This past summer, our family got into beekeeping. We populated two hives with new colonies and set them free to explore the nectar-laden riches of a rural piece of property near Hermann, Missouri.
It’s amazing to watch the bees work. Each colony has a distinct personality, taken from their respective queen. One of the hives is stocked with plenty of honey, dripping off the comb. The other colony is, shall we say, less motivated. They don’t seem to be into the whole, “Let’s make honey so we survive” ethos. We were worried enough to place a bowl of sugar water at their front door to help them out.
When I was a child, I would see a bee and run away as fast as my chubby little legs would carry me, but now I see a bee and am thrilled because I know it’s doing good honest work around my garden. Bees are a somewhat fragile species. Because they live from nectar, even small changes to the environment threaten them.
In 1913, parasitic mites invaded Great Britain and the honeybees there almost went extinct. They were saved by a Benedictine monk named Brother Adam, a beekeeper at Buckfast Abbey. He noticed the only surviving colonies were a specific rare breed, so he traveled all the way to Turkey to find a queen bee of the right type, brought her back, and built new colonies with her genetic characteristics.
Brother Adam was one in a long tradition of monkish apiarists. Beekeeping has always been a Catholic pursuit, which is how I became interested. The reason is because the Church has always had need for wax. We burn through a lot of candles.
Every year on Feb. 2, parishes celebrate Candlemas by blessing candles. The traditional end of the Christmas season, Candlemas always occurs on the Feast of the Presentation because when Christ was brought into the Temple to be dedicated, He was greeted by an old man named Simeon who declared that Jesus was a light to the nations.
The exception to the Candlemas blessing is the Paschal candle, which is blessed at the Easter Vigil. At the beginning of the Vigil, after the candle is lit from the new fire, it’s incensed and the Exsultet is sung by the deacon, part of which says,
On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.
With all this talk about bees and candles I want to make one simple point. If we’re born under the shadow of original sin, if the chaos of life seems a never-ending winter, take heart, because shadows are only created when the candle is burning. God calls you into His light. As the warmth of His love brightens your days and your heart glows with His presence, He desires that you yourself would be set afire, that you become a source of light and love. Everywhere you go, the shadows flee.
You are the candle.
Father Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.