Today, in the middle of a baptism ceremony, I was outside the doors of the chapel waiting for the last stragglers to arrive. An older man approached me and said "where can I light a candle?" I said "I'm so sorry, but we don't have candles to light here." I explained that the bank of prayer candles that we had before had burned, and now we don't have it. (So many church fires have started from those candles. It seems like every church I know has had a fire or two from those candles. It must be impossible for churches to be insured to have those candles anymore.) He said "What?? No candles to light?" I said "no, I'm sorry, but it burned down!" (this was a bit of an exaggeration- there was a fire, but it was extinguished pretty quickly, from what I'm told. But I wanted him to know that we didn't take the candles out just for the heck of it, but only because it's dangerous.)
He was angry! He said "have things changed that much??? This is the third church I've visited, and the other two were locked!!! What the heck?!?!"
I was stuck. I understand wanting to light a candle. But here we were, just outside of the baptism, and I was suddenly having to explain to this man, who clearly hadn't been in a church in many years, who desperately wanted to light a candle for his prayer. I just said "I'm so sorry. I'll pray for you." He harumphed and headed to the elevator.
I love the act of lighting a candle, love the symbolism of it, and do it whenever I get the chance, in the churches we visit on our days off. But the candle, well, it's just a symbol. The important part of the whole thing is the prayer! He could have just dropped to his knees in that hallway (or stayed standing, for crying out loud) and prayed to God and it would have been just as much of a prayer as the lighting of those candles.
It's so easy to get into habits in prayer- I can certainly relate to that. And in a church with lots of rules and rituals, it's easy to land on those rather than remember that God just wants to hear from us- with a candle, with a rosary, with a cry, with a song, with a letter... with a plea for help from behind the steering wheel. I know that man felt frustrated today, and I know I didn't help him, but I also know that God heard his prayer, candle or no.