Thursday, February 2, 2012
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Today’s Mass, Candlemas, takes place 40 days after Christmas. Thus, this Feast of Lights which recalls our Lord’s Presentation in the temple completes our celebrations of the birth of our Lord: the Word made Flesh, the light that has come into the world.
Mary, purest Mother and Virgin undefiled, goes to the temple to be “purified” in accordance with Mosaic Law. She carries in her arms the true light of the world. Enlightened by faith in her Divine Son, we, too, should carry a light for all to see.
Mary comes with her husband, Joseph, to hand over the child Jesus to the Lord; yet, through the eyes of Simeon, we learn that something even greater is happening here. We learn that it is God himself who has handed over his only begotten Son to us. Today’s Presentation of the Lord is prelude to another, future presentation – to that presentation that will take place on Calvary, in our Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross, of which every Mass is a re-presentation.
Guided by and filled with the Holy Spirit, Simeon embraces the Child. His hope fulfilled by the presence of Promised Messiah, he begs the Lord to release him from earthy cares and to go from this life in peace. For his eyes have seen “salvation”, “light” and the “glory of Israel.” These prophetic words uttered by Simeon and repeated by the Church in prayer at Compline give us a brief catechesis on the mystery of Jesus: he is the salvation of humanity, a light to the nations and the glory of Israel.
Yet, as we are reminded in the reading of the Last Gospel at the end of today’s Mass: The true light has come into the world “yet the world knew him not.” Or, as Simeon would tell Mary, “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many… and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Mary’s life – and our own lives – if we, like her, follow Jesus to the end, will be lived under the sign of the cross. For in a fallen world, in a world that has turned its back on God, those who live “ad orientam,” that is, looking, in joyful expectation, towards the coming of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, inevitably will encounter opposition and resistance. Such was the life of Christ – and such was the life of his mother who at Calvary shared in his sufferings; such is the life of the Church.
The “thoughts of many hearts” have been revealed in the betrayals and apostasies of the Church’s sinners but also in the constancy of her confessors, in the purity of her virgins and in the courage of her martyrs. Blessed John Paul II, when as Karol Wojtyla he preached a Lenten retreat to Pope Paul VI, said that “sign of contradiction” maybe be the “distinctive definition of Christ and his Church.”
Today, the witness of the Church on behalf of the dignity and right to life of the human person from the first moment of conception till natural death is itself a “sign that will be contradicted” – and is in fact contradicted in the present mandate of the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate to deny a religious exemption to Catholic institutions and thus force us to violate our consciences and to make us accomplices in evil.
Today’s feast of the Presentation of the Lord – thanks to the initiative of Blessed John Paul II – is also observed as the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. Those who live their Christian baptism through vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as religious sisters, brothers and priests, should see the oblation of the Son of God presented today in the temple as the model for religious life. We pray for them – may their perseverance in seeking first the Kingdom of God above all else inspire all of us to seek to live holy lives in fidelity to the promises of our baptism.
The lighted candles carried in procession this evening are a sign of the divine splendor of the Christ who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil. May our lives as Catholics reflect the light of Christ to all who meet us; and may that same light guide us, as it guided that righteous and devout man, Simeon, when we go forth from this life to meet Christ.