Good Zeal

Learn to Love the Mess


Messy jubilee candle

During the Jubilee Mass celebrating the 25th anniversary of my monastic profession on November 25th, I watched helplessly from my seat in the front pew as melted wax drained down the side of my jubilee candle from beneath the chrome topper candle as it stood of the altar. The hot and weighty topper, which was caught on the silvery paper and ribbon ornamenting the upper part of the candle, sat askew while the burning flame struggled to survive. I pointed out to Sister Elisabeth the “hot mess” that was occurring out in full view as the Liturgy of the Eucharist was beginning. She calmly and gracefully removed the candle from the altar, brought it over to the credence table near the side aisle, removed what was hindering the follower, and returned the lit candle back to the altar for the remainder of the Mass.

Once the liturgical celebration was finished, I went back into chapel to look for my family (not knowing they had already proceeded down to the dining room), and there on the altar stood my extinguished jubilee candle with the shiny topper having been removed and resting on the altar cloth. Streams of rapidly-drying wax had formed all kinds of interesting shapes as they ran down the side of the candle. This candle began as a fresh, neat, clean, and simply decorated symbol of life in Christ. It ended up being transformed into a disfigured form that further represented the very real messiness of this business of life in Christ. In the Paschal Mystery there is both the cross and the empty tomb. There is both death and life.

Less than a week before this joyful celebration was the shocking and unexpected passing of Sister Priscilla from this life to the next. All of the Sisters in the community in their own way have experienced the whole gamut of emotions and thoughts that correspond with precious gifts having been given to us and precious things having been taken away. Yet, we know ourselves to be  held more deeply in a bedrock of Eternal Love, giving us both comfort and peace on the journey homeward.

It is not for this life that we live. We live for eternal life with Christ, which begins in the here and now and carries over into a life with Eternal Love. It’s a messy endeavor.

A Jungian analyst advised me once by saying, “Therese, learn to love the crooked candle.” This was her response to my outsized frustration with small details, like being totally distracted during Mass when one out of four altar candles wasn’t secured in its holder perfectly upright. Since then it has been a daily challenge to learn to love “the mess”—faults, failures, losses, mistakes, limitations, unintended outcomes, etc. As St. Benedict says, this is the road that leads to life. We take it not knowing where it will lead, but we place all our hope in the One who leads us.  “Receive me, O Lord, as you have promised that I may live; disappoint me not in my hope.”

By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB

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