I was watching with great interest snippets of the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games, where it culminated with the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron in the heart of the stadium. This moment has always held pride of place in the grand opening ceremonies, and understandably, each hosting country tries to outdo one another to think up of ways to be unique and original in the way that the flame finally reaches the cauldron, which will keep the fire burning for the entire duration of the games. I must say that the way that cauldron itself was made up of many different smaller flames, each contributing to the enormous combined conflagration was highly symbolic of how the zest and verve of the games has to be result of the combined efforts of all the participating countries in this worldwide showcase of sporting talent that happens once every four years.
|The Olympic Cauldron of the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London, England.|
This fire has an origin, a starting point, and it begins months before this moment at the site of the ancient Olympic games in Olympia, Greece. From that moment on, this flame, lit by the light of the Sun, is transferred through the passage of many hands, before finally reaching the final destination at the site of the present games. Whenever I see this happening, I cannot help see great similarities in our living out of our faith as Christians.
We too, as baptized Christians, hold a flame alive. But it is not just a once-in-four-years event. What we hold is the flame of faith, and it is symbolically given to us at our baptism, where the priest takes a taper and lights it from the flame that burns at the top of the Paschal Candle, which symbolically represents the resurrected Lord. This smaller candle is handed over to the newly baptized (or in the case of an infant, to its parent or God-parent) in order for the faith to be kept burning and alive. Commonly quoted at funerals and tombstone inscriptions is 2 Timothy 4:7 with the imagery of one having ‘fought the good fight, finished the race and having kept the faith’. Our faith seems to be replete with such imagery that keeping the faith is an endurance endeavour, and in many cases, it is.
When I see the OIympic flame being passed from torch-bearer to torch-bearer, it reminds me of how we too are called to pass on the faith to others long life’s long journey. And just as the torch is sometimes photographed being carried through heavily populated towns and cities, it is also often carried in far quieter, less ceremonial and unnoticed narrow roads with nary a person giving words of encouragement and cheer. Isn’t this also something that happens with our handling of the flame of our faith? Going to the RCIA process as a sponsor and being in a sea of fellow sponsors and catechists does give one the moral uplift that one is doing something for the faith and something for one’s fellow pilgrim in life. But there are also the many other times when at those one-on-one conversations in the office pantry, or the evening telephone conversation with no one else around becomes the very ground on which the small sparks of our faith can be shared and the faith-flame ignited in the heart of the one we are conversing with.
The symbol of the flame is pregnant with images of a need to exercise great care and attentiveness as well. Flames easily become mere embers if they are not tended to regularly with a watchful eye. Fire exposed to wind and moisture can quickly be doused and extinguished. Uncontrolled flames can also become hazardous infernos if we are not careful about what we feed these flames, especially when we are not diligent in promoting correct church teachings.
Anyone going to a Catholic funeral service or Mass would notice that placed near the casket the burning Paschal Candle. It is a reminder to all present that the deceased was a person who in life was baptized into the faith, and had held the flame of faith alive in his or her heart. And it is now the time for us to pray that this flame, which is the light of Christ, becomes the one hope that grants divine forgiveness to the deceased who enters into the light of eternity. It is also thus a striking reminder to all those who are present at the service to keep the flame of their faith alive as long as they are on this side of eternity.
I am sure that readers of this blog are going to tune into the telecasts of numerous sporting events of the Games of the 30th Olympiad. And when you do, as you see the Olympic flame burning in the stadium, that you are reminded of the flame of faith that you have been given to nourish in your hearts and be recharged in your efforts in passing this faith on to your fellow pilgrim who needs light in a world that can sometimes seem dim and darkened by sin and evil.