In Spring 2015, I attended an exhibition on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It was a fascinating display that illuminated aspects of the places and cultures in which Jesus and the disciples had moved and ministered — an intriguing way to both learn and grow in present-day faith.
As I wound through the various photos, recreations and explanations of the material presented, I became eager to share everything with those who could not be with me that day. That eagerness turned into something tangible when I went into the gift shop and found packages of candles made in Israel. The connection of where they were made, the place where our Christian faith was born, and the time of year (near Easter and Passover) prompted me to purchase a few boxes.
Over the next months, I gave the candles as gifts, including to a friend who is Jewish. Everyone seemed delighted and appreciative of the resonance the beautiful tapers had with other kinds of light: the light of faith, the light of giving, the light of warm love.
The memory of the enthusiastic reception of those candles resurfaced recently, as I looked at my calendar and saw Advent and Christmas fast approaching. With so much darkness in our world, it seems fitting to not only mark this season with special light, but think of ways to share it, too. Here are some suggestions among the many possibilities:
For those who want to send something wrapped, boxed and bow-tied, “regular” candles can be found in many places online and in local stores. However, I favor craft sites, where individual, small-batch candles and other items seem to carry a more personal touch, or several Catholic websites that carry specific, faith-related candles (for Advent, for example). (Be sure to check the size required for your particular wreath or holders.)
For those who want to avoid live flames, battery-operated candles are easily purchased and shipped (and might be preferred at, say, senior living facilities).
Adding a card that expresses something from the heart can make any candle present personal. For example, when I was a choir director, one Christmas I wrote an individual note expressing how much I appreciated each member’s unique, wonderful qualities — an articulation of the gifts each brought to the musical and faith-full whole.
Some shrines have “light-a-candle” programs associated with prayer or Mass intentions. These can be made as gifts on behalf of others, perhaps those suffering from health challenges or the stresses caused by the pandemic. Costs vary, from free to a small donation, and depend on what is requested.
Possibilities include the shrine at Lourdes in France, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, the United States’ first approved Marian apparition site, in Wisconsin. Catholic organizations that sponsor online prayer requests and/or candle lighting include the papal agency, Aid to the Church in Need’s spiritual (online) sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy, Catholic Relief Services and the Association of the Miraculous Medal.
Even local parishes might present ways to have prayer requests collected and offered at Mass, and perhaps facilitate online candle-lighting, so do seek out local as well as global possibilities.
Sharing light with others we don’t know is an important practice now, more than ever. Putting battery-operated, glowing candles in the windows of our home, or, better, putting light into action by acts of kindness all share Christ and the essence of this beautiful season that is heavenly light come down to earth, shining still.
Pratt’s website is www.maureenpratt.com.
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