Saint Ignatius High School

The Candle

The Brennan household has many family traditions. One of their most simple and special is lighting a candle in their front window on Christmas Eve. Read this week's blog to see how this candle is reflection of St. Luke’s account of the first Christmas Eve.

The Candle

Growing up in the Brennan house meant being saddled with a host of traditions: things like making wishes when entering a new church, eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day, and visiting the emergency department each summer (usually as a result of a dare or well-placed rock by one of the brothers).

Many of our traditions were handed down from my mother’s people, from Achill Island in the West of Ireland. My brothers and I grew up proud of our Irish heritage, and our mother played off of that: we learned how it was the “custom” of kids in Ireland to eat–and finish–their brussels sprouts and broccoli at dinner, how they tried to outdo their siblings in their studies, and how they went to bed without complaining. All those became “traditions” at our house, too. 

By age 10, I began to question my mother’s integrity–and to think about exploring what the German side of my family did.

That said, one Christmas custom that we had, which I was pleased to discover actually did come from Ireland (and I could get behind!), was that of lighting a candle in the front window on Christmas Eve. Evolving from a reflection on St. Luke’s account of the first Christmas Eve, it recounted Joseph and a very pregnant Mary spending the night wandering about looking for somewhere to stay…only to be continually turned away. As a result, we remember that Mary was forced to give birth to the Son of God in a stable. 

In his Christmas homily in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI reflected:

I am…repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer’s almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them?

It’s a tough question, one that I’m sure was part of my mother’s growing up–as it was mine. That we continued to put the candle in the window each year meant we knew what our answer should be.

Because the custom, while lovely in sentiment, is nonetheless a challenging and powerful one. Every year it served as an unspoken reminder of the Holy Family’s plight–of their being alone and undoubtedly scared as they anticipated the birth of their Child in a place that should have been “home,” but was in reality strange and uninviting.

So we light a candle–“leave a light on,” as Tom Bodett would say on behalf of Motel 6–to invite the Holy Family to be with us, not just on Christmas, but always: residing not just in our homes, but in our hearts. It also reminds us to be open and welcoming to those who are otherwise alone and in need.

This is the charge we were given as our godparents lit a candle for us at our baptisms.

Because in receiving the sacrament and with the lighting of that candle, we became “Christians,” “little Christs,” like Jesus–the Light of the World–Who “became flesh and made His dwelling among us”(Jn 1:14) that first Christmas day… 

Which He continues to do in the Mass. There, before Communion, we echo the words of the centurion: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.…” None of us will ever really be worthy of that honor, but God’s love never worries about “worthiness.” God became Man so He could enter into our lives and enter into relationships with us. This is the Good News of Christmas, and the Good News of the Faith: that the story of salvation is not so much of us trying to find God, but of God coming to us. Above all, He is looking for a place to stay within us. Certainly through the Eucharist, but also through our open hearts. Like the Holy Family that first Christmas Eve, God does not force the issue of entering “under our roofs.” The Faith, and its relationship with the Lord it serves, is invitational–we must want to “let Him in.” 

This is why, as Pope Benedict reminded us, God came into the world as a baby–so that we would not be afraid to approach Him and welcome Him.

To love Him and to allow ourselves to be loved by Him in return. 

So as Advent draws to a close, as we await the coming of Christ into the world and into our hearts, let us join with St. Paul and say, “Marana tha!”–“O Lord, come!”–and welcome Him anew into our lives this Christmas.

Just be sure to leave a light on.

Have a Blessed Christmas.

A.M.D.G. / B.V.M.H.