Sunday, February 5, 2017

Presentation of the Lord, Candlemas Day

 In many ways, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a transitional day, coming as it does almost exactly midway between the Christmas and Lenten seasons. This feast encompasses elements of both celebrations; on the one hand, we contemplate once again the Child Jesus in the arms of His mother Mary, and on the other, we hear the prophetic utterance of the aged Simeone who foretells the future sufferings of the Messiah.  Joy and sorrow are mingled here as they always are in this life, all tending toward the glorious victory of Easter anticipated in faith and hope.
The poetic image that unites the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption is the candle.  How well it symbolizes Christ, the Word made flesh, shining meekly in the darkness which cannot overcome Him!

 Candles are everywhere in our monastery during Christmas, and are a major part of our decorations.  During Lent, they are almost the only décor around our altar while potted green plants soberly replace our usual floral arrangements.  Finally, nothing can surpass the climactic moment at the Easter Vigil, when we all follow the Paschal candle into our dark monastic choir to sing “Lumen Christi!” (Light of Christ!) to celebrate the definitive victory of Divine Light over the darkness of sin and death.

Today’s Gospel, when Jesus exhorts His followers to let their light shine for all to see, is often quoted against us who live hidden in the cloister.  Are we not putting our lamp under a bushel basket?  No!  Our light does shine, but like sunlight, it is invisible except for its effects.  Or it is like a lamp that is doing its job well and so does not call attention to itself.  You only notice a lamp when something is wrong with it; there is a flickering, or it is too bright or too dim.  When it is just right, you forget all about it and are just happy to be able to see what you are doing or whom you are loving.
We bless candles at the beginning of Mass on February 2nd and honor the Lord’s presentation with a candlelight procession into choir that recalls the Holy Family’s coming into the temple with Jesus for the first time.  It also prefigures the Palm Sunday and Easter Vigil procession.  We pray that we ourselves, may be true candles, alive with the light of faith, consumed in the fire of divine love, to be beacons of hope for a world that often seems lost in darkness, that all may find their way to Christ, their true home.