Red Light Symbolism
The night before my confirmation, my RCIA teacher, Sister Alodia, took me though the sanctuary of the church, showing me where I’d sit, and then stand to be confirmed. While walking around, she explained features of the sanctuary area and the symbolism involved in certain features.
For example, there’s a red light hung and lit near the area where the hosts are kept. Methodist churches also have a red light hung in the sanctuary, which is always kept lit. I was happy to show off to Sister Alodia that I already knew that this light reminded us of God’s presence in the church.
As I was explaining that, it dawned on me that, in the context of a Catholic church, the light isn’t just reminding us of God’s presence–it’s announcing Jesus’s real, physical presence in that place, because it’s placed right near the hosts. The same hosts which we believe are really Jesus’s body! So that light isn’t merely a symbol to remind us of Matthew 18:20, “where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.” That light is a sign for us, saying, “hey–pay attention! Jesus is REALLY HERE!”
Honestly, I think this is key to remaining in Christ’s presence in all areas of our lives–not just during mass. Just as Jesus is present in the mass, we need to be present. We need to live in the moment, not thinking about what that person said to us yesterday, or what we’ll have for dinner. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he said his name is “I AM who I AM”. God isn’t the god of yesterday or tomorrow.
He’s the God of now.
That’s a pretty good sign that he wants us to be living now, and always conscious of the present moment–not so fixated on the past or future.
Is that tough to do on a daily, moment-by-moment basis? You bet it is!
So maybe mass is a good place to start practicing this. When we move through the different parts of the mass, at every step, some little part inside of me is saying, “Oh, boy–corporate confession time! That’s my favorite part! Ooo–now we’re on the readings–that’s my favorite part, too!” My inner preschooler builds on this excitement up until the final blessing. By practicing awareness of the present, it’s possible to experience the different parts of mass with wide-eyed wonder.
In fact, when we’re aware of our present surroundings at any time of our day or week, I’m pretty sure we’ll experience many more moments of awe and wonder in general. Furthermore, by practicing intentionality, or living in the present, we’ll be more aware of the people around us. When we’re aware of others’ needs, and meet those needs, we can fulfill Jesus’s words:
“I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.” Matthew 25:36
God at Work
When we’re too caught up in what’s for dinner or a work deadline looming over our heads, we can lose sight of the people around us, and the ways that God could work through us. If we keep reading ahead in Matthew 25, that doesn’t work out well.
Do I have this all figured out? Do I walk around, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, breathing in pure oxygen, maxed out on God’s love 24/7? Of course not. (I wouldn’t mind, but that’s just not how it goes.)
However, we can practice living in God’s presence. Are we always going to live in the present? No. But when we catch ourselves wandering, we can refocus. Practice makes perfect, right? So let’s start practicing!
In all aspects of life, living in the present is vital.
Multitasking doesn’t work. Pay attention to life, as it’s being revealed, with the situation at hand. Live in it. Work in it. Be present to the people around you.
Doing that, we’ll be more aware of God’s presence in us.
To those with ADHD reading this: I hope this doesn’t frustrate you beyond all reason. When I’m talking about staying focused on the present, that’s a hard thing for me to do, and I don’t have any kind of attention-deficit diagnosis. I realize that it’s even harder for you. Do I have any concrete strategies? Not really.
When you fall off, get back on that horse.
This isn’t a race, where we’re trying to beat anyone else. We’re all just trying to be the best version of ourselves. (And those of you who I know read this with ADHD, you’ve inspired me in all kinds of ways–I know you’ll continue to do so.)
As long as we keep trying, we’ll all get closer to being the people God wants us to be. That’s all that really matters.