by Fr. David May.
Did you know that each year, on February 2, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple?
In the Roman Catholic tradition, it is a day to celebrate Christ the light, the revelation of truth to the Gentiles, and the glory of his people, Israel. Since it is the day when candles are traditionally blessed, it is sometimes called Candlemas Day.
In the Eastern tradition, it is known also as the Feast of Meeting, wherein at last the Lord enters his temple in human flesh to meet his people in joy and celebration. Either way, I like it, and look forward to it every year. I like the idea, too, that having met the Lord, we become light ourselves for our brothers and sisters.
Also, it’s mid-winter, and here at the 45th latitude north, we are somewhat tired of winter’s darkness, and we eagerly welcome the lengthening days.
Forty days after Christmas, it’s nice to combine our longing with the Lord’s longing for us: darkness hungering for Light, winter for the some sign of Spring, self-absorption for Someone more interesting.
Yes, the Lord’s coming to the temple of our souls, as light of revelation and glory, turns out to be far more engaging than my latest thought, plan, or worry.
When my little candle gets lit at the liturgy and I process into the chapel to celebrate the Light in our midst, it is as if I am being drawn out of the dull chamber of introspection into the vast array of a bright day in spring: tulips starting to open, daffodils laughing at passers-by, song sparrows back from winter vacation down South and singing the praises of warm sunlight, and mint julep for teatime.
It’s hard not to notice the sign of hope that Candlemas brings. It’s a challenge to stay inside oneself brooding over world problems when Someone smiles on you with love in his eyes. What is He smiling about anyway? What secret does he know that I continually lose sight of?
It seems I can only recall it within His light, within His mercy. So I process with the best of them into the chapel, singing Christ’s praises in mid-winter, before those sparrows even contemplate for a second coming to rejoin us up here. Lord, it is only in your light that we see light (Psalm 36: 9).
Take, for example, the challenges involved today in living the consecrated life. February 2 has also been declared (by Pope John Paul II in 1997) the Day of Consecrated Life.
At Madonna House, if we can manage it, we often have a day of recollection on this date with something from Catherine Doherty or official Church teaching on what it means to live the three promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
I could write a few articles, I suppose, on the struggles young (and older) people have doing this today. These struggles are roughly equivalent to that of knowing Jesus as Lord! That is, it is mainly a matter of faith, of "meeting" him in person.
Until that meeting happens, all talk of a personal relationship with Jesus draws blank looks. And since poverty, chastity, and obedience are all founded on the imitation of Christ based on a personal call from him, they don’t have much staying power in the long run.
Commitments of several years, even several decades, crumble like old parchment before the sufferings, challenges, contradictions of communal life—not to mention the loneliness!
Crumble, unless a person has met Christ who has come to dwell within. Then everything painful that happens is not diminishment, defeat, and a dismal, pathetic story, but a deepening of communion with my Beloved.
Hence, (eventually, yes, after trials) a victory! (Of course, this basic truth also applies to other vocations: married, single in the world, etc.)
But it is only in his light that we see light. Christ alone has the right "take" on what is happening in this world. He also is the only one with the real key to the enigma of my own life with its puzzling twists and turns. He alone turns our darkness into light by his very presence, drawing us towards himself.
In so doing, he sears us with the need for a change of heart. Hence, the need is pressing … to celebrate Jesus Christ!
Love him. Praise him. Sing his praises over and over. Read about him in the Gospels. Call on him. Seek his forgiveness. Speak of him. Learn about him. Look at icons of him, and then look again, bowing before him and then looking into his eyes. These see deep and do not condemn.
Obey him and do the will of his Father as best as you can determine it. He will show you whom to love and whom to serve, and in so doing, it will be himself whom you love and serve. But in all things, beg to know him personally in a relationship of faith.
I still remember clearly the February morning when this happened to me, some 38 years ago. Despite questions and some anger and being out of sorts, I was doing all of the above—the calling on him bit, the obeying God—and that meant getting up at 5:30 on a dark, cold morning to go out and make cheese at our farm.
I was in a funk. The night before I had read the entire book of Job in one swallow. It didn’t seem to help; it only aggravated my situation. I think I got spiritual indigestion.
The weight of darkness, mine and the world’s, but at that time, most pointedly, my own, was heavy. But not so heavy that I couldn’t throw blankets off the nice cozy bed, jump into cold clothing, put on cold boots, and go outside the cold house into the bracing morning air!
Some time later, while stirring a batch of cheddar cheese, four words of light penetrated my darkness: "I, too, was innocent."
I had a hunch this wasn’t me speaking; in fact, I suspected it was the Lord, because the thought was quick as lightning, unexpected, unanticipated, and it shattered the walls of the cave where I had been living for many years.
I "saw" his light penetrating my suffering, lostness, loneliness, with compassion and yes, there it was: joy, a smile, an assurance of victory.
I kept stirring the cheese as best as I could. I had a feeling that the rest of my life would consist in learning what it means to walk out of the darkness into his own wonderful light … and maybe to try and help others on that same journey.
That is why I love this feast of Christ the Light and highly recommend its loving and adoring celebration. You never know when the ray of his light will shatter the darkness within. You never know when a path of joy will suddenly open out of the valley of sorrow.
But the Church, his Bride, understands these things and in her humble but glorious way, invites us to the banquet of faith and worship, where self-absorption is no more. It is lost in the praise of his mercy.
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