Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, a feast known in the past as Candlemas. On Candlemas the beeswax candles used in both Church and home for the coming year were blessed. The Gospel just proclaimed is one of the many exquisitely beautiful narratives found in Luke. It includes Simeon’s prayer, the Nunc Dimittis
"O Lord, now you let your servant go in peace
Your word has been fulfilled . . . "
The Church prays this daily at the end of night prayer. It has been set to music by many composers.
More than any other Gospel, Luke gives us a window into the dynamics of Jesus’ family life and relationships. The Annunciation, the Vistitation, Jesus’ birth, the circumcision, Jesus’ presentation at the Temple, and a brief look at Jesus at the age of 12. All of this detail is an important reminder that Mary and Joseph were observant Jews who fulfilled all of the laws and customs surrounding the birth of a son. They were indeed righteous people. All of this emphasizes that Jesus was like us. He was like us in all things but sin. The story of Jesus is a human and humane one. The details of Jesus' life as put forward in Luke's Gospel are details with which we can identify.
In the second readings we heard, "Since the children share in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death . . . and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life."
Jesuit Theologian Karl Rahner points out what is obvious in this reading from Hebrews: Jesus, “came into the world the same way we did in order to come to terms with the given facts of human existence, . . . and to begin to die”
What Rahner calls the facts of human existence are not always easy to understand. Many of us rage against the fact that we must suffer and die. Perhaps we rage even more violently against the fact that those we love must suffer and die. Here we can turn to Mary.
There are hints of the pain to come in Simeon’s cryptic comment to Mary, “and you yourself, a sword will pierce” or, in another translation
“and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” What did Mary feel when she heard these words? Did she recall them later at the foot of the cross? There is no pain greater than that of a parent who endures the death of a child at any stage of the child’s life from life in the womb to death in old age. But there is also pain in watching a parent or a spouse in end stage of Alzheimer's or coping the harsh realities of cancer or the myriad of other diseases that can claim us. All of us have our hearts pierced with a sword many times in our lives.
"And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts."
We just heard how this prophecy from the Book of Malachi, was fulfilled in this Gospel. Jesus was brought to the Temple. He was recognized. He was not recognized by the crowd in the Temple but by two people whose eyes were open. Jesus was recognized by two who were awaiting the Lord, and were disposed to recognize Him when He came.
Simeon and Anna are us. And they are examples for us. They are examples because they recognized Jesus in the infant brought into the Temple. They were open to the grace of Jesus' presence. They knew of God's promise and were eagerly awaiting the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One.
Our challenge is to recognize Jesus when we encounter Him, wherever we encounter Him and in whomever we encounter Him. We may encounter Him in the adolescent at school, or in the child noisily exploring the world. And most critically we encounter Jesus in the child being carried in the womb. We recognize Him in that child who, just as Jesus was under attack by Herod, is under concerted attack by American government and society. We are called to recognize Jesus in the elderly afflicted with dementia. We are called to recognize Jesus in all whom we encounter.
Lent begins on 4 March, a month from this coming Wednesday. We will hear more in the Gospel narratives how Jesus was like us in pain, suffering, and death, how Jesus was like us in all things but succumbing to temptation, like us in all things but sin. But today on Candlemas we recall and celebrate that Jesus is the light of the world, a light that will never be extinguished.
Playing with black and white conversions in photos. The first role of film I shot with a Canon AE-1, a revolutionary camera in its time, was ASA 400 black and white. I continue to have a fondness for that medium. The eye notices different things with black and white than it does with color. I've been posting photos lately on a web site for photographers. Purely for fun.
I took this near Chiang Kai-shek's tomb in Taipei. There are two huge theaters at opposite ends of a massive square. A women's choir was going into the hall for rehearsal. They had a photographer taking photos as they made their way across the square. I decided to join in the fun. It was very hot and humid. The women were wearing all black. The secret is that there was a second man standing in the background. I removed him.
These are prayer requests at Wen-wu Temple at Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan. Sun Moon Lake is one of the most beautiful places I will ever visit. Complete tranquility.
This is not black and white but it might as well be. I'd never seen a white peacock before. Note the pink beak and feet. Probably an albino.
And on to Australia. All of these were taken at Sevenhill during the long retreat.
The first is the road from the house where John, Simon and I made the retreat. We walked it multiple times per day. Unlike the weather this year where the temps are hitting 105 and higher, we had cool, rainy and foggy weather. It was disastrous for the grape harvest.
The meadow across from the house.
A meadow in the early morning light.
This last is Sydney, Australia by night. It is a lovely colored photo but the intensity of some of the colors reflecting off the harbor is distracting. I much prefer this one.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD