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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Presentation of the Lord

February 2nd marks the Solemnity of the Presentation of the Lord, commonly known as Candlemass.  It is rather interesting that this holy feast falls during the dead of winter when the days are at their coldest and, in some areas, their darkest.

Down here, the South Texas hinterland, usually warm and balmy, resembled the frozen northern tundra (sans the snow that should be falling tomorrow evening).  At this evening's Mass, the darkness and chill certainly made their presence known.

Yet, despite the frigid temperatures and the fading light, tonight, we basked in the eternal warm glow of the True Light of God, the Light who physically entered His temple for the first time.   In St. John's Gospel account, Jesus refers to himself as the Light.  St. John, in his prologue, calls Jesus both the Word and the Light.  While the Second Temple was certainly a marvelous edifice, according to both scriptural and historical accounts, it reached its zenith when the One for whom it was built finally entered.  All of the readings point to this unique encounter.  The temple lifted its portals to allow the true King of Israel, the Son of David, to enter its precincts.  Solomon, David's son, had built the Temple, but, it was the Son of God, the true Davidic heir, who consecrated it with His presence.

Perhaps Pope Benedict XVI makes this point best.  In today's homily for the Solemn Vespers of the Presentation of the Lord, the Holy Father said that:

On today's feast contemplate the Lord Jesus that Mary and Joseph are in the temple "to present to the Lord" ( Lk 2:22). In this Gospel scene reveals the mystery of the Son of the Virgin, consecrated by the Father, came into the world to faithfully fulfill his will (cf. Heb 10.5 to 7). Simeone to him as "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" ( Lk 2:32) and announces his prophetic word supreme sacrifice to God and his final victory (cf. Lk 2:32-35). It is the meeting of the two Testaments, Old and New. Jesus comes in the ancient temple, He who is the new Temple of God comes to visit his people, thus fulfilling the obedience to the Law and inaugurating the final time of salvation.

It''s interesting to observe closely the input of the Child Jesus in the solemnity of the temple, a big "go away" of so many people taken from their commitments: the priests and Levites with their rosters, the number of devotees and pilgrims, eager to meet with the Holy God of Israel. None of these, however, notice anything. Jesus is a child like the others, the eldest son of two very simple parents. Even the priests are unable to grasp the signs of the new and unique presence of the Messiah and Savior. Only two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, discover the big news. Led by the Holy Spirit, they found that Child as the fulfillment of their long wait and watch. Both contemplate the light of God, who is lighting the world, and their prophetic vision opens to the future, as the announcement of the Messiah: " Lumen Gentium to revelationem! "( Lk 2:32). In the attitude of the two prophetic elders is all the Old Testament that expresses the joy of the Redeemer. At the sight of the Child, Simeon and Anna sense that He is just waiting.

Pope Benedict further explores the issue about light when he notes that:

The first: the Gospel image of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple contains the fundamental symbol of light, the light that, starting from Christ, shines on Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna up and, through them all. The Fathers of the Church have linked the radiation to the spiritual path. Consecrated life expresses this journey, especially as " Philokalia "love of beauty divine reflection of the goodness of God (cf. ibid. , 19). On the face of Christ shines the light of that beauty. "The Church contemplates the transfigured face of Christ to find strength in faith and not risk the loss in front of his face disfigured on the cross ... it is the bride before the bridegroom, share in his mystery, wrapped in his light, [from which] have achieved all of his children ... But a singular experience of the light that emanates from the Incarnate Word are certainly called to the consecrated life. The profession of the evangelical counsels, in fact, places them as a sign and prophecy for the community of brothers and the world "( ibid ., 15).

Even though these words are directed to the religious (sisters and brothers), as today is the World Day for Consecrated Life, I believe that they also apply, in some way, to us, as well.   We need to be like Simeon and Anna.  To us is revealed the true Light.  When we were baptized, we received a candle that was lit from the Paschal Candle.  Our parents and godparents were charged to help us to keep that light burning so that we can meet and recognize the Lord when he comes.   Simeon and Anna experienced that Light first hand.  So impacted were they by that light that they spread the word about the Child.  Anna went so far as to tell virtually everyone she met about this  Child. 

The Presentation also points to the Paschal Mystery.  The young infant Jesus was "ransomed", so to speak, by a pair of turtle doves.  Some 33 years later, he would return to the Temple, purifying it from the profane elements that had invaded its sacred space (the moneychangers and the vendors).  Then, he, who had been ransomed through animal sacrifice would himself authentically ransom humanity with his holy, true and perfect oblation.  Every symbol in the Holy of Holies pointed to Jesus:  the altar, the incense, the Mercy Seat, the priest and the sacrifice itself. 

Mary, too, plays a role in all of this.  Mary is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant, as in her womb, she carried the true Priest, the true Bread from heaven and the true Law, Jesus.  Now, as she presented her divine Son to the Lord, she carried him in her arms into the Temple.  Thus, both the Ark and its Sacred Content had finally come full circle, returning to the Temple.

In this cold night, when the temperatures are teetering below the freezing mark, I pray that the Light of Christ, that Light to all peoples, will continue to shine brightly in our hearts, melting the frozen chill of sin and dispelling its darkness.

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