The difference between night and day

There’s an owl that has taken up residence in a tree near our house. Many nights--and all night long--I hear him hooting through our bedroom window. The sound is loud enough to keep me awake. But the thought of having an owl around makes me smile. I have yet to see him, but I love hearing him.

Recently, my husband Andrew and I switched morning tasks. Now he gets the shower first so he can leave earlier for work, and I put a coat on over my pajamas to take our two teenagers to the train station to catch the 6:30 a.m. commuter rail to school. I don’t know whose “bright idea” it was to move daylight-saving time into March. But since we pushed the clocks forward an hour, the quality of that early morning drop off has changed. 

When we leave, it is still dark. The stars are shining brightly, and not infrequently, I hear the owl hooting as I get into the car. The depot is only half a mile away. And now that the weather isn’t so fierce, the kids don’t care much about waiting in the car until the train actually comes. They get their backpacks and walk over to the platform pretty much as soon as we arrive.

The whole run there and back takes less than 10 minutes. But in the course of those particular 10 minutes, something mysterious happens. When I pull back into the driveway, everything is different. The darkness has begun to lift in the east, and the first wisps of dawning light make the stars look pale. The owl is quiet, but in his place, all the little birds are chirping. The world crosses from night into day.

Strange, but when you think about it, the difference between night and day isn’t really the dramatic opposition of midnight and high noon. In truth, only a matter of moments--a few minutes, a few breaths--separate morning from night.

The book of Genesis teaches us that God separated the light from the darkness, calling the light “day” and the darkness “night.” Ultimately, it seems that the difference between what belongs to darkness and all that is of the light is the God who created them both. As the Psalms tell us, “Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one.” (Ps 139:12)

In God’s great plan for eternity and the salvation of humankind, I think he is still about separating day from night. Nothing illustrates that more clearly than the paschal candle entering our churches in the total darkness of the Easter Vigil. Christ is the Light of Life that spreads to each one of us as it spreads throughout the church on Holy Saturday night. But he is more than that. Jesus is what the Exultet proclaims him to be, “a pillar of fire dispelling the darkness of night,” and “the morning star that never sets.”

The resurrection of Jesus is not only the dawn of our redemption. Easter is the eternal dividing line between night and day. It is where winter gives way to spring, and death is swallowed up in life. Christ’s rising from the dead is the unseen line of separation between darkness and the light of glory. 

This year, I will observe the 25th anniversary of my coming into full communion with the Catholic Church. As things have worked out, Andrew and I will be chanting the Exultet at our parish Easter Vigil. I can think of no better way to remember what my very first Easter Vigil Mass meant than to proclaim in the ancient tones of our faith’s rich tradition, “Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory! The risen Savior shines upon you!” This indeed, is the night; the night that ends the darkness of sin and death and bursts upon us all in a sun that never sets and a morning that lasts forever.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.