The Light of Christ
After a woman makes perpetual profession of her monastic vows of obedience, stability, and metanoia, she lights her profession candle and carries her vow paper to the altar. In front of the prioress she signs the document that commits her to the monastic way of life and leaves the candle still burning on the altar. The same candle will be lit and taken to the altar again, years later, at the times of her silver and golden jubilees. Finally, after her death, the candle is set in its holder on a table in the center of the chapel and lit during every part of the Divine Office for thirty days.
The profession candle is the shimmering reminder that the monastic vowed to follow the Light of Christ—the Jesus of the Gospel—to the end. It marks, too, however, her soul becoming a beacon for others to follow as they, too, go on trimming the wicks of their own lives.
My profession/death candle sits in front of me daily as I write this. It is the living memory of the light in my soul that brought me to this community, to this altar, to this life, to this moment. It is a reminder to me that its light and warmth must help others to find their own ways through life.
The question is: In what ways do candles contribute to the development of the spiritual life? How can I myself make that happen?
Candles, for all their fragility, are, in fact, the overwhelming image of what it means to be spiritually alive. In them is ancient energy, perpetual light, sign and symbol of possibility, of help on the horizon.
Does life smother us often? Yes, but the candle flares and reminds us to get up again and follow the Light of Christ—even when it seems we can’t do it for one more minute, even as the flame weakens, even as the wax softens.
Does life leave us in darkness often? Yes. Which is exactly when the candle reminds us to raise the Light of Christ in ourselves. It’s that light of hope and trust in us that we live to shine into the darkened lives of those whose own inner lights are weakening now. We live to light the candles of others so that none of us may collapse when we need strength the most.
It is just then that the lighted candle reminds us that, having been saved from our own weakness before, we will be strengthened by this community, by this Gospel, by this burning candle, which recalls to us the eternal presence of God, to the Jesus-path still in front of me. The candle itself becomes a steady, ever-steady, eternal presence and small light in each soul.
— from The Monastic Heart, by Joan Chittister (Convergent)
Find a discussion guide for this book here. (It’s a free downloadable resource for individual or groups and always available on the book page at joanchittister.org)