To be a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of your people Israel
On this day, in two different years, one of my sisters was clothed in the holy habit and another entered the enclosure to begin her religious life. Ad multos annos!
Candlemas is contradictory; or at least, like so much in the Gospels, it doesn’t seem to do what it says on the tin.
In a screen adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, during one of the kids’ secret meetings in Colin’s room, Mary tells him about one of the deities in Indian mythology: this one god looked just like anyone else on the outside, but he could fit the whole universe down his throat. Colin of course scoffs at such nonsense (incidentally, hands up if you remember the film I’m thinking of, and were also enthralled by the dramatic shots of wild Yorkshire landscapes….).
Forty days after the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family set out to Jerusalem in order to present their son, who opened His mother’s womb, to redeem Him and purify His mother. This is all to obey the Law of Moses, but it’s patent nonsense – a Redeemer needs no redeeming, and the purest and most whole of women in no way ought to be purified.
On the outside, however, this was no different to any other couple bringing their first-born to the Temple. Were it not for the Spirit-inspired proclamations of Simeon and Anna it would surely have passed unnoticed and unremembered by anyone else who happened to be there on that day: even if their actions and words had been noticed, what are the odds that it would instead have been brushed off by an observer as the ramblings of an old man and woman?
The Purification is not what it seems to be; the work being done is hidden beneath the apparent. It is when we look at the larger picture of the earthly life of Our Lord that we can see how all these episodes in the early part of Our Lord’s life – His Nativity, Circumcision, Presentation, Baptism, and His first miracle at Cana – fit into the whole: where the Law given by Moses is completed and made perfect; where the types of the past find their culmination.
As well as bringing about His perfection of the old Law, in the events of today’s feast Our Lord gives us another example of encouragement in our interior lives. There are times when what we do might not make sense, either to us, or to those around us; we may wonder at how we just ‘go through the motions’ with our heart not really being in it; we might be surprised at how others’ impressions of ourselves can differ so radically from what we see of ourselves.
In today’s post- and anti-Christian world, where we have lost our sense of identity as valuable, priceless, utterly loved and lovable creatures of the Almighty, we are all too apt to (dare I say it) despair at the non sequiturs within ourselves. Social media and the criticism coming from the world more often than not can exacerbate this, and help it morph into self-loathing. Barely a day seems to pass when we read of someone who has taken his own life because of an inner despair.
But in the apparent ‘contradiction’ of events like today’s in the life of Our Lord, we might see a glimmer – to become the strongest ray of bright sunlight – of the hope for Israel that Simeon spoke of. God knows what He is about; He has made us for Himself, and we have inestimable value because of this.
Let us persevere with patience, as spoken about in Friday’s Mass readings, in our journey with and towards Christ in His Church. Despite the worst confusions, He will, can, and already has, made perfect sense of it all.