Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We Are Christ's Bees

A seminarian told me the other day that as a result of the new translation of the Mass, the Exultet is now 23% longer than it was before.  (Seminarians are always good for such facts.)  Having sung the Exultet this year at our Easter Vigil, I can say that it definitely felt longer than in previous years.  Those who had to listen to me chant it would probably agree. 

Among the differences in the new translation is the return of the bees.  For some reason or another, in the old English translation, mention of the role of bees in the making of the candle was omitted.  But, in the new translation, we once again hear how the candle is made from the work of bees.  In honor of the return of the bees, I asked the parishioner who painted our Paschal Candle this year to place upon it some bees.  She did a great job too.

You can see one of the bees at the bottom left

The central symbol for the Easter Season is the Paschal Candle.  Into the darkness of the night, the deacon or priest elevating the Paschal Candle proclaims, "The Light of Christ."  In this proclamation, the Church announc,es that the light of Christ conquers the darkness of sin and death.  The light of Christ illuminates every darkness, entering now even the tomb itself and casting away its seemingly definitive darkness.  Because of this light, we see all things in a new way.  The radiance of Christ shines and transforms even death itself. 

The Exultet makes clear, however, that this central symbol is made possible through the work and effort of the bees.  In a similar way, in order for the light of Christ to shine in the midst of the darkness of this world, it requires that Christians be like the bees, dutifully attending to the tasks entrusted to them.  Christ the light shines in today's world in and through the lives of faithful Christians. 

Sometimes, the work entrusted to us seems distant from the final product.  The bee collecting nectar from flowers seems far removed from the five foot candle shining in a dark church on the Vigil of Easter.  Parents dragging their rebellious four year old to Mass on a Sunday morning can seem more hassle than it does the radiant beauty of the light of Christ.  But, it is in the daily carrying out of the work that Christ has entrusted to us that his light is made able to shine into the darkness of the world. 

Carrying the candle into the darkness of the Church and proclaiming, "Christ the Light," is a privilege.  But, the Exultet doesn't want any of us to think that it is as easy as that.  The candle is the work of bees.  So too, if we want to bring the light of Christ into the darkness of the world--into the darkness of people's lives--then we have to be like the bees.  All around us, people are in darkness.  There are those in the darkness of sin, despair, pain, suffering, addiction, sorrow, and death.  The transformative light of Christ can illuminate these situations and bathe them in the warm glow of the Resurrection.  But, it is not like striking a match that lights quickly and then is extinguished.

The Easter Candle burns steadily because it is made from the hard work of the bees.  Similarly, Christ's light is able to shine most effectively when Christians do the hard work of building a culture.  Building a culture is hard work and it demands sacrifice.  The bees have to go out every day and gather nectar from the flowers.  Catholics need to go out every day and be faithful to the Sunday Mass, to Confession, to prayer, to tithing, to giving time to their parish, to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, to obedience to the Church, and to the virtues.  All of these things can seem remote from dramatically entering into the darkness of a church carrying the only light.  But, Christ is depending upon us to do the hard work so that his light can reach those who need it.

Sometimes in my work as a priest, I have the privilege of dramatically carrying the light of Christ into somebody's life.  I admit that it is an awesome feeling to witness the moment when darkness is cast out and the transformative light of Christ illuminates somebody's heart and mind.  But, I am able to do that as a parish priest because of the work of so many others.  The parish is like the wax of the candle.  It is built by persons who labor daily to grow in personal holiness and who labor daily for the good of their parish.  Behind every dramatic illumination of someone's darkness is a colony of parishioners building a candle.  Attending finance meetings, teaching religious education, singing in the choir, praying at daily Eucharistic Adoration, picking up bulletins left in the pews after Mass, cleaning the sanctuary, taking their children to Mass, bringing food for the poor, contributing generously to the collection etc, is the work of building a candle. 

Most of us, I think, want to carry the Light of Christ into the pain and darkness of others.  For that to happen, we must humble ourselves and become like the bees who set out each day to do the work entrusted to us.  The goal is to allow the Light of Christ to illuminate the darkness of others.  For all of us, our part in that seems fairly insignificant.  Our daily work of gathering nectar and making the wax can seem far removed from the drama of the Easter Vigil.  But it is not.  The great drama is that all of our little and seemingly insignificant efforts are taken up by Christ and used by him to shine his glorious light into the gloom of others. 

We are all simple bees in the Lord's service.


  1. Great sermon from Easter Mass...We hope to continue our "beelike" duties every day. Remember Father, that it is Priests like you that make the work seem easier to bear through your example, true guidance and genuine faithfulness.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. We all help each other and learn from each other.