First Candle

Advent 2022. Another opportunity to step back, breathe deeply, and re-explore all that has gone before. That is such a different journey for each of us. Children are already heady with excitement over the upcoming holiday, dancing with the mythical magic of Santa Claus. There are young adults learning to be couples and families and singles filled with a swirl of what is known and what could be in the realms of infinite possibility. There are the older adults squirming with being caught between what is known in their own experience and the memories of time past. And there are the seniors among us who waltz through the decades of what has already unfolded for them, what they have made of life and living and the next chapters that will record their final days. It is only now that I have come to realize how Advent belongs to each of us just as we are, where we are and how we are. Advent, after all, is really about love.

The second reading from the letter to the Thessalonians opens with:

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you, 
so as to strengthen your hearts

Maybe Advent is really about the assurance that God’s is an unconditional acceptance of who we are and how we are. Maybe it is the prelude to a deepening sense that each of us is lovable, beloved, and unconditionally connected to something far beyond who we are. Maybe the first flickering flame of an Advent candle warms the cold and darkness of struggle at each stage of life. Maybe it has just enough steady strength to help us find footing in times of uncertainty and confusion and maybe it glows so effortlessly to reassure us that we matter and what we do, how we live, matters. Every year, that first light is the invitation to become that person who lives in certainty with self-confidence and the courage to deal with Life’s inevitable complexities.

This year, as new generations take the reins for the future, there is a singular grace in the length of Advent, the days of reflection stretching into fullness. Perhaps it is the accident of the calendar, but maybe it is something more as well. While the frenetic holiday season devours calm and quiet, the simplicity of candlelight speaks of something so much more. It is an unadorned, quiet invitation. We are free to accept, to embrace that. There is the chance to look past all the stressors and all the layered doubt and fear and know the vividness of a God who dared become man, who dares us to the same, and invites us to share the miracles of being. In the softness of candle light, we have the chance to think deeply about what it means to be human, whole, known and accepted. There is no coercion in the allure of light, but there is the promise. At every stage of life, there is so much more to see. Candlelight illuminates the truth and leads us to more. Happy Advent!

A crisp pink hue layered with baby blue on the horizon as dawn peeked over snow-covered rooftops and hinted at the brilliance of daylight to come. There was a reverence to its drifting over a world not quite awake, and a curiosity about its calm certainty, a confidence in the world it was revealing. And so it is on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, a kind of calm confidence in becoming, in waiting in this present space between past and future. This is, after all, the Feast of Christ the King.

There is a hidden appeal to the very idea of Christ as a King, an implied ordering and a sense of peace. There is the ritual of monarchy that ensures fealty and frames tragedy and celebration. There is a tenor of hope in its very existence, and a purposeful unity in its proclamation. Seeing Christ as King is more than a moment of subservience or mere obedience. It is about realizing that just as a King dazzles an empire with omnipotence and omnipresence, God is wherever we are and whoever we see. It is about a Jesus of flesh and blood who agonized and adapted and wrestled with governmental and legal systems just as we do. It is realizing that this King stretched through challenges as we do, felt for others as we do, and continually strove to do the right thing. Ours is not a king of distance but one of destiny that transcends the clamor of democracies and republics and all other combinations. This is a King who accepts what is and invites each person to think about choice.

There is joy in this holiday, in the realization that God reigns. The feast day places God squarely in the center: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” There is a strength and unity in that that serves all and somehow transcends the other structures like government and economic systems. There is a simplicity in faithfulness, humility in honor and ultimately respect for human life and circumstances. And it comes at the end of the journey through another year, a reminder that whatever happened, however it happened, why and when it happened, there was still, mysteriously, this gentle monarch waiting and watching.

As a child, it all made so much sense to me. If only we could all believe the same things, trust in the same system, wouldn’t there be peace? As an adult, I learned the day was instituted in the 1920’s as a shield against secularism and atheism. And only later did I learn it was twenty years more before it found this place on the liturgical calendar. That came in the midst of a world turned upside down with the destruction of World War II. In an odd way, in these times, in a country gripped by polarities and ambiguities, it might be even more relevant than ever before. And so another day dawns.

What matters

Calamity engulfs each generation with a relentless, dispassionate cruelty. For each generation, each person, it is something extraordinary, intense, incredible. Now, on the edge of a new liturgical year and in the wake of midterm elections and the global conference on climate change, now is a moment to pause and consider who we are, why we are here and how we proceed. Tucked into the lines of the readings for this Sunday are ideas and points worth notice. The first promises calamity; Psalm 98 promises equity and justice in response, a God who provides that. The letter to the Thessalonians focuses on models, on how to choose to live: to work with dignity, to collaborate with respect, to live with confidence. Luke’s Gospel wrestles again with the suffering that engulfs ordinary lives, allays fear and promotes perseverance. Fast forward two thousand years. Take a deep breath. Dive in!

There is a calming resonance in the echo of this scenario, of the uncertainty inherent in human life. But there is also a fullness to the generosity of the words for they mirror the swirling, changing world we live in and advocate a saving simplicity with the reminder that humans have dealt with this since the beginning of time. Further social and technological evolution does not dissolve the essential fragility and attendant fears that frame human existence. The Elon Musks among us roar with power and influencers shape choices and possibilities, but they too are subject to the whirlwinds of Mother Nature and the whims of Father Time. Nothing changes the fact that life is difficult and so often pain-filled.

Relief is not a secret, and it is not inaccessible. It is about perseverance in being ourselves, in trying to do the right thing. It is about remembering who is really in charge and trusting in the reality of a tender, compassionate God. It is about knowing that change and evolution are inevitable, and what really matters is relationship, purpose, kindness and connections. We become the conduits of a God who cares and we find meaning in being part of something greater than self. Because we ARE part of something greater than self.

So as the liturgical year comes to a close, taking stock of wins and losses, plans and promises, it is also time to look past the calamity to the miracle moments. Those moments are nestled snugly in the brilliance of a shimmering moon, radiating from a child’s infectious laughter, layered in the determined, cane assisted steps of a senior citizen. Simplicity surrounds us, waits for us in unexpected ways and enables us to navigate the calamities with realism, counter the suffering with strength and trust that there is something more to be known and discovered. Faith furnishes some with that comfort and peace. This Sunday invites us to provide that comfort and peace to one another no matter who we are or what we believe. Being human is the common denominator that builds and binds us one to the other; realizing that there is more than we can see and know, that suffering is part of life but not the only part is what frees us. That matters.


Confidence is born of conviction; it is empowering to the weak and indispensable to the strong. It is born of a sense of safety in being who and how we are, and it comes alive in the mysterious ways humans believe in and enable one another. The dictionary frames it as a “firm trust”. Life frames it as a sense of trust, a trust that is instilled by the power and presence of acceptance and love. It is alive in self and in interactions with others; confidence is a construct necessary to positive relationships and growth. A lack of confidence can be debilitating for a lifetime and whittle away at pride, purpose, and possibility. Self-confidence, on the other hand, enables a strength, a courage, to effectively journey through the complications and complexities of life.

Jesus is the ultimate example of confidence: he spars with rabbis throughout the Gospels, preaches a seemingly simple message, and defies the rational constructs of his time, culture and religion. In the letters of Paul, that same confidence, a sense of conviction comes across. It is there in so many: in Clare of Assisi and her faith first in the uniqueness of her own call and then the larger call to a life of poverty . And yet she pursued it all the way to the papacy and won women an anchor hold in the life of the Church. There was Francis of Assisi, who blazed his own trail and wove a story of simplicity, strength and trust in a lifetime of companionship and surprises. Centuries burst with their stories and the realities of the confidence they had and shared. From Elizabeth of Hungary to Teresa of Avila and Teresa of Calcutta, there are examples of a radical faith that is born of confidence and trust. Even in our time, there is Carlo Acutis, the teenage computer whiz who lived a life of faith and was recently beatified. And while these are the stand-out stories, there are so many more that rest in our very ordinary lives and intersect with ours on a daily basis. Seeing that confidence in another, that sense of conviction and trust, is meant to inspire and empower others in acts of goodness and courage that lead to more.

There is a way in which each of us walks our own pothole-filled path, discovers strength and weakness, the wealth of humanity and the limits that are inevitably part of that. But deep within us each of us lie the seeds of creation and the possibility of more. Jesus sustained that through relationships, and the words of the Our Father (Mt. 6:9-13) echo that confidence and trust:


“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,[a]
    but deliver us from the evil one.[b]

These are words of confidence, of relationship and connection, that empower courage, purpose and possibility.They are words of trust in Other and Hope for self. They are words which show confidence makes all the difference. Be confident and unafraid!