Sunday, November 22, 2009

Solemnity of Christ the King (B)
Candles, Comedians and Christ the King

Readings: Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93:1, 1-2, 5; Revelations 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37
Picture: cc anne.oeldorfhirsch

It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Dear sisters and brothers, you’ve probably heard this saying before. And, if you’re like me, you probably also think that it makes a lot of sense. But isn’t it true that it’s often far easier said than done? At least speaking for myself, when I face a dark situation, my first reaction is rarely to find a candle to light. For one thing, sometimes I can be so engrossed in other concerns that I’m not even aware that the lights have gone out. At other times, I either get paralyzed by anger at those whom I think are responsible, or I try not to think about it, hoping that the darkness will simply go away by itself. And isn’t it also true that often, when the lights go out, you can feel so powerless that it’s difficult to find a candle, let alone to light it? Which is why, I must confess, I have a secret admiration for comedians. They have this amazing ability to find light in a dark situation.

Take David Letterman, for example. As you know, he recently faced a very dark time in his personal and professional life. Someone had gotten hold of evidence that he’d been cheating on his wife with several of his female colleagues and blackmailed him. What did he do? Instead of ignoring the problem or trying to cover it up, he told everybody about it on national television. And he even did it in a way that made people laugh, raising his ratings in the process. In a time of darkness, he lit a candle by speaking the truth.

Also, recently, I happened to watch an old routine by George Lopez. I think he was talking about the changes made by the previous Administration to the immigration policy, changes that may have cast a very dark shadow on the lives of many undocumented migrants in the country. In a very funny way, Lopez questioned the wisdom of the changes. What is going to happen, he asked, when they deport all the undocumented aliens? Who will maintain their roads and clean their streets? Who will build their homes and water their lawns? Who will care for their kids and walk their dogs? What was Lopez doing? In a time of darkness, when people were feeling powerless, he lit a candle by helping them to recognize another power.

What the comedians teach us, I think, is this. At least three things are required to light a candle in the dark. It involves looking into the darkness, speaking the truth, and recognizing another power.

We find something similar in our readings on this feast of Christ the King. Notice how the action in both the first reading and the gospel takes place in a time of extreme darkness. The first reading is set in a time of exile. The chosen people have been defeated and deported to an alien land. Their Temple is destroyed, and they are prisoners of a foreign power, first the Babylonians, and then the Persians.

A deep darkness covers the gospel too. Remember that here, in John 18, Jesus has already been betrayed by a close friend, accused by his own people, and tortured by the Romans. He will soon be crucified between two thieves. Remember also, that earlier, in John 13, when Judas leaves the supper room to sell his master, we are told that it was night, not just the usual darkness that falls when the sun sets, but rather a spiritual gloom resulting from the eclipse of the Son of God.

In these times of darkness, our attention is drawn to two men. One is able to light a candle. But the other remains in the dark. The first is the prophet Daniel. Remember his situation. Although an exile, he lives in the king’s court and enjoys royal favor. Living a relatively comfortable life, he doesn’t really have to pay attention to the darkness. But he does. With deep anguish, he gazes intently at the gloomy situation of his own people – a situation that he believes is the result of their own sinfulness, their infidelity to God. In his prayer, he confesses the truth of his people’s guilt. As he stares into the dark, he sees visions during the night. Even as his people are laboring under foreign rule, Daniel sees a vision that reminds him that there is another power. Not only is this power greater than that of the Babylonians and the Persians, it is also able to overcome the people’s sinfulness. Daniel sees one like a Son of man receiving dominion, glory, and kingship…. that shall (neither) be taken away… (nor) destroyed. For us Christians, this is the same power that we heard about in the second reading. It is the power of Jesus Christ… the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth…. who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood. By staring into the night, speaking the truth, and seeing a greater power, Daniel lights a candle in the darkness for his people.

In the gospel, Pilate too comes face to face with another power. But he cannot recognize it, not only because it appears as a body bruised by scourging, and a face bloodied by a crown of thorns. Pilate is blind to this power because he doesn’t appreciate the extent of the surrounding darkness. For him, the situation is difficult only because, if not handled properly, it may threaten his career. Although Caesar is his king, Pilate is really his own servant. Pilate’s concern is only to save his own skin. And in his selfishness, he is unable to speak the truth of Jesus’ innocence, let alone to accept the possibility that Jesus might truly be a King. As Jesus tells him, everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. By clinging to his own career, Pilate loses sight of the truth. He rejects Christ, the Lighted Candle, and remains engulfed in darkness.

As it is with comedy, so is it with the spiritual life. In order to light a candle at least three things are required: one must face the dark, speak the truth and recognize another power. Daniel was able to do this but Pilate was not. Daniel saw the light, but Pilate remained in the dark. Even so, there is at least one thing that sets the spiritual life apart from comedy. We can watch a comedy and have a really good laugh, only to leave and forget all about it. And maybe some of us treat the Mass in the same way, except that we may not laugh as much. But, as you know, we Christians are called not just to come to Mass to see the light, but also to leave this place and to be lights in the surrounding darkness. And isn’t there much darkness around us, if not in our personal lives, then at least in society at large? In the front page of today’s Santa Barbara News-Press, for example, we are told that the unemployment rate in California has reached a modern-day record of 12.5 percent. Elsewhere in the same paper, there is a report of a four year-old Lompoc boy, who was allegedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend, while both the mother and the accused were strung out on drugs.

We live in a dark world, a world waiting for light, a world in dire need of people who are able to face the dark, to speak the truth and to recognize another power, the power of Christ, the Crucified and Risen King.

It’s better to light a candle than to curse the dark.

Sisters and brothers, how might we light our candles today?


  1. Sometimes, in life situations of extreme darkness, there is even the difficulty of finding a candle, and the strength to light it. In such times, we need another to be that source of inspiration and strength, to help us see that there is hope beyond despair, and intentionally light a candle for us in prayer. This is the meaning of true friendship, of bearing one another's burdens in Christ's love and the power of intercession. Shalom :)

  2. I'm not so sure I admire David Letterman, after all he is a master talk-show host and such a move does boost ratings. I do however admire comedians, it is not easy to make people laugh and even harder to make them laugh at themselves.

    It is really sad to hear of children being beaten, raped and abused by their own parents, step-parent, or family friend. You wonder how can such cruelty happen, even most animals protect their young.

    It is not easy to be a "light within the world". Do you notice how the flame from a candle flickers and sometimes struggles in a dark and windy room? It often dies out. The flame needs to grow stronger and light other candles so that even if it dies out, there is still some light and that candle could draw on the flame of others to be re-lit. If there is only one candle and it dies - darkness again.

    Being Christ's witness in the workplace (since we spend so many waking hours at work) will also open you to ridicule. Corporate governance is a measure of how ethical the company is. If we see significant lapses, especially deliberate ones at management level, how many of us would take the moral high ground and whistle-blow? Unless we intended to leave the company, most of us would not take the risk.

    That's why I need to find other "candles" at the office! I do believe that light would eventually overpower darkness - it must.


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