The Presentation in the Temple

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

February can be a rather gray and dull month.  The festivities of Christmas are long past, and the weather is cold and damp.  As at other times of the year, we can fall into routine until something shakes us awake.  Oftentimes, this awakening comes with Ash Wednesday and the call to“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15)  This year we might look to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which is celebrated on February 2nd, to give us the encouragement we need.

Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph journeyed to the Temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.  They offered two small pigeons, the offering of the poor, as required by the Law.  “When Mary and Joseph brought the Christ Child to the Temple, it wasn’t simply to carry out the requirements of the Law.  They went to the Temple out of love.” (John Cardinal O’Connor)  What was a routine act in the life of a family at that time was filled with prophetic and lasting significance because of that love.  “Bringing her Son to Jerusalem, the Virgin Mother offered him to God as a true Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. She held him out to Simeon and Anna as the proclamation of redemption; she presented him to all as a light for a safe journey on the path of truth and love.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord has traditionally been called Candlemas because of the special use of candles in the Liturgy.  The faithful are given candles that are then lighted and blessed before processing into the church for Mass signing, “Christ is the light of the nations and the glory of Israel his people.” (cf. Luke 2:32) This antiphon recalls the words of Simeon, the righteous man who met the Holy Family in the Temple.  Simeon had waited patiently through his long life for the promised coming of Christ the Lord.  Like us, he probably struggled against temptations and discouragements, trusting in the faithfulness of God.  When the Infant Jesus appeared in the Temple, Simeon broke into a song of thankfulness and joy, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace!” (Luke 2:29)

The joy of this Feast, however, is mixed with a foreshadowing of suffering.  Simeon said to Mary, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2: 34, 35)  The Light of the Nations was to be rejected by many before He would illumine the whole world, ultimately shining forth through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.  We His servants should expect to receive no different than our Master, so we should not be surprised when our own efforts to bring the Light of Christ into the world seem frustrated.  This does not mean we should despair and give up.  It is precisely when our weaknesses and failures crowd around us that we should hope all the more.  “Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Hebrews 2:18)

Whether in our personal efforts to grow in holiness or in all we do to build the Culture of Life, we must walk by the Light that was presented in the Temple over 2000 years ago.  This is the Light that shines forever, the Light that burns in our own hearts, as we present Him to our world again.