Lumen ad revelationem gentium
Christmas may seem a long time ago but, according to tradition, Christmas only really comes to an end today - Candlemas, the Feast of Mary’s Purification and Christ’s Presentation in the Temple, the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary.
The Feast reminds us of a number of mysteries. We recall how the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, came to the Temple to be purified, in obedience to the Law of Moses. A woman had to stay at home for forty days after giving birth to a son. It must have been a blessing to be obliged to stay quietly at home and care for her newborn baby in these important early days of infancy. Then, after the prescribed period was over, the parents would bring offerings to the door of the Temple: in the case of poor families, like Jesus, Mary and Joseph, two pigeons or turtle doves. And so Our Blessed Lady, the purest of virgins, came like any other mother for this ceremony of ‘purification.’ She offered her Son to God and the God-made-man entered His Temple as a helpless baby. Yet hardly anyone noticed the great event.
Hardly anyone, that is, with the exception of that just man, Simeon, and the prophetess, Anna. They symbolize for us the many generations that had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah. In them, the Old Dispensation meets the New. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Simeon tells Mary two important truths – one concerning Jesus and one concerning herself. The Child will be a ‘sign of contradiction’; He will be the cause of the fall and resurrection of many – the fall of those who reject His message and the resurrection of those who accept it. Furthermore, Mary’s own soul will be pierced by a sword – the sword first enters her at that moment and it goes ever deeper, as her Son is rejected by His own people and opposed by the Scribes and Pharisees. It eventually transfixes her soul at the foot of the cross, just as the Centurion’s lance transfixes the heart of her Son. You can see how the Feast of the Presentation brings an end to the Christmas Season and directs our gaze towards Lent and Holy Week.
In 2007, Jesus and His Church remain both a ‘light to enlighten the Gentiles’ and a ‘sign of contradiction.’ The fact that the Faith can lead to division and misunderstanding was clearly seen last week in the controversy over gay adoption. Of course, the adoption of children by homosexual couples is not the only issue here. The sanctity of the family and the sacrament of marriage (which remains the only right context for sexual relationships) are also at stake, as is the Church’s right to teach a doctrine that is from God but is at odds with the secular world view. We live amidst a clash between the faith and non-belief, between those who see religion as the answer and those who see it as the problem, between the culture of death and the culture of life. To be a Christian in the twenty-first century is not easy. It will involve rejection and unpopularity. In truth, Catholics discriminate against sin and not the sinner – no-one is ever excluded from the arms of the Church; the Church is for sinners trying to become saints. Yet, there may be a time when there are legal penalties for those who adhere to the fullness of the faith, especially under the vague rubric of political correctness and ‘discrimination’. Let us not be afraid; let us teach the Gospel with faith, hope and, above all, love! Let us accept that we are, by virtue of our baptism, signs of contradiction!
As Mary, our Mother, has gone before us, so we follow – we can expect a share in her sorrows but we hope also to eventually be with her in Heaven. Let us stay close to her Son – and stay close to His Church, which transmits and teaches the Revelation that God has given us. As we prepare to celebrate Candlemas, let us be lights to enlighten all those around us, especially the lukewarm, the lapsed, the ignorant and those who are confused about the message of Christ.