Poetry Month – Canto One Of Dante’s “Inferno” – Both The Longfellow And The Rap Translations

I am not a big Rap fan, but I have to admit the Rap Translation is enjoyable and strangely appropriate for the poem.

I’m listening to the whole “Inferno” Rap.

Midway upon the journey of our life
  I found myself within a forest dark,
  For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
  What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
  Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
  But of the good to treat, which there I found,
  Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
  So full was I of slumber at the moment
  In which I had abandoned the true way.

But after I had reached a mountain's foot,
  At that point where the valley terminated,
  Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
  Vested already with that planet's rays
  Which leadeth others right by every road.

Then was the fear a little quieted
  That in my heart's lake had endured throughout
  The night, which I had passed so piteously.

And even as he, who, with distressful breath,
  Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,
  Turns to the water perilous and gazes;

So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,
  Turn itself back to re-behold the pass
  Which never yet a living person left.

After my weary body I had rested,
  The way resumed I on the desert slope,
  So that the firm foot ever was the lower.

And lo! almost where the ascent began,
  A panther light and swift exceedingly,
  Which with a spotted skin was covered o'er!

And never moved she from before my face,
  Nay, rather did impede so much my way,
  That many times I to return had turned.

The time was the beginning of the morning,
  And up the sun was mounting with those stars
  That with him were, what time the Love Divine

At first in motion set those beauteous things;
  So were to me occasion of good hope,
  The variegated skin of that wild beast,

The hour of time, and the delicious season;
  But not so much, that did not give me fear
  A lion's aspect which appeared to me.

He seemed as if against me he were coming
  With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
  So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;

And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings
  Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,
  And many folk has caused to live forlorn!

She brought upon me so much heaviness,
  With the affright that from her aspect came,
  That I the hope relinquished of the height.

And as he is who willingly acquires,
  And the time comes that causes him to lose,
  Who weeps in all his thoughts and is despondent,

E'en such made me that beast withouten peace,
  Which, coming on against me by degrees
  Thrust me back thither where the sun is silent.

While I was rushing downward to the lowland,
  Before mine eyes did one present himself,
  Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.

When I beheld him in the desert vast,
  "Have pity on me," unto him I cried,
  "Whiche'er thou art, or shade or real man!"

He answered me: "Not man; man once I was,
  And both my parents were of Lombardy,
  And Mantuans by country both of them.

'Sub Julio' was I born, though it was late,
  And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
  During the time of false and lying gods.

A poet was I, and I sang that just
  Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
  After that Ilion the superb was burned.

But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
  Why climb'st thou not the Mount Delectable,
  Which is the source and cause of every joy?"

"Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
  Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?"
  I made response to him with bashful forehead.

"O, of the other poets honour and light,
  Avail me the long study and great love
  That have impelled me to explore thy volume!

Thou art my master, and my author thou,
  Thou art alone the one from whom I took
  The beautiful style that has done honour to me.

Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
  Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,
  For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble."

"Thee it behoves to take another road,"
  Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,
  "If from this savage place thou wouldst escape;

Because this beast, at which thou criest out,
  Suffers not any one to pass her way,
  But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;

And has a nature so malign and ruthless,
  That never doth she glut her greedy will,
  And after food is hungrier than before.

Many the animals with whom she weds,
  And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound
  Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.

He shall not feed on either earth or pelf,
  But upon wisdom, and on love and virtue;
  'Twixt Feltro and Feltro shall his nation be;

Of that low Italy shall he be the saviour,
  On whose account the maid Camilla died,
  Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, of their wounds;

Through every city shall he hunt her down,
  Until he shall have driven her back to Hell,
  There from whence envy first did let her loose.

Therefore I think and judge it for thy best
  Thou follow me, and I will be thy guide,
  And lead thee hence through the eternal place,

Where thou shalt hear the desperate lamentations,
  Shalt see the ancient spirits disconsolate,
  Who cry out each one for the second death;

And thou shalt see those who contented are
  Within the fire, because they hope to come,
  Whene'er it may be, to the blessed people;

To whom, then, if thou wishest to ascend,
  A soul shall be for that than I more worthy;
  With her at my departure I will leave thee;

Because that Emperor, who reigns above,
  In that I was rebellious to his law,
  Wills that through me none come into his city.

He governs everywhere, and there he reigns;
  There is his city and his lofty throne;
  O happy he whom thereto he elects!"

And I to him: "Poet, I thee entreat,
  By that same God whom thou didst never know,
  So that I may escape this woe and worse,

Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,
  That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
  And those thou makest so disconsolate."
Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.

Poetry Month – Did Shakespeare Translate Psalm 46?

The King James translation of the Bible contains some of the most beautiful poetry in the English language. Among my favorite passages is Psalm 46.

Some people believe that William Shakespeare translated Psalm 46. Are they right?

Shakespeare may have left us a clue. He was 46 years old and at the height of his popularity when the King James version was published. If you count 46 words forward from the beginning of Psalm 46, you arrive at the word “shake” in the phrase, “the mountains shake.” If you count 46 words from the end backwards you arrive at the word “speare” in the phrase, “cutteth the speare in sunder.”

Proof or coincidence? We’ll never know for sure. It’s another of the fascinating mysteries that surround Shakespeare and his work.

Poetry Month – William Blake’s “Jerusalem”

I will use any excuse to post a video of this poem by William Blake set to music in 1916 by Sir Hubert Parry. I think this is the third time I’ve posted. Enjoy both the words and the music.

jerusalem (1)

Poetry Month – “Splendour In The Grass”

wiki-voyageoflife-childhood-thomascole

William Wordsworth. 1770–1850

Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparell’d in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore;—

Turn wheresoe’er I may,

By night or day,

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

The rainbow comes and goes,

And lovely is the rose;

The moon doth with delight

Look round her when the heavens are bare;

Waters on a starry night

Are beautiful and fair;

The sunshine is a glorious birth;

But yet I know, where’er I go,

That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.

Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,

And while the young lambs bound

As to the tabor’s sound,

To me alone there came a thought of grief:

A timely utterance gave that thought relief,

And I again am strong:

The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep;

No more shall grief of mine the season wrong;

I hear the echoes through the mountains throng,

The winds come to me from the fields of sleep,

And all the earth is gay;

Land and sea

Give themselves up to jollity,

And with the heart of May

Doth every beast keep holiday;—

Thou Child of Joy,

Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy

Shepherd-boy!

Ye blessèd creatures, I have heard the call

Ye to each other make; I see

The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;

My heart is at your festival,

My head hath its coronal,

The fulness of your bliss, I feel—I feel it all.

O evil day! if I were sullen

While Earth herself is adorning,

This sweet May-morning,

And the children are culling

On every side,

In a thousand valleys far and wide,

Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,

And the babe leaps up on his mother’s arm:—

I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!

—But there’s a tree, of many, one,

A single field which I have look’d upon,

Both of them speak of something that is gone:

The pansy at my feet

Doth the same tale repeat:

Whither is fled the visionary gleam?

Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing Boy,

But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,

He sees it in his joy;

The Youth, who daily farther from the east

Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,

And by the vision splendid

Is on his way attended;

At length the Man perceives it die away,

And fade into the light of common day.

Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;

Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,

And, even with something of a mother’s mind,

And no unworthy aim,

The homely nurse doth all she can

To make her foster-child, her Inmate Man,

Forget the glories he hath known,

And that imperial palace whence he came.

Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,

A six years’ darling of a pigmy size!

See, where ‘mid work of his own hand he lies,

Fretted by sallies of his mother’s kisses,

With light upon him from his father’s eyes!

See, at his feet, some little plan or chart,

Some fragment from his dream of human life,

Shaped by himself with newly-learnèd art;

A wedding or a festival,

A mourning or a funeral;

And this hath now his heart,

And unto this he frames his song:

Then will he fit his tongue

To dialogues of business, love, or strife;

But it will not be long

Ere this be thrown aside,

And with new joy and pride

The little actor cons another part;

Filling from time to time his ‘humorous stage’

With all the Persons, down to palsied Age,

That Life brings with her in her equipage;

As if his whole vocation

Were endless imitation.

Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie

Thy soul’s immensity;

Thou best philosopher, who yet dost keep

Thy heritage, thou eye among the blind,

That, deaf and silent, read’st the eternal deep,

Haunted for ever by the eternal mind,—

Mighty prophet! Seer blest!

On whom those truths do rest,

Which we are toiling all our lives to find,

In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave;

Thou, over whom thy Immortality

Broods like the Day, a master o’er a slave,

A presence which is not to be put by;

To whom the grave

Is but a lonely bed without the sense or sight

Of day or the warm light,

A place of thought where we in waiting lie;

Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might

Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height,

Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke

The years to bring the inevitable yoke,

Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?

Full soon thy soul shall have her earthly freight,

And custom lie upon thee with a weight,

Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!

O joy! that in our embers

Is something that doth live,

That nature yet remembers

What was so fugitive!

The thought of our past years in me doth breed

Perpetual benediction: not indeed

For that which is most worthy to be blest—

Delight and liberty, the simple creed

Of childhood, whether busy or at rest,

With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:—

Not for these I raise

The song of thanks and praise;

But for those obstinate questionings

Of sense and outward things,

Fallings from us, vanishings;

Blank misgivings of a Creature

Moving about in worlds not realized,

High instincts before which our mortal Nature

Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised:

But for those first affections,

Those shadowy recollections,

Which, be they what they may,

Are yet the fountain-light of all our day,

Are yet a master-light of all our seeing;

Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make

Our noisy years seem moments in the being

Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,

To perish never:

Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,

Nor Man nor Boy,

Nor all that is at enmity with joy,

Can utterly abolish or destroy!

Hence in a season of calm weather

Though inland far we be,

Our souls have sight of that immortal sea

Which brought us hither,

Can in a moment travel thither,

And see the children sport upon the shore,

And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.

Then sing, ye birds, sing, sing a joyous song!

And let the young lambs bound

As to the tabor’s sound!

We in thought will join your throng,

Ye that pipe and ye that play,

Ye that through your hearts to-day

Feel the gladness of the May!

What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind;

In the primal sympathy

Which having been must ever be;

In the soothing thoughts that spring

Out of human suffering;

In the faith that looks through death,

In years that bring the philosophic mind.

And O ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,

Forebode not any severing of our loves!

Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;

I only have relinquish’d one delight

To live beneath your more habitual sway.

I love the brooks which down their channels fret,

Even more than when I tripp’d lightly as they;

The innocent brightness of a new-born Day

Is lovely yet;

The clouds that gather round the setting sun

Do take a sober colouring from an eye

That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;

Another race hath been, and other palms are won.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

The Poetess of Christmas – Christina Georgina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti by her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Rossetti by her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Georgina Rossetti was a popular Victorian era poet and the sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Her poems about Christmas are among the most beautiful ever written.

Love Came Down at Christmas

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

In The Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Holidays With Honey – What The H—- Is A Wassail?

wassail

Here We Come A-Wassailing

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors’ children
Whom you have seen before
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Wassailing refers to the charming English custom of going from house to house singing the above song while drinking plentiful amounts of alcohol and enjoying oneself with others in a noisy, lively way.  Fun!!

Probably because it is so much fun, few holiday traditions have endured as long or seen so many variations. Wassailing’s origins are unknown, but it is mentioned in texts dating as far back as the Fourteenth Century. In one such text, the leader of a group took a bowl and, raising it to the crowd, shouted “Wassail!” an Old English term meaning “to your health” in the same way one might say “Cheers!’ today.

There are three main types of Wassailing. One is the filling of a common bowl or cup often referred to as a Loving Cup and passing it around to be shared.

Another variation is when a bowl is taken around to individual houses in a village so neighbors can partake as friends.

The third is a celebration of the apple harvest and the blessing of the fruit or trees.

In the earliest known days of the practice, the Wassail was poured on to the orchards after harvest as a libation or offering to bless the fields for the coming spring and to ward off evil.

Like many practices devoted to the defense against evil, Wassailing has always been seen as a festive activity and has always been associated with partying and making merry.

In the last couple of hundred years Wassailing has been more about good cheer and well wishing than the blessing of the crops although the practice of “tree blessing’ has seen something of a revival in rural areas. These days it is sometimes accompanied by a bonfire party and the firing of guns.

The actual ingredients in a traditional Wassail bowl are widely disputed.  This could be attributed to the fact that festive bands of people who traveled from home to home would often replenish their Wassail bowl with whatever was available. While one home might offer apple cider or ale another might have mulled wine or even spirits. Needless to say, after an hour or two of enthusiastic Wassailing most Wassailers were not particularly picky!

Wassail was sometimes called “lamb’s wool” due to its frothy appearance. Pieces of toast were floated in the drink to give it extra flavor, and it was considered a sign of good luck to find one in your own cup. This is thought to explain the origins of “toasting” someone today.

Alcohol definitely played a major part in Wassailing’s history, but some argue it is not essential. They (somewhat unconvincingly) claim the continuance of the custom has little to do with the drink and is all about the good will and friendship that Wassailing generates.

While interpretations of Wassailing differ, the concept clearly lives on both in spirit and practice. As ever, the Oxford English Dictionary provides the most inclusive definition – “Make merry with much alcohol” – an activity to which a great many of us can aspire this festive season.  A tasty Wassail recipe follows (minus the toast…)

A happy Wassail to you all.

A Traditional Shropshire Wassail Recipe – for hardened Wassailers!

10 very small apples

1 large orange stuck with whole cloves

10 teaspoons honey

2 bottles dry sherry or dry Madeira

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3 cloves

3 allspice berries

2 or 3 cinnamon sticks

2 cups castor (superfine) sugar

12 to 20 pints of cider according to the number of guests

1 cup (or as much as you like) brandy

Core the apples and fill each with a teaspoon of honey. Place in a baking pan and cover the bottom with 1/8-inch of water.

Insert cloves into the orange about 1/2″ apart.

Bake the orange with the apples in a 350° oven.

After about 30 minutes, remove the orange and puncture it in several places with a fork or an ice pick.

Combine the sherry or Madeira, cider, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon, sugar, apple and orange juice and water in a large, heavy saucepan and heat slowly without letting the mixture come to a boil.

Leave on very low heat.

Strain the wine mixture and add the brandy.

Pour into a metal punch bowl, float the apples and orange on top and ladle hot into punch cups.

Makes enough for 15-20 people

Apples And Honey On Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown tomorrow, September 16.  Like most Jewish holidays, there are food customs associated with it. One of the most popular and well-known food customs on Rosh Hashanah has to do with dipping apple slices into honey. This sweet combination stems from an age-old Jewish tradition of eating sweet foods to express our hope for a sweet new year.

In addition to symbolizing our hopes for a sweet new year, according to Jewish mysticism the apple represents the Shekhinah (the feminine aspect of God). During Rosh Hashanah some Jews believe the Shekhinah is watching us and evaluating our behavior during the past year. Eating honey with apples represents our hope that the Shekhinah will judge us kindly and look down on us with sweetness.

There is also symbolism implicit in the apple. Solomon writes, referring to the romance between G-d and the Jewish people, (Song of Songs 8:5), “Beneath the apple tree I aroused you[r love].” On Rosh Hashanah we try to, once again, remind G-d of our mutual love.

According to Kabbalah,the apple is an allusion to the mystical level of “chakal tapuchin kadishin” (the Holy Apple Field).

When Jacob came to receive his father, Isaac’s, blessings, he had the scent of an apple orchard upon his clothing. This incident took place on Rosh Hashanah.

Also, when you cut an apple in half horizontally you will see ten little holes and a five pointed star. Ten is the numerical value of the Hebrew letter Yod, and five is the numerical value of the Hebrew letter Hey. Together they spell out G-d’s name. Those two letters are also an acronym for the words “Hand of G-d”. This reminds us that if we look closely and pay attention we will discover G-d’s hand in our life and the world around us.

According to the book of Exodus, when the Hebrews wandered the desert for 40 years they ate “manna,” which was like “honey wafers.” Israel itself, of course, is a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

The Blessing For Apple and Honey

Though apple and honey can be eaten throughout the holidays, they are almost always eaten together on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. Jews dip apple slices into honey and say a prayer asking God for a sweet New Year. There are three steps to this ritual:

Say the first part of the prayer, which is a blessing thanking God for the apples: Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world, Creator of the fruit of the tree. (Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, Borai p’ree ha’aitz.)

Take a bite of the apple slices dipped in honey.

Now say the second part of the prayer, which asks God to renew us during the New Year: May it be Your will, Adonai, our God and the God of our forefathers, that You renew for us a good and sweet year. (Y’hee ratzon mee-l’fanekha, Adonai Elohaynu v’elohey avoteynu sh’tichadeish aleinu shanah tovah um’tuqah.)

Prayer of Thomas Merton

Prayer of Thomas Merton

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone.


A Morning Song (For Earth Day)

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day.

Pope Benedict XVI’s Sermon For Easter: Creation, Light, And Bees

Here is the Pope’s sermon for the Easter Vigil.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Easter is the feast of the new creation. Jesus is risen and dies no more. He has opened the door to a new life, one that no longer knows illness and death. He has taken mankind up into God himself. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”, as Saint Paul says in the First Letter to the Corinthians (15:50). On the subject of Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection, the Church writer Tertullian in the third century was bold enough to write: “Rest assured, flesh and blood, through Christ you have gained your place in heaven and in the Kingdom of God” (CCL II, 994).

A new dimension has opened up for mankind. Creation has become greater and broader. Easter Day ushers in a new creation, but that is precisely why the Church starts the liturgy on this day with the old creation, so that we can learn to understand the new one aright. At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word on Easter night, then, comes the account of the creation of the world. Two things are particularly important here in connection with this liturgy. On the one hand, creation is presented as a whole that includes the phenomenon of time. The seven days are an image of completeness, unfolding in time. They are ordered towards the seventh day, the day of the freedom of all creatures for God and for one another. Creation is therefore directed towards the coming together of God and his creatures; it exists so as to open up a space for the response to God’s great glory, an encounter between love and freedom. On the other hand, what the Church hears on Easter night is above all the first element of the creation account: “God said, ‘let there be light!’” (Gen 1:3).

The creation account begins symbolically with the creation of light. The sun and the moon are created only on the fourth day. The creation account calls them lights, set by God in the firmament of heaven. In this way he deliberately takes away the divine character that the great religions had assigned to them. No, they are not gods. They are shining bodies created by the one God. But they are preceded by the light through which God’s glory is reflected in the essence of the created being.

What is the creation account saying here? Light makes life possible. It makes encounter possible. It makes communication possible. It makes knowledge, access to reality and to truth, possible. And insofar as it makes knowledge possible, it makes freedom and progress possible. Evil hides. Light, then, is also an expression of the good that both is and creates brightness. It is daylight, which makes it possible for us to act. To say that God created light means that God created the world as a space for knowledge and truth, as a space for encounter and freedom, as a space for good and for love. Matter is fundamentally good, being itself is good. And evil does not come from God-made being, rather, it comes into existence through denial. It is a “no“.

At Easter, on the morning of the first day of the week, God said once again: “Let there be light“. The night on the Mount of Olives, the solar eclipse of Jesus’ passion and death, the night of the grave had all passed. Now it is the first day once again – creation is beginning anew. “Let there be light”, says God, “and there was light”: Jesus rises from the grave. Life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies. The darkness of the previous days is driven away the moment Jesus rises from the grave and himself becomes God’s pure light. But this applies not only to him, not only to the darkness of those days. With the resurrection of Jesus, light itself is created anew. He draws all of us after him into the new light of the resurrection and he conquers all darkness. He is God’s new day, new for all of us.

But how is this to come about? How does all this affect us so that instead of remaining word it becomes a reality that draws us in? Through the sacrament of baptism and the profession of faith, the Lord has built a bridge across to us, through which the new day reaches us. The Lord says to the newly-baptized: Fiat lux – let there be light. God’s new day – the day of indestructible life, comes also to us. Christ takes you by the hand. From now on you are held by him and walk with him into the light, into real life. For this reason the early Church called baptism photismos – illumination.

Why was this? The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil. The darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general. If God and moral values, the difference between good and evil, remain in darkness, then all other “lights”, that put such incredible technical feats within our reach, are not only progress but also dangers that put us and the world at risk.

Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible. Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment? With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify. Faith, then, which reveals God’s light to us, is the true enlightenment, enabling God’s light to break into our world, opening our eyes to the true light.

Dear friends, as I conclude, I would like to add one more thought about light and illumination. On Easter night, the night of the new creation, the Church presents the mystery of light using a unique and very humble symbol: the Paschal candle. This is a light that lives from sacrifice. The candle shines inasmuch as it is burnt up. It gives light, inasmuch as it gives itself. Thus the Church presents most beautifully the paschal mystery of Christ, who gives himself and so bestows the great light. Secondly, we should remember that the light of the candle is a fire. Fire is the power that shapes the world, the force of transformation. And fire gives warmth. Here too the mystery of Christ is made newly visible. Christ, the light, is fire, flame, burning up evil and so reshaping both the world and ourselves. “Whoever is close to me is close to the fire,” as Jesus is reported by Origen to have said. And this fire is both heat and light: not a cold light, but one through which God’s warmth and goodness reach down to us.

The great hymn of the Exsultet, which the deacon sings at the beginning of the Easter liturgy, points us quite gently towards a further aspect. It reminds us that this object, the candle, has its origin in the work of bees. So the whole of creation plays its part. In the candle, creation becomes a bearer of light. But in the mind of the Fathers, the candle also in some sense contains a silent reference to the Church. The cooperation of the living community of believers in the Church in some way resembles the activity of bees. It builds up the community of light. So the candle serves as a summons to us to become involved in the community of the Church, whose raison d’être is to let the light of Christ shine upon the world.

Let us pray to the Lord at this time that he may grant us to experience the joy of his light; let us pray that we ourselves may become bearers of his light, and that through the Church, Christ’s radiant face may enter our world. Amen