Each Little Light …
Dr. Megan McKenna uses many stories in her teaching, claiming that all stories are true and some actually happened. She tells this story, one that actually happened, about a community she visited in India. It was a very small village, with an even smaller Catholic community. The community generally gathered in the evening. As dusk fell, her hosts invited her to go outside and look around. In the gathering darkness, she saw the hills around the village come to life with little twinkling lights. The lights began to move across the hills and gradually to converge on the small building which served as their church.
In the middle of the church, there was a large iron contraption, with many arms jutting out from the center. As the people arrived, they hung their family’s lantern on one of the arms. When it became clear that no more people were coming, the contraption, now a chandelier, was hoisted up over the gathered people. It shone over the altar, giving light to the entire community as they celebrated Mass together. Then, when the time came to leave, the chandelier was again lowered and each family took its own lantern. But rather than go home, they went out from their celebration to visit the homes of the members of the community who had not been able to join them that night. They knew exactly who was missing because those lanterns had not been on the chandelier giving light to the community!
A lesson Megan drew from this experience and shared with my parish community is that we aren’t really a community until we know who is missing when we gather to worship.
I thought of this story when, along with many thousands of others, I attended Sunday afternoon liturgy in the Anaheim Arena as part of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress 2008. The arena was beautifully decorated. The music was outstanding. Cardinal Mahoney was presiding, along with many bishops and priests of the archdiocese. The deacons were there with their wives, entering and leaving in the processions together. It was altogether a wonderful time and place to be.
It happened to be the Sunday when the Gospel is the story of the healing of the man born blind. This is one of the three Sundays when we celebrate “The Scrutinies” as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). The focus of the second Scrutiny is the ways in which we are blind. The prayer of those preparing for Baptism, Confirmation and/or Eucharist at Easter, as well as of the larger community, is for deliverance from those forms of blindness.
After the homily, when the time came for the Scrutiny, those preparing for the “Easter sacraments” (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist), were invited to kneel around the altar in the center of the Arena. Their sponsors stood before them as they knelt there. And we were all invited to pray with them, then raise our hands in prayer over them, asking the Lord’s blessing on them as they left with their catechists to continue reflecting on the Scriptures and preparing for Easter. Then they all rose and left the Arena.
I was sitting in the third tier of seats, so I had a great view of the floor and all the proceedings. It was an impressive sight, because approximately 5 rows of people on both sides of the aisle on the main floor left the room together. There was a huge hole in the middle of the community gathered there for worship. Although I didn’t know any of those people personally, I knew who was missing from that community! Those who will bring their own light of insights and God’s unique presence to our/their communities when they are welcomed into full participation in the Church at the Easter Vigil.
I remembered Megan’s story and also her statement that the gospels were written by the Christian community for those who were becoming new members of the community. They are for the instruction of new Christians, and the gift of the RCIA, and of those preparing to join the community, is the opportunity to see these stories anew and to experience their power to change lives – the lives of new followers of The Way and of those who maybe have begun to take it for granted.
As we celebrate the many liturgies of the next few days, I invite you to look around and see who is missing. Who needs us to reach out in love and ease a burden, or offer a word of hope and consolation? Who is homebound? Who is discouraged? Who has been hurt by our institution or our community? Who have we ourselves hurt? As we reach out in love to those missing, we will experience the Resurrection of Jesus in a deeper way and we will become a sign of love to the world, just as those little lights coming down the hillside were a sign of a loving community in one small Indian village.