A Reflection of Christ’s Light
POST BY SBishop
Thursday, February 2, 2017 - 15:58
The Feast of the Presentation has many meanings. It represents a staging post in the liturgical year – the traditional end of Christmastide. It symbolises the moment at which the Christ-child is presented to the world. Although, as we know, he had already been visited by shepherds and magi after his birth, Jewish tradition demanded that as first-born he be brought to the Temple and consecrated to God, and a sacrifice be made (of a lamb, or of pigeons or turtle doves). According to Jewish tradition 40 days after the birth of her child, the mother would be ritually cleansed, which is why in the Orthodox Church the feast is celebrated as a Feast of the Lord alongside that of his Mother, the God-bearer. At the Temple the Holy Family met Simeon, whose prophecy foretold the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ, and Anna, who had dedicated her life to God and gave thanks to God for Jesus.
Step for a moment into this scene, if you can, and perhaps listen to the Pray as you go for the 2nd February to help you to do so.
Then reflect on the meaning of the words of Simeon’s prophecy. For many these words will be very familiar as the canticle used during Night Prayer (known as the Nunc Dimittis), which is part of the Prayer of the Church, prayed every day by those who take religious vows (and many lay people too). The emphasis of this prayer is Jesus as a light for the world. This is perhaps the reason why in the Western Church, the feast of the Presentation was known as Candlemas, when the blessing of candles took place (the blessing of candles is part of Orthodox tradition too). It is an appropriate occasion to light candles for prayer at home, as well as visiting church and going to Mass if we are able. Although it is 40 days after Christmas and mid-winter, in the northern hemisphere it is still dark and cold. The end of January and early February can seem a drab, perhaps spiritually dry time, where we are waiting for Lent and for spring.
The Feast of the Presentation is a pertinent reminder that the Church’s calendar and liturgies are full of helpful signposts drawn from the history of Christianity, (including the life of Jesus, his mother, the apostles, and the lives of the saints), and there are many moments during the year when we can pause and reflect upon what the Church has experienced. Lent will soon be upon us with its opportunities for abstinence, repentance and prayer, but the richest Christian life is lived in the everyday, not just in Lent, Eastertide or Christmas.
The 2nd February is also the day in which the Church celebrates the life and work of religious men and women, who like Simeon and Anna have chosen to dedicate their lives to God. Just as the feasts and seasons in the calendar of the Church set examples to every Christian to live their lives in Christ, those who live consecrated lives are called to set examples to the Church in their dedication to the faith.
Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Letter to All Consecrated People, wrote that, like Simeon, religious are called to live out the prophetic witness, ‘to wake up the world’ (Apostolic Letter to All Consecrated People, 2) At the same time, he asked consecrated people to live in communion not only with each other in their communities, but with the whole Church, to become ‘experts in communion’ (3). Pope Francis entreats all religious to be outward looking, and go ‘out of ourselves to the existential peripheries’ (4).
Don’t be closed in on yourselves, don’t be stifled by petty squabbles, don’t remain a hostage to your own problems. These will be resolved if you go forth and help others to resolve their own problems, and proclaim the Good News. You will find life by giving life, hope by giving hope, love by giving love.
I ask you to work concretely in welcoming refugees, drawing near to the poor, and finding creative ways to catechize, to proclaim the Gospel and to teach others how to pray. Consequently, I would hope that structures can be streamlined, large religious houses repurposed for works which better respond to the present demands of evangelization and charity, and apostolates adjusted to new needs. (Apostolic Letter to All Consecrated People, 4)
The feast of the Presentation is, therefore, a time to reflect on the religious life and the central place of consecrated people in the life of the Church. As Pope Benedict said in a homily of 2013 on the 2nd February, the feast and its association with candles ‘shows the beauty and value of the consecrated life as a reflection of Christ’s light.’ In this way, priests, religious sisters, and all consecrated people are to be a light to the world, and at the same time, the Ignatian call to be contemplatives in action resounds for the whole Church.
The Church provides us with its calendar of feast days, even during ‘ordinary time’, to help us reflect on our lives in Christ and put our faith into action. Just as Pope Francis exhorted consecrated people to rediscover the joy of religious life, so too every Christian can use this day to contemplate the joy that the life of Jesus brings. The Feast of the Presentation is a perfect reminder to take our light, the light of Christ, to whoever we can, to reach even the darkest corner and to find God in the everyday.