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A Reflection from Fr. Nickolai - "Lead Kindly, Light"

“Lead, Kindly Light”

I’ve been reading a biography of St. John Henry Cardinal Newman recently. I offer one significant moment of his life to ponder this week. In 1833, several years before his reception into the Catholic Church, he traveled to Rome. Then, on his return voyage, he became seriously ill and, at the same time, the ship was becalmed in the Mediterranean. That is, the winds ceased and the ship was more or less stalled, drifting, until the winds came back.

Newman’s life coincided almost exactly with the 19th century — he lived from 1801 to 1890. It was a time of great advances in scientific knowledge, in mechanization and industry. Political upheaval was widespread as well; old dynasties fell and experiments in new forms of government began. In all these fields, persons seemed to grasp a greater mastery of their own fates.

And yet, even with all humanity’s new knowledge and power, one could still be “becalmed.” Nature could still do something that simply made you stop. On this occasion, while at sea, Newman wrote the poem “The Pillar of the Cloud,” better known by the informal title, “Lead, Kindly Light.” It has been set to many tunes, and has become a well-beloved hymn.

There isn’t room for the whole text, but here’s an excerpt:

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the 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.

It’s a great expression of trust, and of patience: he doesn’t ask to see “the distant scene” — the end of this road, wherever it goes. “One step enough,” sufficient grace for the present, is all he asks. Both afflicted with illness, and unable to go anywhere, Newman put his faith in a Light, a Light he knew was kindly disposed to him, and was leading him to safe harbor.

Today is also Mother’s Day. I hope that all the mothers of our parish will find some way to celebrate, in this year’s unusual circumstances, and that their families will be able to share with them their love and gratitude.


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