Thursday, February 1, 2018

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord or Candlemas

Mal 3:1-4
Ps 24
Heb 2:14-18
Lk 2:22-40

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas.  On Candlemas the beeswax candles used in both Church and home for the coming year were blessed.  It is a ritual that should be returned more widely to custom although I'm not certain if there is a ritual for blessing bottled liquid paraffin (horrible stuff and ugly "candles"). The Gospel just proclaimed includes one of the many exquisite prayers given to us by Luke, Simeon’s prayer, the Nunc Dimittis

"O 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 . . . "

The Church prays the Nunc Dimittis daily at the end of compline or night prayer. It is the Church's lullaby, a lullaby that has been set to music by many composers through the centuries.  

More than any other evangelist, Luke gives us a window into the dynamics of Jesus’ family life and relationships.  The Annunciation, the Vistitation, Jesus’ Nativity, his Presentation, and a brief look at Jesus at the age of 12.  This detail is a reminder that Mary and Joseph fulfilled all of the Jewish laws and customs surrounding the birth of a son.  They were not "cafeteria" Jews who chose what to believe or observed only those laws that they found convenient. They were indeed righteous.  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 forth in Luke's Gospel are details with which we can identify. 

The late Jesuit Theologian Fr. Karl Rahner points out what is obvious from the first reading, that Jesus “came into the world the same way we did in order to come to terms with the facts of human existence, . . . and to begin to die”

'in order to come to terms with the facts of human existence and to begin to die'

What Rahner calls the facts of human existence are not always easy to understand or accept.  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 as she stood at the foot of the cross?  There is no pain greater pain than that of a parent who endures the death of a child, no matter the child's age.  There is anguish in watching a parent in end-stage Alzheimer's, a spouse coping with the harsh realities of cancer, or suffering from any of a myriad of diseases that may slowly claim each of us. 

We heard how the prophecy from the Book of Malachi, was fulfilled in the Gospel.  Jesus was not recognized by the crowd. He was recognized by Simeon and Anna. Simeon and Anna are us.  They are examples for us 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.  Only with the wisdom of old age could they recognize the Child brought into their presence.  Our challenge is to recognize Jesus when we encounter Him, wherever we encounter Him, and in whomever we encounter Him. 

Lent begins twelve days from today.  We will hear more in the Gospel narratives about how Jesus was like us in pain, suffering, and death, about how Jesus, tempted as he was in the desert, was like us in all things but sin.  But today, on Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we recall and celebrate that Jesus is the light of the world, a light that will never be extinguished.

Posting a bit early as tomorrow is looking chaotic.  The photos are from the Basilica of St. Martin d'Ainay, a 12th century basilica built by a Benedictine monastic community founded on the side in the mid 9th century in Lyon, a city that has been in existence since before the birth of Christ.  I didn't get to spend a lot of time there as I didn't know about it until a French teacher insisted I go.  I am grateful to her for that.  The church was not always open when I was free to go in with the camera.  Fortunately I got there once.  

The church is at the end of a narrow street.  It is not huge.  During the French Revolution it became a grain storage facility, a fact that prevented it from being razed by the revolutionaries.  Gotta love anti-religious zealots be they in China, Europe, the Middle East, or our own U.S.  Difficult to understand the irrational animal-like fury that drives them. 

 The dome above the altar.  I don't know if it is gold-leaf.  The chandelier is intricate to say the least.  There is quite a bit of magnificent metalwork in St. Martin d'Ainay. 

 Another view of the dome and the chandelier.  The stained glass is heavily leaded.  Wish I could return there with the equipment I have now. 

Very thick walls. 

The Marian altar.

Supporting columns beginning to show their age. 

Organ pipes in color.  I converted the same photo in black and white.  Each has a different impact. 

Am certain I posted this before.  This is the gate to the baptistry.  Extraordinary skill of the metal worker.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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