Up Front and Personal

A Place of Light, Peace, and Hope

By Father Bryan Patterson 

In 2019, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio asked me to be the rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Downtown Brooklyn. I had been ordained at the cathedral in 1998 by Bishop Thomas Daily. Most of the priests in Brooklyn and Queens were ordained there. I remember vividly my three predecessors as rector, and I had difficulty imagining myself measuring up to their standards. How could I manage the Bishop’s church? 

Every pastor knows that aside from his responsibilities to celebrate the sacraments and teach his people, restoring and repairing his church building takes up much of his time and energy. The cathedral was no different in this regard. One concern that often came up from parishioners was the lack of light around the church building at night. It was not nice to hear that the church looked like a haunted house in the evening. 

Most Christians can easily recall the Scripture passages, “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Psalm 27:1), “God is light. In him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5), and “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). So when I and others noticed that the light in the cathedral tower was out, I went to work. 

The light had been out for so long that it seemed no one could recall when it had ever been lit. 

Last year, we celebrated the bicentennial of St. James, established in 1822. It was the first parish on all of Long Island and the mother church of all the parishes on the island. As such, it is, by nature, a place of light, peace, and hope. 

In the Scriptures, light is often a symbol of life and knowledge and is contrasted with death and ignorance. If Christians are reborn to eternal life in Christ, we ought to be visible signs of God’s life in the world. Our lives, when filled with the light of Christ, fulfill the injunction Saint Francis of Assisi gave to his followers: “Preach the Gospel, and use words if necessary.” 

So, after many setbacks and delays, the light in the tower was illuminated at the very beginning of the Advent season, when we anticipated the celebration of Jesus born as “the light” at Christmastime. When hope seems in short supply, the tower light rouses people to greater faith, optimism, and trust that life will continue and can improve. 

To quote the 1979 hit song by Patrick Hernandez, “We were born to be alive.” When we see the light in the tower of the Bishop’s church, we can be reminded, “You used to be like people living in the dark, but now you are people of the light because you belong to the Lord. 

“So, act like people of the light” (Ephesians 5:8). 

Father Bryan Patterson is pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of St. James.