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Church Talk: A light in the darkness

Friday 10 November 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Church Talk, Features


Church Talk: A light in the darkness
The Cluny Sisters with Bishop Paul Donoghue in Panama. SUPPLIED/ 23110909

When we do any good at all anywhere, whatever our religious affiliation or none, we are indeed shining a light in the darkness for others, writes Sr Elizabeth Browne-Russell sjc of the Catholic Church.

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me

  • (St John Henry Newman 1801-1890)


Every November, it is customary for all Catholics, and for other Christians too, to remember and pray for those who have died and who we believe have passed on to eternal life with God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Although the specific day of remembrance is “All Souls Day” or “Turama” (celebrated on the evening of 1 November), our commemoration and thanksgiving for the lives of our loved ones who have gone before us, continue throughout life. We who come after them, carry them in our hearts, bear their likeness and inherit their legacy of family and connectedness with others.

“Turama”, means “light”, a light which illuminates a path in the darkness. It helps us find our way when we cannot see.

By decorating our graves with lights and candles on this special night, Christians pray that the journey of our beloved dead into eternal life may be guided by the light of Christ who told us “I am the light of the world.  He who follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (Jn8:12) We pray that the wrongs that our loved ones might have committed during their lifetime may be forgiven them. (cf 2 Maccabees 12:46) We pray that they might be at peace with our Eternal Father. We pray that “perpetual light might shine upon them” and lead them into paradise.

In their passing, our beloved dead pass on to us the light of their good works, example and love.

At the back of the old Catholic Church beside Nukutere College is a cemetery. The first Catholic priest Monsignor Bernadin Castanie, a Frenchman came here in 1894 at the age of 25. He served all his life here and died at the age of 70. Beside his grave are those of other foreign missionaries: priests, Christian Brothers, and Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny from Holland, France, Ireland, New Zealand and Fiji. Also buried there are two Cluny Sisters from the Cook Islands. I walk here often and am continually inspired by their story and courage. For me, their example of dedication and good works live on long after their death.

But our path through life and not just at our death, also needs a guiding light. The way is not always clear as we live from day to day, making choices which have consequences for ourself and others. What light do we look for during these moments?  

“Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (ps 119:106) The Word of God was the guiding light for many missionaries who came to share that light with us. May it be ours too.

On being lights

Jesus challenges those who would follow Him, to be examples of light and goodness where ever they are.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. 

Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:14-16)

I believe that most people in the world are basically good. I remember being helped by young people while negotiating a cumbersome suitcase at a train station in Europe. At another time, I arrived in Wurzburg, Germany, in the middle of the night, having missed an earlier train from Frankfurt airport. I got off the train and didn’t know where to go. Only a few people disembarked. A man saw me standing at the platform looking lost. He asked me where I was going. I told him the name of the place and also my uncertainty of how to get there. He said “Follow me” and I did so trustingly. He took me to a waiting taxi at the stand, spoke to the driver and bid me “Auf Wiedersehen” (goodbye). I have always remembered his kindness. When we do any good at all anywhere, whatever our religious affiliation or none, we are indeed shining a light in the darkness for others.

On the other hand, the reality is that there is also a lot of evil and darkness in the world. We see this in the wars raging in many countries where innocent people are killed whichever side they belong. Evil and darkness exist where injustice prevails, where human beings are used and exploited by others, where human trafficking exists, where those who have plenty ignore the plight of the poor.  Yes, evil exists whether in big or small or subtle ways. When he was first elected pope, Francis’ first words to the people when he spoke on the balcony was: “Pray for me. I am a sinner”. Similar words were also spoken by great saints such as St Peter and St Augustine. They had such great humility. All people are capable of the greatest good and of evil too. It is up to each one to choose what is good and to reject what is evil.

It is here that the love of God made manifest in Jesus can shine if we but ask for God’s Grace always to do what pleases Him.

In November, then we commemorate our beloved dead. We remember their good deeds, their legacy, the joy and happiness they gave to our lives and their continuing remembrance in our hearts. We thank God for their love and for the light which they have brought us and by which they guided us in our life. 

And in turn, let us be kind, forgiving, courageous and loving towards one another while we are still alive. Let us appreciate each day of life given to us. Let us enjoy the beauty of our world and its wonderful creation. Let us “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). We can then spark a little light in the darkness, even without our knowing it.