“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” — St. Francis of Assisi
I spent yesterday at the World Meeting of Families, walking through the convention center. There are talks to go to, and hundreds of exhibits to browse and so many wonderful books on display. But it’s the people that keep drawing my attention.
The group wearing matching orange sunhats, maps in hand, standing at a crossroads, trying to find their session. A family with four overtired little ones fleeing for a quiet corner. Lidia, in front of me in the long line to pick up tickets for the Papal Mass, waving her Colombian flag so her parents could find her. The homeless men hidden away on the thin stretch of grass between JFK and the train tracks. The sisters waiting for the traffic light to change at Broad and Arch, veils fluttering in the wind, faces raised to the warming sun.
Standing there watching them, I couldn’t help but think of Cistercian monk Thomas Merton’s epiphany at a street corner in Louisville, his sudden realization that we were not strangers to each other, but one family, one people, all walking around “shining like the sun.”
If only we could see each other as God sees us, he prays — as I do, now, here in Philadelphia. Each person a light, each a light capable of sweeping away darkness by its mere presence, each a light to be tenderly shielded from the winds that buffet each of our lives.
I heard, too, fragments of Philadelphia poet laureate Frank Sherlock’s poem “What All the Dark Cannot Extinguish,” written for this historic visit. “Allow me to be passage for the newest arrivers; eyes to see sisters/brother in the convent the rowhouse the tent…”
I prayed as I walked: Give me eyes to see my sisters and brothers, the ones newly arrived, the visitors, those who live in convents and those whose only shelter is a blanket or bundle of newspapers.
This morning Pope Francis went St. Patrick’s Church in Washington where he was to have lunch with the homeless. In his remarks there he reminded us that beginning with the Our Father, prayer teaches us to “see one another as brothers and sisters.” Jesus, he said, keeps knocking on our doors, not with fireworks, but in the faces of the people next to us. We are called to answer, in love and compassion and service to each other.
I am, of course, eager to hear Pope Francis speak in person this weekend, but as the time draws near, I find myself even more joyfully looking forward to hearing Jesus knock on the door of my heart in the faces of everyone I encounter. I pray that I might be a channel of peace, an image of love, a witness to the light that all the darkness cannot dim. Not just this weekend, but all the days of my life.
To pray: As Pope Francis invited those at St. Patrick’s in Washington, D.C, the Our Father.
(If memory fails: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.”)
To read: “What All the Dark Cannot Extinguish” by Frank Sherlock.
What All the Dark Cannot Extinguish
By Frank Sherlock
Make me a channel of peace
a throughway for the lost & old the alone & refugee
Guide me as visitor across the desert
just to extend an embrace
Where there are slats in jail windows whisper me through with a message
Apprentice me as a breaker not a maker of chains
Here the sick the dead the strong the alive are among us
Give me what it takes to dejewel
laying robes at the feet of power to laugh & walk away
Allow me to be passage for the newest arrivers
eyes to see sisters/ brothers in the convent the rowhouse the tent
Grant me literacy to read this crate as fragile
understanding it’s more than machine parts that move the brightly unsighted
Project me as more than a fictional image of love
as a sculptor of marble no longer inscribing for wars
Broaden this scope to recognize the many
configurations of family
Spread me as seed in the midst of thorn & rock
Allow me sense to leave the dung of the devil as fertilizer
for the most beatified blossoms among us
Make me a channel for living waters from l.a. to sao paolo
eroding doomed idols of greed
Give me the smarts to be an opener not a closer of schools
Supply me with tools to make a damascus road
Undeafen me to hear
I Can’t Breathe from brooklyn to bangladesh
Teach me to silver a mirror in which I can see the other as me
Sister brother animal tree may we be reunited as kindred
Where there is song string me as instrument to accompany
the hymn the nasheed the amidah
Where there is disappearance speak through me as witness
It can be dark but please one last prayer
Make me in the image of love
Your work is my work is our work together amen
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Bryn Mawr.