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Posted by on Feb 24, 2015

Growing: From the Celebration of Light at Candlemas into Lent

Growing: From the Celebration of Light at Candlemas into Lent

lent-cross-trinity-park-forestThe arrival of Lent always seems too fast. Christmas season is so short yet so intense following the four weeks of Advent. We get a brief few weeks of Ordinary Time to ponder the baptismal experience of Jesus and his response, and then, BOOM, here we are in Lent again! It sometimes feels like maybe we should just postpone it for a few more weeks. Maybe Easter wouldn’t really have to be the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. Would that be such a big deal? But then I think a bit further and decide that maybe 2000 years of tradition have something to tell me/us today as well.

February begins with the celebration of Candlemas on February 2. This day recognizes events in the life of Jesus and his parents when they visited the temple both for the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after childbirth and the presentation of Jesus, as her firstborn son, to God. It is also known as Candlemas because the prophet Simeon recognized Jesus as the Promised One and foretold that he would be a light to all the nations. Candles have been the primary source of light for most of the history of Christianity, so they became associated with these feasts.

As we listen to the Gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus, we see him discovering the special relationship he has with God as Father and the mission for which he has been sent. He accepts that mission, to gather the people of Israel and bring them back with him to the Father, beginning with the poor and marginalized of his land. It’s not without reason that he calls fishermen and tax collectors to be his special friends or that he uses images of farming, tending flocks, baking bread, keeping house, and fishing to explain God’s love for the people. These are realities deeply understood by his audience.

Jesus had three years in which to grow into the man who would stand before the religious and political leaders of his country and testify to the truth of who he was/is. During that time he preached and healed many of those who were brought to him. He also retreated regularly into the hills or off onto the Sea of Galilee to pray. We are told more than once that he slipped away to pray early in the morning and his disciples had to go looking for him. To their insistent reminders that people were waiting for him, Jesus responded that time to be with his Father was even more important. That time away with his Father was what made it possible for him ultimately to face and accept his death and the apparent failure of his mission.

We are called to live in the light of the Resurrection, but we are also called to live as Jesus did. That means we must deal with many of the same realities faced by the people of his time. Poverty, injustice, hardship, the unfairness of life — these things are not unique to the ancient world nor to our world. It is through prayer, fasting, and other activities of Lent that we grow in strength to follow the Lord. When Easter arrives, we rejoice with the newly baptized as we once again rise with the Lord in our daily lives. All is renewed and hope springs forth eternally. From the Light come into the world, through the time of deepening prayer and growth in faith, to the joy of the Resurrection.

It’s time to celebrate Lent!

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Posted by on Feb 21, 2015

Light

Light

800px-Sunrise on Mt Sinai in Egypt - June2006 - by Mabdalla - public domainLight is fascinating. At Christmas time we are enthralled with the lights all around us, candles and Yule fires. We feel safe in light. Light is beautiful to us. At Epiphany and the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas) we hear that a light for the nations has come into the world and that people from afar have come to witness its arrival. Light is a physical, energetic reality so fundamental that it takes on symbolic meanings as well.

An energetic force

Light is so basic and essential that we take it for granted. It travels at 186,000 miles per second. So amazingly fast. It is an electromagnetic radiation, a specific energy, that has a spectrum of forms from short waves (ultraviolet) to long waves (infrared). In the middle are the manifestations of light we can see, such as colors. Its most notable characteristic for humans is that light stimulates the organs that help us see: the retina, the optic nerve, etc. We are richly blessed to see ourselves, people, and objects. Light is so important to humans that we can become very ill if we lack it for a long time.

A symbolic image

But, light is much more. It is also spoken of as mental illumination or insight. The word itself can mean to understand. It can also be used to describe being guided, as John of the Cross describes his own journey in spiritual darkness during which he is guided by nothing “save only the light burning in my heart.” (Dark Night of the Soul).

Light has been experienced as God presence, enlightenment and strength (Psalm 27:1). God is described in the Scriptures as our light, a light that shines in our darkness (John 1:5), a light who calls us out of darkness
(1 Peter 2:9). Jesus himself tells us in turn to be the light of the world and not to hide our light (Matt 5:14).

God is our light. Our lives can be in darkness, darkness from letting ourselves be in agitation from bad habits or denial. We can give in to negative thoughts or fear. On the other hand, if we practice openness to seeing and hearing God speaking in our hearts, we can see and hear a desire in us to be illuminated and strengthened. We can feel the fog lifting and an ability to live in light. It is our choice to say yes to this. We don’t have to earn it or produce it, we just have to consent to it.

Image by Mabdalla, Sunrise at Mt Sinai in Egypt, public domain

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Posted by on Feb 2, 2014

Candlemas: Light Candles to Celebrate the Light of the World

Candlemas: Light Candles to Celebrate the Light of the World

On the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas, we remember that Joseph and Mary took their firstborn son to the temple to present him to God, according to the traditions of their faith. An old man and an old woman met them at the temple. Each recognized the baby (only forty days old) as the One who had been promised from of old.

The man, Simeon, who had come “in the Spirit” to the temple, took Jesus in his arms and gave thanks to God, saying, “Now Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The old woman, Anna, was a prophetess who lived in the temple. Her words are not recorded, only that she gave thanks to God and spoke to all she met of the child she had seen.

In this feast we see a continuation of a theme begun in Advent and celebrated through the Christmas season. “A light shines in the darkness.” (Jn 1:5) “A people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Is 9:1) “Rise up, Jerusalem, and shine forth” (Is 60:1) “Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands.” (Ps 110:1b) “We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Mt 2:2) “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17) We hear these strains again and again in the first months of our liturgical year, calling to us to listen and understand what has come to pass.

The Holy Spirit opens our eyes and our hearts to see the coming of the Promised One among us, just as was the case with Simeon, Anna, the Magi, and John the Baptist. When our eyes have been opened, we see the light shining through and overcoming the darkness. It is a light for all peoples; no more “us vs. them”, no more exclusion of anyone simply because he or she is different or a stranger. The Spirit fills Jesus and leads him into his public life. The Spirit fills Simeon and leads him to the temple. The Spirit leads the Magi to notice the star and set out on a journey to find the child it heralds. The same Spirit calls us too. We are to be lights for our world. We receive a candle at our Baptism and we are told to keep it shining brightly until the day the Lord comes for us.

And so we take candles and light them again, as we celebrate the coming of the Light of the World and the presence of the Spirit among us, helping us to recognize His coming.

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Posted by on Feb 2, 2012

Recognizing the Light through our Daily Lives

Recognizing the Light through our Daily Lives

Three Candles

Stepping carefully as she crossed the intersection, the older woman, wearing a warm coat and knitted hat despite the unseasonably warm weather and carrying a shopping bag of groceries, stopped suddenly, a look of delight on her face. She stepped back and slightly to the side, shifted her purse and bag, and bent to pick up a coin from the street. From my vantage point in the car waiting for the light to change, it appeared to be a quarter — just  twenty-five cents. Yet the delight I saw in her face could not have been greater if it had been a thousand times more valuable. She had found something of value, just laying there on the ground in plain sight, waiting for someone to notice it. She picked it up carefully and placed it into her purse. Then she continued to make her way across the intersection on her way home to her apartment down the street.

As she walked on her way and I went on mine, I reflected on what I had seen. A very ordinary item, found in the course of a very ordinary activity, brought great delight to a seemingly very ordinary person. Yet she was a person who was alert and aware of her surroundings. She noticed what was going on, despite the ordinariness of the day and its activities. She saw more than many saw who crossed that intersection on that afternoon, and when she saw, she acted on what she had seen.

Perhaps this anonymous woman has something to teach us as we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, a feast also known as Candlemas and/or as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Just as Anna and Simeon recognized Jesus when his parents brought him to the Temple to offer the traditional sacrifice required for a first born son, so we are called to be alert and aware so we will recognize Jesus when he comes into our lives. No one was expecting the Christ to come as the infant son of a normal, non-wealthy, non-royal family from Nazareth. Just a carpenter’s son!  The Christ was to be a military hero who would drive out the Roman conquerors and establish a new kingdom like that of David. Yet, Anna and Simeon recognized him and blessed God for the gift of seeing him before their deaths. Indeed, Anna went around happily telling everyone she met that the Messiah had been born and had been presented at the Temple … and she herself had seen him!

The challenge each of us faces, I believe, is to see the Christ in the people with whom we share our lives, as well as in the people who formally represent the Christian community, and to celebrate that coming  into our lives. The fellow who sits begging on the street downtown, the woman who stops joyfully to pick up a coin in the middle of the crosswalk, the guy who laughingly dances down the street, flirting with all the ladies as he goes to round up some buddies and head off to dinner before the cold night catches up with them, the frightened teen who finds she’s pregnant and is certain her parents will beat her and throw her out on the street if they find out, the doctor who cares for a child without charge when the parents don’t have insurance and can’t pay for the care, the little boy who delightedly strips off all his clothes because he’s learned how to do it and revels in the freedom of being alive and unfettered. Each of these is Christ coming to someone. How do we respond?

Image by Alice Birkin – Public domain

 

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