Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lenten Reflection: First Sunday of Lent

Cycle B
(Gn 9:8-15; 1 Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15)

One of the qualities that marked the life of Christ was compassion. He saw someone sick or in need and he responded with compassion. The crowds were hungry on the mountain and he responded with compassion. He came across someone seeking forgiveness and he responded with compassion. As disciples of Christ, we want to try to model that behavior in our own life and cultivate a spirit of compassion. However, we often get compassion confused with pity. And pity, trying to pass itself off as compassion, is anything but that. In fact, in the Buddhist tradition, pity is seen as the enemy of compassion. Pity says something like this, “What she is going though just horrifies me and I feel sorry for her.” Being repelled by what someone else is dealing with, we actually separate ourselves from that person and maybe even feel a bit superior.

Compassion, on the other hand, is based on love and it draws us deep into others’ lives to walk with them in their pain. It also makes us vulnerable to one another, taking us deep into some of the most profound human experiences. Interestingly, the Buddhist term for compassion is karuna, which means “quaking heart.” And the corresponding term from the New Testament—compassion as Jesus understands it—is splanknizomai, which means “moved to the bowels”—moved to the very center of who we are. Given that, it’s not surprising that compassion has such a profound effect on us and bonds us strongly to another. Consider someone who has entered your life with great compassion at a time when you have been particularly hurting. Or consider a time when you may have done this for another. The bond forged in those moments is not easily forgotten. How could it be, when you have shared such vulnerability; when your hearts quaked together and your souls were stirred to their very foundations?

On this first Sunday of Lent, we hear a familiar and predictable passage from St. Mark’s gospel...a passage that speaks to us, albeit briefly, about Jesus’ temptations in the desert. It was a time of great vulnerability when Jesus came to realize his life was not his own and one of gthe great lessons he learned in the desert was that he could count on the compassion of the Father not only in that moment, but throughout his ministry. The first reading, as well as the reading from the First Letter of Peter recalls Noah and the great flood as a sign of baptism, which saves us from sin and death. In compassion, God gives us this sacrament which frees us from a lifetime of slavery to sin and holds out to us the possibility of eternal life. More, Peter also tells us that out of compassion “Jesus went to preach to the spirits” bringing his saving presence to those in Sheol, a world of no hope, no life, and no God. It was the darkest possible place of the human condition and there, he bought love and compassion. Having come to know the compassion of the Father, Jesus “pays it forward” and wants us to know that we can rely on his compassion not only in our moments of desolation, but in all the moments of our life.

Similarly, we who rely on and are the beneficiaries of the compassion of Christ, are to show cultivate and show compassion to other. These Scriptures remind us that whatever else we do during these weeks of Lent, we would do well to consider them as a particular time of compassion—entering into the human condition with an engagement that moves us to our depths. The traditional three practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving move us in that direction. We pray so that we can more enter more deeply into relationship with the God who has called us into being and seeks to draw us into his love. We fast to bond with the two billion people around the world who go to bed hungry each night. We give alms to free ourselves from greed and become free for union with those in great need...who have no choice but to do without, sometimes because of our having too much. Lent is a time to be especially mindful of our capacity for compassion. It calls us, like Christ, to enter more deeply into human existence with great vulnerability and great live with a quaking heart.

— Fr. Anthony M. Criscitelli, T.O.R.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ash Wednesday Reflection

(Jl 2:12-18; 2 Cor 5:20-6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)

Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of Lent. Today we are reminded that sin does indeed exist and exists in a very real way. If we are to see God we are told that we must first turn away from sin and repent before God our Savior. Sin is something that puts weight onto the soul. Our souls become heavy, burdened down with sorrow unable to Love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We begin to love ourselves more than we love our neighbor. The most important thing that we do during Lent is to recognize the sins that we have committed before God and to ask for his forgiveness which he gives to us in the person of Jesus Christ. For Jesus was made like us in every way except sin so that by his sufferings our sins may be washed clean by the blood of the lamb. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb, you taught me wisdom in that secret place” (Ps 51:5-6). So Lent is that time when we can return to God. To place all of our transgressions in front of him and cry out in mercy. God will hear the pleas of those who seek him entirely. He will not forget the promise he made to Abraham when he told him that he will make of him a great nation and will bless those who bless you.

Ash Wednesday is typically know as a day of repentance. The dusting of ashes is a reminder to the faithful that, “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” As a nurse working in a nursing home I would always look forward to Ash Wednesday. The priests and other clergy would come in, say the blessing and offer the distribution of ashes on the forehead. Some folks would accept this offering and others would simply say, “No thanks.” I went up to one of the Jewish ladies and asked her what the ashes meant to her. She replied, “Nothing in life is free, except for the act of forgiveness and I don’t mind giving it when I receive it from someone else.” It’s amazing how much you can learn from those who have lived life. From those who have experienced all that life has to offer. They will tell you that the most important thing in life are the people we share life with. How we love others reflects how we love God. For when we love each other, we love the Christ that resides in all of us. What then is the quest of the human experience. We all seek to be happy. People above all desire peace. In today’s modern society we often look for happiness from what the world gives us. We want to have the latest, the newest, and the fastest device on the market. We rush to be first in line to acquire these objects that fill the holes in earth of our daily lives. We focus our gaze on the latest fashions. We want to and we desire to possess the beauty that is beholden beneath the senses of our perception. But none of these things possess the inner beauty of God’s grace which transfigures the soul into the image and likeness of the Christ inside. Saint Augustine writes in his Confessions, “My temporal life was totally unsettled, and my heart had yet to be cleansed of the old leaven. The Way, which is our Savior Himself, pleased me, but I did not as yet have the courage to venture forth upon so narrow a path.” Sin therefore is any act which causes the eyes of the soul to turn outward into the dust of the flesh. Penance is that act which turns ones preoccupation with the ’self’ to one of reconciliation with God. To find the peace that comes from living with Christ.

Lent is not just a time for prayer, fasting, and alms-giving as the prophet Joel writes, “Even Now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning, Render your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.” It is a time for reflection about how God is working in the world to establish the Kingdom of Heaven. Pope Benedict XVI announced that the message for this Lenten season should be one of, “concern for others, communion, compassion, and fraternal sharing of the sufferings of those in need.” One would have to be blind not to notice all of the needless suffering going on in today’s world. From the unrest in the middle east, to the bloodshed in Syria, to the banking crisis in Europe, to the unemployment level in the United States, to the growing number of poor on a global level, to the total disrespect of human life from beginning to its natural end, we are facing a human crisis like that we have never seen before. We are going down a road that leads out of the Garden of Eden to the desert of temptation and greed. We must stand up and work together as one Body that shares in the life of Christ to plant the seeds of equality and justice for our brothers and sisters all over the world. Our Blessed Father goes on to write that, “When the call to communion is denied in the name of individualism, it is our humanity that suffers, deceived by the impossible mirage of a happiness obtainable alone.” This is why we need each other. A house divided cannot stand. We are our own worst enemy. If we can leave behind our selfishness and the differences that separate us we can erase that line drawn in the sand. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Brothers and Sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled with God.”

Our concern as one Church during Lent should be going out to meet the suffering Christ in the world. With the love of Christ that resides in us we can help to stop the bleeding of the world with compassion, not hatred and scorn for our fellow man. It is folly to think that God is not present in the world because we make God present when we act according to his word. The evil in the world caused by human sin can be healed by the saving cross of our Lords resurrection. We must turn ourselves over in haste to God in our prayers of supplication. We must prepare the way by working to create a temple that is holy and acceptable unto God (Rom 12:1). It is prayer that is done in faith that is seen and heard. For it says in Matthew, “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden”(Mt 6:17). God resides in the hearts of the faithful, who keep his commandments and lives according to his will. His will is that we should become one family united by his divine grace. Father in heaven, we know that you become present in the world by our works of faith, we ask that you keep us free from sin and walk humbly before you in penance so that by the light of your Son we may live in peace. Amen.

– Jesse Darnell Augustine Pellow, Postulant T.O.R.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Scripture Reflection: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle B
(Is 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25; 2 Cor 1:18-22; Mk 2:1-12)

Years ago, Jim Carey starred in a movie called “Yes Man.” He played a character who was so stuck in the past that he could not be open to any present opportunities. The operative word in his life was “no.” No to anything that might disturb his comfort…no to anything that he might disturb his routine…no to anything that might cause him to have to change. It doesn’t take us long to see that although his heart and lungs and brain are still working, he has really died. Finally recognizing that he has a problem and that he cannot go on this way, he registers for a self-help group in which he is told that he must begin to learn to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes his way. This, of course, leads to many comical moments in the course of the movie, but even as he endures everything that befalls him, he begins to recognize that something important is happening; he is coming to life again. No longer stuck in the past or afraid to try something new, he enjoys a whole new outlook on life.

On this last weekend before we enter into the Season of Lent, the Church presents us with Scriptures that offer us a similar message. In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah is addressing the people of Israel who are exiled in Babylon. They have been taken captive by foreigners and are separated from all that is dear and familiar to them. Earlier on, Isaiah spoke words of comfort to them, reminding them of God’s fidelity and encouraging them to be hopeful. But now the prophet takes a different,
harsher tact with them. Isaiah cautions them, “Remember not the deeds of the past.” At a time when all they could hold on to were their memories of how things used to be was the prophet being more than a little insensitive? Not really. Isaiah was not telling them not to have memories ; rather he was telling them not to live in their memories—not to cling so hard to the past that they were unable to respond to the call of God in the present. If they were going to know hope for new life, they had to
let go of the past and learn to live and act differently.

This is a danger we can all succumb to from time to time—living in the past, glorifying a time or moment in our history –personally or as a community—to the point that we get stuck and cannot move beyond it. In admonishing the people of Israel to “not remember the deeds of the past” Isaiah is reminding them that when they are stuck in the past, they cease to live. Living and discipleship involves an openness to change and moving forward. If we are stuck in the past, we miss what is
happening in the present moment and we cannot plan for a future filled with life and growth.

In a different way, that same dynamic is at work in the Gospel. The man with paralysis wants to change. He wants to reclaim his life, stop lamenting about his condition, and move on. Although he desires to say “yes” to what he believes Jesus can do for him, he finds himself unable to get access to Jesus and so he calls upon the community to help him. When others come to his aid and find an alternative way to gain access to Jesus, he is able to realize his hope of new and restored life. On the surface, we may think this is simply another miracle story—a physical healing. But on another—deeper—level there is another equally important miracle for our consideration: the miracle of what happens when we are willing to let go of the past and turn to the strength of the community to support us in our desire

We all deal with paralysis from time to time. We are paralyzed when we get stuck in the past…when we refuse to accept change in our lives…when we are afraid to speak our yes to what God might be asking of us in the present moment…when we desire to change, but don’t know if we can do it by ourselves. At those moments, we need—like the people in the gospel—to come together as a community to strengthen one another and ultimately know the fullness of life God desires for us.

— Fr. Anthony M. Criscitelli, T.O.R.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Scripture Reflection: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle B
(Lv 13:1-2, 44-46; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mk 1:40-45)

Leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, has been pretty well eradicated or at least controlled in modern times, but in Jesus’s day it was the most dreaded of all diseases. Not only the inevitable physical disfigurement but the banishment from society as a precaution was often a virtual death sentence. The afflicted person was deprived of family and community support at the very time of greatest vulnerability. Even into the last century, the Government of Hawaii sent all lepers to the dreaded island of Molokai (Now ironically a tourist destination!!). The Christ-like charity of Fr. Damian who accepted exile to serve these poor people and who eventually became a leper is one of the great glories of the Catholic Church.

The event in today’s Gospel is really extraordinary. When this man covered with scabs or flaking white scales approached Jesus seeking a cure he was way out of line. He had no business going near where people gathered without warning them. And Jesus response was astonishing not only did He welcome the man but He reached out and touched him! By law anyone who came in contact with a leper was rendered ritually unclean and so was unfit for worship. But Jesus obeys a higher law charity is higher than any man made law. Then Jesus wanted to change their attitudes towards lepers - Now He wants to change our attitudes towards the “outcasts” or those pushed aside in our society.

In our times for all our modern science and medical advances there are still diseases or conditions which grip the heart with fear and dread: Alzheimer, AIDS, cancer, etc. And there are those with serious illness even when not contagious - or those grieving the death of a loved one who are often avoided because they remind us of our own mortality and vulnerability. So we practice Out of sight, out of mind. We avoid visiting the hospital or the funeral home leaving the afflicted to their isolation! But WWJD –What would Jesus do? The Gospels give us more than a hint!

St. Mark wrote the most vivid Gospel account...... with many concrete details and descriptions of the human emotions of Jesus. His style helps us to “feel” the texture of the story, to listen with our imaginations and seeing what Jesus is doing draws us to want “to know Him more clearly, love Him more dearly, follow Him more nearly”. So, Mark writes Jesus was “moved with pity.” Just three words but they tell us so much. Biblical pity is a powerful emotion like a gut reaction, coming from deep within a person, which feels the pain of another. It contains the compassion and love ..perhaps best expressed in the phrase “My heart went out to him.”

But Pity moves beyond a feeling to do something. It gets a person involved in finding a solution to another’s problem ---- either relieving their misery if possible, or at least standing beside them so they are not alone in bearing their pain. Our English word “compassion” stresses the idea of “passion”. So biblical “pity” is not standing on the sidelines wringing one’s hands but stirs us up to do something with passion!

Jesus responded to the Leper’s wonderful plea of faith in His healing power. “If You wish, you can make me clean.” Christ answers simply and directly “I do want to.” The whole life of Jesus consists of the desire of God to help those in trouble, to give to those who have the seed of faith His healing presence. And we see the beginning of how costly it was to Jesus. In a sense, after this work of mercy, He becomes “the leper” and can no longer enter the towns to preach for the crowds enthusiastically search Him out.

Mark’s Gospel reminds us that true discipleship entails more than praising Jesus as a wonder worker and a solution to our problems. As the text shows He is certainly not indifferent to our situation....watching from on high at a safe distance. The well regarded Scripture scholar Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP has been pointed out that Jesus never stays in Jerusalem but often at Bethany a few miles away. The name means “House of the Lowly” and was the closest lepers could come to the Holy City. From its hilltop they could only look towards the Temple where God’s People worshiped...and they could not, so the Son of God came to them. Our Lord was quick to reach out to touch the leper and we remember how He has touched us, especially through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. He continues to touch whatever has lessened human life through us a people formed by the Gospels to be able to ask and answer the question: What Would Jesus Do? And strengthened by the Sacraments to do it!!

– Fr. Seraphin Conley, T.O.R.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tradition in Light of the Gospel of Mark

Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
(1 Kgs 8:22-23, 27-30; Mk 7:1-13)

One point that people use in the debate between organized religion and the personal practice of faith is that the Church is too centered on its traditions and not the practical use of the Gospel message in our day to day lives. This is far from the truth and it is this misunderstanding of tradition that leads to confusion. I am reminded of the old Thanksgiving tale about the daughter who asks her mother why they cut the ends off of the ham for dinner. The mother replies, “I really don’t know sweetheart, I’ll have to ask your grandmother.” So she goes into the den and asks her mother the same question. Her mother replies, “Well, it was just something that my mother always did.” We get accustomed to doing things a certain way and we never really bother to think about WHY we do things. They become apart of our very identity. They make us who we are.

In today’s Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus is trying to show that God’s dwelling place is not blindly following the laws of humanity but in keeping his commandments in our hearts. The Pharisees are so stuck in their ways and are so intent on destroying Jesus that they fail to recognize that he is indeed God’s dwelling in the presence of his people. They wanted to fix God’s law to serve their own purposes and desires to be kept clean by God’s divine mercy. God’s greatest commandment is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. It is God’s love for us that keeps us free from sin. This love is shown through the signs of his grace in the sacraments of our Christian faith. By sharing in this sacramental covenant relationship with Jesus we become co-sharers in the divine mission. That is to work with him for peace and justice in the world. God’s will is never one that tries to overpower and dominate the human will. It is one that tries to work through us and in us to bring out the goodness that is found in Christ.

In today’s society our human traditions have taken precedence over God’s commandments. We strive for peace in the world but we do so out of our own righteous indignation. We live in a very individualistic society. We are bent on controlling our own destinies. We want to be free and independent to live our own lives. We are closed in on ourselves. We hang tight to the human traditions that define who we are as a people. It is this egoism that blinds us to the reality of God’s presence in the world. The power of God is meant to serve, not to control. Faith allows believers in the incarnation of God’s rule to simply live more fully in unity and harmony with each other. When we see people misuse the power of God that resides in all of us we see the ugliness and the unclean flesh of the human spirit. Jesus responded to the Pharisees with the words of Isaiah, “This people honors me with unclean lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine human precepts.” So in reality being a true disciple of Christ is that when we pray in communion with each other in the sacraments of God’s grace, we are called by Jesus not only to live faith but to practice faith. To indeed show as Solomon asked, “Can it indeed be that God dwells on earth?” Lars Svendsen writes in the ‘Philosophy of Boredom’ that, “Traditions have been replaced by lifestyles.” This is true, however the very life of the Church, it’s lifeline, it’s blood donor is Christ Jesus himself who washes clean our hands at the table he provides. He fills the hunger and thirst that resides in our souls for peace among all peoples of the world. Amen.

– Jesse Darnell Augustine Pellow, Postulant T.O.R.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Scripture Reflection: Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Cycle B
(Jb 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39)

We begin with an overview of Sunday’s Liturgy. The first reading surely has to be one of the most depressing in the lectionary. Job is broken hearted and totally depressed. He sees this as the universal human condition. This is what Jesus has come to redeem in His ministry of preaching the Kingdom which begins with the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and then all who come to Him. And this service to all both weak and strong is what Paul accepts as his duty and each Christian’s. Through our participation in the Eucharist and our personal prayer our own lives are healed and we are strengthened to follow Christ in care for others. Jesus directs our eyes towards those who suffer the tragedies of life. He shows us how to grasp their hands, to help them up, to bind up wounds, and to be healers.

In our reflection on today’s readings, we start with the Book of Job who is usually seen as the story of a good man whose faith is tested through suffering. In the end he will prove to be the faithful believer in God’s mercy although still not understanding God’s ways. But in today’s passage of his lament Job certainly does not seem to be the poster boy for the popular expression: “As patient as Job!” The popular wisdom of the ancients would hold that if you suffer well then you must have done something wrong and offended God in some way. Job is not about to patiently accept this. He protests vocally and eloquently that he has done nothing wrong so why is God allowing these terrible things to be happening? And when we hear his complaint there is the uncomfortable feeling that no matter how successful our lives, or how well off, or even how good, we might be walking on thin ice and at any moment it could break through. We hear of the divorce of close friends, of a serious sickness striking someone our own age, or watching the spectacular sinking of the Costa Concordia on its routine sailing and the weeping and anxious faces of passengers and rescuers. And, more than an uncomfortable feeling comes the terrifying question: “Is there a God out there who cares what happens to each and every one of us?” It calls for both faith and courage to believe that God really does heal the brokenhearted; a faith which rests on a solid foundation.

And perhaps this is why the Gospel of St. Mark at its outset shows the encounters with Christ over a broad range of experiences. The ground of the real world in the midst of people with real afflictions, obsessions and interior injuries is the ground on which Jesus sets out to proclaim the Good News. The Gospel gives us a foundation for faith when it shows Jesus healing with a gentle touch and words of power. The ancient world believed the world was locked in mortal combat between forces of good and evil represented by angels and demons. So the Gospel text is not simply about healing and exorcism but is showing the power of God in Jesus casting out the forces of evil in our world and establishing there the Kingdom of God. In describing the healing of Simon’s mother in law, Mark uses expressions which sound quite ordinary but are anything but. Jesus “helped her up.” This is the same expression often used in the New Testament resurrection stories. Mark is implying that this person is given a new life - a life that only the Risen Christ can give.

And what does this “new life” look like? Well, Mark says that when she was healed, the woman began to “wait on them.” But the word he uses is “diakoneo,” the word for Church work or Christian Service. Again, the implication is that she “waits” on the Community, she serves i.e. does the work of the Community. When people experience a new life from Christ then they want to share and they are able to serve others. And so many involved in this “deaconal” work of serving, helping others as Jesus did them, say that they get more out of what they do than what they put into it. As the Peace Prayer of St. Francis reminds us: “In giving, we receive”.

Suffering remains a mystery for us as it did for Job. What we heard in today’s Gospel is not a solution to the mystery but the Power of Jesus over suffering. He takes on our suffering so that we can be set free. We celebrate today that what Jesus did for Simon’s mother in law and those afflicted by pain and evil, He can do for us. He extends His hand to us, to raise us from the destructive, deadly forces of pride, anger, envy, gluttony, lust, avarice and sloth to New Life.

His new life doesn’t resolve the mystery for us. It gives us the power to see the needs of others and to be free to respond to make time for the children, to take care of aging parents, to mending marriages or friendships, to patiently soldier on after misfortune. In other words, in your own quiet ways, to do as Jesus did. And may He bless you in the doing!

– Fr. Seraphin Conley, T.O.R.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

So, What Exactly Does TOR Mean? Inquiring Minds Want to Know!

What does TOR stand for?

Often times we are asked by curious people “What does TOR stand for?” T.O.R are the initials of our branch of the Franciscan Family - the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis of Penance.

Franciscans serve the needs of the Church and participate in the mission of Christ to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Our Fraternal living provides a center from which our friars go out and are nourished and strengthened in our shared resources to be of service to the Church. Many of the religious communities in existence today were founded for a specific purpose or to meet a specific need in the Church.

The Franciscan family has three branches, there is the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), the Poor Clare's (religious sisters), and the Third Order Regular. Secular Franciscans, lay men and women bonded to Franciscan communities, have been known as Third Order Seculars and sometimes the terms are confused.

OFM Friars are what many people picture when they think of a Franciscans because there are so many different OFM groups, there are the Capuchins (Padre Pio for example was a Capuchin Friar), OFM Conventuals, etc. There are abundant OFM Provinces in the United States, and abroad the OFM Friars number into the thousands if not more. Poor Clares are religious sisters {CLOISTERED NUNS} who follow the footsteps of St Francis and Saint Clare, and then you arrive to our Order the Third Order Regular.

In the time of Saint Francis there existed a group of early Penitents. These lay men and women lived a life of penance and Francis was first called to join them. That is how the Franciscan Order began. Throughout the centuries the Third Order consisted of lay men and women, and the term "Regular" was added to distinguish between lay individuals and those who were priests and professed religious brothers, thus becoming known as the Third Order Regular, or the TOR’s. Many Congregations of religious brother and especially of sisters engaged in works of charity, education and hospital ministry also follow the TOR Rule

Today the Third Order Regular has about 900 Franciscan Friars who minister in seventeen countries around the world. The TOR's are indeed a small Order in numbers, but we are a great fraternity and blessed to have your support.

For more history on the Third Order Regular, view a video on our YouTube channel:

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.