore breaking through the fog and offering guidance to a ship tossed at sea.

Despite the many different styles and designs that can be found among Catholic church buildings, the sanctuary lamp is an almost universal feature, whether in the main section of the church or in a side chapel. More than just a physical entity, the sanctuary lamp has a real sacramental character to it. Just as a sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible reality, so too the humble flame is a concrete symbol of the real presence of Jesus in the most blessed sacrament. Of course, we are always seen by God and guided by him as we go about our day, but our Catholic faith assures us that Jesus remains with us, body, blood, soul and divinity, in every tabernacle throughout the world. If the prominence and majesty of the tabernacle does not adequately convince us of this truth, the quiet but steady presence of the red sanctuary light stands as a convincing reminder.

As we go about our lives, we often are confronted by situations and events that are distressing, frustrating, or disappointing. The many attacks of life can seem overwhelming at times, especially as we navigate health concerns in a global pandemic, fear for our safety in the face of national unrest and face the discomforts of shifting restrictions in our day-to-day activities. As a student, I face the challenge of whether we are going to be meeting in person for class or hopping on Zoom again. My classmates are either a sea of masks or a set of pixels in an electronic fishbowl.

Whatever the circumstances, trying to live a normal life in such an unusual situation can feel like water is crashing over my head as I try to tread. When I feel like I’m drowning, though, I’m so grateful to be able to visit the chapel and look to the sanctuary light, or to rest in my room and look at the crucifix on my wall, trusting in Jesus’ love and care for me in all things. It’s those quiet, often unnoticed reminders in our lives that can speak most clearly the message we need to hear, that God is for us, that he loves us, and we can do all things in Christ who gives us strength.

Kelly, who is from All Saints Church in Manassas, is in his first year of theology studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020