One of the most transcendent places on earth I have ever visited is Bethlehem. On the day I was in the ancient church, there was a group of Russian men chanting in that distinct and resonant Eastern tone. I can still hear it and it still stirs the soul. The church is built like a fortress. The doors are only about 4 feet high to remind all those who enter that this is the place where God came to earth at the birth of Jesus. Just as God “lowered himself” in humility by becoming man, so must each one who comes before Him “lower himself” by bowing in humility. Upon the spot where tradition tells us Jesus was born there is a star in the floor through which you may look. Around the star are 15 silver burning oil lamps—6 belong to the Greeks, 5 to the Armenians and 4 to the Roman Catholics. The lights have been burning on that spot since the basilica was constructed by the Emperor Justinian in 565 AD. That means they have been burning for 1,450 years—without going out!
Each year during Advent since 1986 a child has entered this spot in Bethlehem and has taken the light from the grotto where Jesus was born. The smokeless paraffin oil light is then placed into a blast-proof miner’s lamp and taken to Tel Aviv Airport where it is placed aboard an Austrian Airlines jet. The lamp is flown from Tel Aviv to Vienna, Austria. The light is then distributed across the entire continent of Europe along with a message of Peace. This light of Hope and Peace is carried to churches, hospitals, shelters, prisons and even private homes. The Peace Light is available to all who seek it. Austrian Airlines then flies the miner’s lamp containing the Peace Light on to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. Since Kennedy Airport is situated within the diocese of Brooklyn, the Bishop of Brooklyn is there to meet the flight at Our Lady of the Skies Chapel, located within the airport. From there the light will travel across the entire United States to light a great conflagration of Peace and Hope. In 2001 the Peace Light was brought immediately to Ground Zero.
As you sit in any Catholic Church in the world, look at the candle burning right now in the sanctuary near the tabernacle. The light silently reminds us Jesus is really present in that tabernacle and in every Catholic tabernacle in the world. It is a “night light” to assure us in the dark that He is with us. It is a “lighthouse” to beckon in His direction those who are lost. The very same Jesus born in Bethlehem now resides in that tabernacle. And to make Jesus feel very much at home in the tabernacle of my church is a sanctuary candle lighted from one of those Peace Lights which has burned for over 14 centuries and continues now to burn across the world to welcome Jesus, Prince of Peace and Light of the World.
This last Sunday of Advent I invite you to bring a portable candle to Mass and I will be happy to share that light with you. You too may take home that one same light that now burns in Bethlehem and countless places around the world, all of which came from one single light: Jesus Christ who is “God from God, Light from Light.”
– Fr. Gerard Gordon