I’ve had a rather interesting and unusual First Friday.

I sat in church, before the Blessed Sacrament this morning.  It was a beautiful, peaceful, quiet morning.  In fact, everything seemed extraordinarily beautiful and glorious.  While I enjoyed being with my Lord, sharing one of those powerful mutual gazes of love, my eyes kept moving about, taking in the many beautiful things.  I fought it at first, thinking it was just me being scatterbrained and distracted, as I often am. 

But I began to feel that I was being encouraged, almost compelled to look at something other than the Blessed Sacrament.  The one thing that stood out to me most and kept drawing my attention was the shadows of the candlesticks on either side of the tabernacle.  The sanctuary was flooded with light, and the candlesticks and the candles were drawn on the wall in sharp black shadow.  The candles were lit, of course, and I watched the little flames shining and dancing.  But the shadow candles had no flames; the flames themselves cast no shadows–a strange little detail I’d never noticed before.  But I saw the flames there, on the real candles, and even reflected in the polished stone of the wall.

Gazing at the candles and their shadows gave me a bit of an odd feeling, as if I were at the brink of a grand understanding.  So I tried to explore it. 

We know that things are not always as they seem, not always as they look.  Invisible things can actually be very real but beyond our sight.  A person who could see only shadows of things (I keep thinking about Plato’s “Cave” allegory) might know of candles and candlesticks, but would know nothing of glowing, dancing flames.  But are any of us much better than the people in the cave?  St. Paul says, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.  At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). 

For all of us, this material world that seems so real, so clear, and so solid is really a shadow world.  The flames of life, love, divinity, even our very own selves, are invisible to us, and yet we have caught glimpses of them.  Perhaps not complete visions, nor long-lasting visions, but enough to ignite curiosity and passion, enough to make us confident of entering into deep mysteries, guided by the double lamps of reason and faith.  Visions of invisible flames have impressed and haunted and drawn mankind inexorably toward those flames, affecting us as powerfully and irresistably as the moon affects the oceans, or as a magnet affects metal, and our attraction to them is every bit as natural. 

In this world, we are shadows, all of us, and each of us surmounted by a great invisible flame.  A flame that became visible once, in the upper room, at Pentecost.  Imagine being there and seeing, if only for a moment, yourself and the people around you suddenly lit up, suddenly more real, more vivid, more solid than the shadows you saw before!  Imagine the astonishment and wonder!  It is not difficult for people of faith; astonishment and wonder are a regular part of our lives, and often serve to excite and to guide our human reason into formerly unknown pathways.

The materialists among us consider people of faith to be grasping at shadows.  They’ve got it very wrong.  Materialism is being content with shadows, with candles without flames, with only one dim lamp for a guide.  Worse, materialism is contentment with being a shadow and seeing all other human persons as nothing but shadows.  Is it any wonder that evil against human persons is so rampant in our world?  Is it any wonder that a Culture of Death reigns?  Shadows can’t feel pain, shadows aren’t important.  If people are only shadows, then anything is permissible.

I would not return to the deep black shadows of materialism for anything.  I wish to pursue the invisible flames come what may.  Nothing else can ever satisfy me.  As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord!”  He, the Lord, is the source of all the invisible flames.  And so, in allowing my mind to wander this once, I found myself drawn back to Him!  His ways are truly strange and wonderful, if only we follow them!