Today many Catholics will attend Candlemas celebrations, and bless the candles of the Church, while singing to the Savior and Blessed Mother. This is the day the light of Christ publically came into the Temple. Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the Temple 40 days after His birth, according to the Mosaic Law. He was presented with a sacrifice, and Mary followed the prescribed practice of seeking ritual cleansing (Leviticus 12:2-12). Though without sin, Mary fulfilled all the obligations of the Law of Moses. The month of February is devoted to the Holy Family in the Church year.
We know it was old Simeon who met the Holy Family in the Temple. He called out the Nunc Dimittis canticle Catholics repeat in nightly prayer:
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace,
your word has been fulfilled:
My own eyes have seen the salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.
Jesus enlightens the Temple. He is presented publicly for the salvation of all. Every day when I drive past the nearby churches, I always glimpse the red light of Jesus’ presence, and I cross myself and thank God for His presence and His blessings. And it’s a perfect night to light candles, even if the snows of the northeast keep you from a Candlemas celebration. It’s a good night to bring out your children’s baptismal and Confirmation candles to light as well!
Today’s feast has a variety of names: The Presentation at the Temple, The Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, Candlemas and – less known — Hypapante tou kyriou “Meeting of the Lord.”
In the liturgical cycle we’ve been following the life of Jesus in his public ministry during this Ordinary Time cycle, which used to be identified as Epiphany-tide. Yesterday’s readings in the liturgical year focused on healing. While these details fall in the counting of days, indeed they also reveal the manifestation of the Christ. Through it all we “meet the Lord.”
It may seem out of sequence for the Church to move between Jesus in his adult ministry back to him as a 40-day newborn, but the wisdom of the Church suggests something more. Jesus moved into the world from the margins of a humble cave, to the Temple, through exile, back to the Temple and then out into the world. So we move out in the world daily from our grounding in Holy Mother Church. The extraordinary guides the ordinary day-by-day, moment-by-moment.
What more ordinary than stories of sickness, and what more extraordinary than all the readings yesterday of healing? Yesterday we read about the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25), and how all it took was her reaching out and touching the hem of Jesus’ garment in faith to receive His complete healing. We read of Jesus healing demons (Mark 5:1-21). The other story focused on Jesus healing the daughter of Jairus. (Mark 5:21) By the time Jairus got close to Jesus, word has it that his daughter had already died. But Jairus believes Jesus can heal her yet, and Jesus moves with haste and privately restores her to fullness of life.
The messages in these healing stories are clear: Jesus can heal any ailment and he can resurrect the dead. We also know that faith is essential in this process. Jesus meets our trust in him with the fullness of his blessings. We know that Jesus commands all demons as well; “the gates of hell will not prevail.” Jesus is God – omnipotent.
The premise of this blog remains the primacy of the liturgical year in guiding our feet in the path of faith. While countless faith-building materials have been created, it benefits us best to rest in what the wisdom of the Church already provides. Each day we are guided in Scripture reading, saints to invoke, special prayers and devotions. We have our Daily Bread to sustain us, and the daily ordered doctrine and Scripture presented to us to nurture us fully. I rest much in that.
Once upon a time I would strive – and strive – and strive. What did God want me to read next? What devotion was I to learn next? What new prayer? How did I know what to pray, whose needs to prioritize? In my conversion process I sometimes tripped over the name of Jesus and Mary, and worried about ordering those names in the right way. Funny when I think back on it all. As if one could worry about parsing Jesus and Mary? Ah, blessed are the holy fools!
Yet, as I move away from my own ideas and conform my spirit to the ordered life of the Church’s liturgical year I see how to be led, and I’ve learned how to rest in and trust in this process.
So, how appropriate that after three weeks of sickness we hit these healing passages. Nothing could be more appropriate for what I need in this moment, praise be to God. God has taught me to trust in His healing. And His healing, like His love, is gentle and patient. Modern medicine blasts our body with quick fixes, and the medicine is needed to help the body. But the soul nourishes the body too, and that healing comes from above. I rest in this trust. I reach out with this trust.
I thank you all for your prayers, and I will lift you up in our prayers this evening before the candles. In this “meeting of the Lord” we will all be present to each other in the candle light.
Sing along to Be Now Thy Vision, an 8th century Irish hymn.