Today on the Feast of the Presentation, Christ is proclaimed by Simeon as the light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of the Lord’s people Israel.
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an sublime image of the total gift of one’s life for all, those men and women, who are called to represent “the characteristic features of Jesus, the chaste, the poor and the obedient one” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, no. 1) in the Church and in the world, through the evangelical counsels. For this reason, St. John Paul II chose today’s Feast to celebrate as the Annual World Day of Consecrated Life.
Today we have held in our hands lighted candles, as signs of the Light of Christ, which we have received, and which we bear into the world. In the Greek Church, this feast is called the “feast of meeting or encounter” because in the temple, Simeon and Anna met their Lord, and here and now, we meet Him in His word, and in His sacrament of the Eucharist.
When we receive Holy Communion, we take the role of Simeon who consecrated himself fully to Christ. We receive him not into our arms, but into our bodies, into our hearts, and into our souls. Or as the Fathers of the Church would say, in this sacramental encounter, the body is fed, and the soul is nourished. We receive him, so that he may bring his light into even the most hidden recesses of our lives, as he becomes more intimate to us, than we are to ourselves, and that he may dispel whatever darkness lies hidden there; even the remnants of anger, lust, gossip, envy, and unholy fear, and unnecessary self-doubt which need to put to flight by the light of Christ.
In reflecting on today’s feast, we see that today Jesus enters His Father’s house, for the first time as an infant being dedicated to the Lord. We will meet Him again in the temple, listening to the teachers and asking them questions, and finally, we will see Him on Calvary, making the Jerusalem temple itself obsolete, as He himself becomes the temple, the altar, and the Lamb of sacrifice. Each and every day, when a priest offers the Holy Mass, he himself becomes the temple, the altar, and the lamb of sacrifice. One day, God willing, we will see him as the risen Lord, in the new and eternal Jerusalem, which as we read in the Book of Revelation, had no temple because God Almighty is its temple.
For the aged Simeon, he is overcome with gratitude and pours out from his soul, the night prayer of his life. “Now Lord, you may dismiss your servant in peace.” His beautiful canticle serves as the gospel canticle for our daily night prayer.
For us consecrated, who have been graced to live in the fullness of time, for us who in our liturgy, participate “in mystery” in the worship of the choirs of angels and the saints, for us who will see the altar candles lighted for Mass, and for Morning and Evening Prayer, again and again, day after day, and year after year, these candles need always to remind us of Christ’s victory of light over darkness, the victory of good over evil, the victory of the Lord of Light over the prince of darkness, and finally they must remind us of the very freedom of the sons of God, because light, not darkness has definitively triumphed in the paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. They are not simple banquet candles dressing up a festive table, rather they are concrete symbols, and reminders of Christ the Light, whose feast we celebrate today. These candles are tangible signs of every priest, who represent the Light of Christ in this temporal world.
But for us consecrated, priests, future priests and religious, today’s feast of the Presentation of the Lord has another meaning as well. For us, throughout our preparation for priesthood as well as in our priesthood itself, and perhaps especially in this time of exams, it is good to recall that the candle in shedding its light, in burning brightly in the presence of the Lord, is itself consumed. For us, to be instruments of Christ’s light and love, we willingly place ourselves on the altar, and we will be consumed, or to use the words of Saint John the Baptist, “he must increase, I must decrease.”
Today, we live in a condition often marked by a radical plurality, by the progressive marginalization of religion in the public sphere and by relativism which touches the fundamental values. This demands that our Christian witness and consecration be more luminous, more consistent, more dedicated, more transparent and all embracing.