Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Scripture Reflection: Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

(Mal 3:1-4; Heb 2:14-18; Lk 2:22-40)

Today’s Feast recalls the Presentation of the JESUS in the Temple. We celebrate it 40 days after Christmas ... almost as if we don’t want to forget the joy of Christmas. In fact, in some countries it is the custom that today is the day to take down the Nativity sets. In winter’s darkness we recall the words of the faithful priest Simeon calling Christ “the light to the nations” which is the background for the custom of blessing the candles to be used in Church or at home --- and the popular name for the feast: Candlemas Day. The candles we bless are an especially beautiful symbol of the offering of Christ .... they are consumed by the flame and so light is spread about!

In the 2nd reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews highlights the human condition of JESUS. It was necessary for him to be in solidarity with our human weakness, sorrows and anxieties: he is “our flesh and blood,” our Brother, and so his sufferings and death can free us. Christ’s whole life is an offering of love which gives light to the world. Today’s Feast is also a meeting. We come to meet Christ the Light so that we ourselves can become Light as St. Paul puts it: “children of the light.” Jesus said we were to be the light of the world. And St. Paul exhorts us ‘to present Yourselves to God as a living sacrifice.’ We pray that our lives may be consumed in the flame of love and become “light” thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel has an impressive scene with several persons. First of all Joseph and Mary who are obedient to the ancient law of God and come to observe the Mosaic prescriptions for the “purification” of the Mother after childbirth. This was not because the women were somehow “unclean”... but because of their contact with the God of Life in bringing life into the world made them extraordinary! Like Moses with the veil over his face after his encounter with God. It was a rite to bring them back into ordinary life! Mary & Joseph come for the ransom of their firstborn male child to be consecrated to God. Jesus belongs to the ranks of the poor and thus the offering of doves. Then as though representing the Prophets and Saints of the Old Testament patiently waiting for the Messiah, Simeon and Anna come to welcome the Child to the Temple.

The words of Simeon’s beautiful prayer acknowledge that this helpless child in His mother’s arms is the salvation and light to all the nations, not just to the Israelites. But the mission of Jesus in bringing the Good News and God’s Peace will not be easy. . The words of Simeon foretell the passion “This child is destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel, a sign of contradiction...” and Mary’s share in it “Your own soul a sword shall pierce.” The sword that pierces her heart symbolizes her sharing in His work and sufferings. So today’s Feast is a prefiguring of Holy Saturday when the Paschal Light symbolizing Christ will be lifted high in the darkened Church. And by being lifted up on the Cross as an offering Jesus has become the Light which illuminates all nations and the glory of His People Israel whose destiny was to show God to the world.

As the Church joyfully celebrates this feast she reminds us that we also share in the mission of bringing God’s peace and good news to all people. Mary and Joseph, and the faithful, patient old priest Simeon and pious old lady Anna give us examples of joy and hope in God’s Plan. There is surely a lot of “darkness” in our society but rather than just complain or criticize we might be encouraged by the motto of the Christopher Movement: “It is better to light just one candle than to curse the darkness.”

Today we pray that our souls be filled with Christ’s light so that we may illumine our homes and our world.

– Fr. Seraphin Conley, T.O.R.