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Homily for the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation, 02 February 2024, World Day for Consecrated Persons, Lk 2:22-40
Today’s Feast is traditionally called CANDLEMAS, or the Feast of the Holy Encounter.
In his story of the presentation of the child Jesus, aside from the Holy Family, St Luke has two other important characters— two elderly people: Simeon and Anna. Upon encountering the Holy child, both Simeon and Anna speak prophetically about the mission of Jesus, how his own life will be presented as a sacrificial offering for the redemption, not just of Israel but of all humankind.
The prophecy of Simeon has become known by its Latin title, NUNC DIMITTIS because it says, “Now Master, you may dismiss your servant (meaning, you may let your servant die in peace) because you have allowed me to see with my own eyes what I have been waiting for: ‘a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”
St. Luke is borrowing these words from two other oracles in Isaiah 42 and 49 about the redeeming mission of the Suffering Servant. Both are speaking about the mission of the “Servant of the Lord” to serve as “light to the nations,” through which God’s grace of salvation would reach the ends of the earth—meaning, all humankind.
That should explain to you why the lighted candle has become our symbol for the presentation. In the midst of so much suffering and evil in this world, we are often tempted to give in to despair. Our faith teaches us to stubbornly hold on to the light of God’s love and truth, God’s mercy and forgiveness, especially when we are so disheartened by the toxicity of hatred and resentment, helplessness and hopelessness.
We ritualize this at baptism through the gesture of candle lighting. The priest lights a candle from the Paschal candle which symbolizes Christ and gives it to the parents and godparents of those who are being baptized and says, RECEIVE THE LIGHT OF CHRIST. And then his instruction follows; he says, “This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. He (she) is to walk always as a child of the light.”
The candle’s light is supposed to be a symbol of new life in Christ, the true “Light of the World,” a light that should never be extinguished; a light that should never be hidden under a bushel basket, but rather made to shine out in order to drive away the darkness of evil in this world. But the original idea of the redeeming death of the sacrificial lamb is not lost on the symbolic lighted candle that burns to give light. In short, anyone who becomes part of the Redeemer’s mission of giving light, must be ready to endure burning, down to the last drop.
We also refer to today’s Feast of the Lights as the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation. “Present” is the opposite of absent. Right? Not always. Some people can be physically present but spiritually absent. True presence is about being a PRESENT, meaning—a gift to the world. Why is Jesus being presented in the temple? As part of a Jewish family, his parents Joseph and Mary did this to ritualize his whole life’s meaning and purpose: to be a gift, not a liability to the world.
The Feast of the Presentation is also celebrated by the Church as the World Day of Consecrated Persons. That is why we have with us today our partners in mission, our consecrated brothers and sisters from the religious congregations and societies of apostolic life—who have vowed themselves to the Lord, perpetually. Their whole life’s vocation is symbolized by the lighted Candle. We pray with them that they may live their vocation to a radical form of discipleship, a life lived in utmost generosity, silently witnessing to the generosity of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came, “not to be served but to serve, and to give his whole life as a ransom for the many.” They do this by living a life poverty in order to proclaim Christ as their only wealth. They do this by living a life of chastity in order to proclaim their total commitment to Love of God above all and of neighbor as oneself. They do this by living a life of obedience in order to witness to a life that fully embraces God’s will as their own.
St. Paul once said, “And I live, no, not I, but Christ who lives in me. I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and has given up his life for me.” That is what it means to celebrate the Feast of Lord’s Presentation. It is remind ourselves that we are called to to be like a candle that has been brought near to the Great Light who is Christ, ready to be burned and totally consumed in order to give light to the world and drive away the darkness. There is one song that summarizes well the meaning of Consecrated Life; it is entitled ONE LITTLE CANDLE.
It says, “It is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark. Better far that you light just one little candle all you need is a tiny spark. If we all say a prayer that the world will be free, a wonderful dawn of a new day we’d see. And if everyone lit just one little candle what a bright world it would be!”