No doubt you have heard stories about people who claim to have had a near-death experience. Many recall seeing angels, profess that they are welcomed by people they once knew, and describe a strong and warm light. Whether or not these stories bear any truth, we do not know, but the images provide a bit of comfort, and certainly resonate with our understanding of our faith.
This past weekend, the church celebrated the feast of The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, which is the fourth of the five Joyful Mysteries. It is customary, in Jewish tradition, for parents to bring their first-born son to the temple 40 days after birth to be consecrated to the Lord. In obedience to the Torah, 40 days after the birth of Christ, Joseph and Mary presented Jesus. This day is commemorated in the Roman Rite on February 2, also known as The Purification of Mary because Mary experienced ritual purification and was blessed with prayers. Of utmost significance, we know that Simeon and the elderly prophetess Anna recognized Jesus as the Messiah.
The traditions and rituals of our church help us to better experience and understand our faith, and we all fully embrace and enjoy the major feast days such as Christmas, Easter, and Holy Week. Yet there are numerous, lesser known feast days, rich in symbolism and meaning, that many people do not understand or fully experience. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is also known as Candlemas. Simeon and Anna prophesied the redemption of the world by Jesus, and over 2,000 years later, Christians continue to recognize Jesus as “the light of the world.” Therefore, on this day, candles are blessed both for use in church as well as at home. Candlelight is an outward and visible sign of Christ who illuminates our heart and guides our path. St. Anselm (1033-1109) Bishop of Canterbury, asks us to consider the three elements of candles: the wax — which must be beeswax (the most pure) — represents the flesh of the Divine infant, the wick represents His soul, and the flame represents His divinity.
We, too, are called to be “light” for others. We can do this in small ways, through prayer, service, or simply by offering a smile or a kind word. Oftentimes we think that our efforts are small and insignificant, that they cannot possibly make a difference. Keep in mind that although the light from a single candle may be small, we know that it penetrates the darkness, and though it may not provide a huge amount of light, it can provide a huge amount of hope.
So, if you didn’t get your candles blessed yesterday at Mass, consider taking a few to church next weekend and asking one of our priests to bless them for you (or maybe sprinkle a little holy water on them at home). As you burn these candles over the next year, be reminded that Christ is always present in our lives leading us on our path out of darkness; that we are called to be light for others in their times of sorrow; and that when we pass out of this world into the next, we may be greeted not only by angels, friends, and relatives who have gone before us, but also by a warm, radiant light that will lead us into eternity.