This past Sunday, we celebrated an international holiday. “Groundhog Day” you ask?
“Oh well of course it’s Super Bowl Sunday!”
No, that’s not what I’m talking about.
It’s even bigger than that. It’s the solemn feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It falls 40 days after the Christmas Day. The feast day’s origin goes all the way back to 4th century Jerusalem. It was celebrated in Rome by the middle of the 5th century under the title “Feast of the Meeting.” It has also been traditionally known also as “Candlemas Day.” Here’s an excerpt from an old poem about Candlemas:
“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight.
If Candlemas Day be clouds and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.”
It is common during the liturgies of the Presentation for the priest celebrant to bless the candles that will be used in church throughout the course of the year.
Jesus, who is the King of Glory and a “light to the nations” (see Lk. 2:22-40, our Gospel today), is presented in the temple by his Mother Mary and St. Joseph as Simeon immediately praises God upon seeing God’s son in his midst. As we behold the lighted candles in church, we contemplate the joy of Simeon as he scooped the child Jesus into his arms and gazed into his little Jewish sparkling eyes.
The Lord had revealed to him that he would not die before actually seeing the Christ. But Simeon was more than ready to “go home” to the Lord in death, as he said in a word of praise to God, “Now Master, you may let your servant go in peace… for my eyes have seen your salvation.” He was ready and prepared to die.
The death of our loved ones and those we are familiar with from our parish communities or from international fame give us pause to think of our mortality. I think of a good, loyal brother Knight of Columbus and parishioner of mine from Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Thurmont, Jesse Stansbury, whose funeral I just celebrated.
Also, on that fateful Sunday I was having a cup of coffee in downtown Frederick, around 3 p.m., and one of the waiters (who happened to be a former college basketball player) came up to me and said “Hey, did you hear about Kobe Bryant?” So sad. But I also happen to believe in hope that both of these men, even with unexpected deaths, were prepared. They both were faithful, practicing Catholics and living the life of grace at the times of their deaths. Kobe and his family had attended Mass that morning in a parish in California, as they were accustomed to every Sunday.
It gives pause for each one of us to ask, “Am I ready to die? Am I prepared?”
How am I preparing myself in my life of faith for seeing the Lord’s face – praise God, hopefully and joyfully so and yet also with vigilance – at the end of my days and life?
Every day is a gift from our Heavenly Father. May we not take it for granted but live it as such, and allow the light of Jesus to shine in and through us so, as to illuminate and brighten our often dark and troubled world. How wonderful it could be if our very last words are, “Now Master, let your servant go in peace.”