The Light of Christ


At the Carmelite Monastery in Barrington they have the Holy Spirit on a switch. In the sacristy, above a light switch, white letters embossed on black tape read “Holy Spirit.” What an asset: the Holy Spirit on command! Talk about a direct line. It makes you wonder whether every convent is similarly equipped. Convents are often called spiritual dynamos, but who knew to take it literally? Imagine if we had such access in our homes, an on-demand Pentecost. It would certainly make an impression on our neighbors.

Of course, I am being facetious. As holy as those sisters are, they do not have the Spirit in their fuse box. The switch in the sacristy turns on a light fixture above the altar, a beautiful stained glass depiction of the Holy Spirit. Although it doesn’t emanate tongues of fire, nonetheless that light fixture is a powerful symbol of the Spirit’s role in the Church. The Spirit completes the work of Christ. He doesn’t add to it: “he will not speak on his own.” Rather, he explains Jesus’ saving work, and unites us to it: “he will guide you into all truth” (Jn 16:13).

Think of Jesus as a church. You’re sitting in it, but there is no light. You can’t see anything. You don’t know where the altar is, or the tabernacle, or which statued saints surround you. In this analogy, Jesus is the church, but the Holy Spirit is the light: “he will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn 16:14). The Spirit is the light above the pews, by which our worship is united to our neighbor’s. The Spirit is the flame beside the tabernacle, announcing God’s abiding presence. The Spirit is the lamp shining on the altar, descending upon the gifts, its fractured rays then flying out to us, inspiring reverence, awe and adoration. As light reveals the sacred objects of a church, so the Spirit reveals the content of Christ. This is why “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Without the Spirit we are left in the dark concerning Christ. But by the Spirit’s light his lordship is manifest.

That switch in the sisters’ sacristy is properly labeled. Like light in a church, the Spirit allows us to see into Christ. Like light in a church, the Spirit allows us to move freely within him. The Spirit reveals Jesus to us. It is the light shining on his face. Without the Spirit we are in the dark concerning Christ. We cannot know him. But by the Spirit we find our way to Jesus as easily as we find our way to the altar on Sunday.