Candlemas: Giving Light to others so that we all might see
Feb. 1, 2019
August 10, 2001: a warm, starless night in Lourdes, France. I stand on a stone balustrade outside the shrine’s upper church, holding an unlit candle, dimly able to discern the masses of people surrounding me, and below on the plaza. Slowly, lights begin appearing in the crowd. I turn, looking for someone whose candle is lit, receive the flame, then reach my wick toward a lady beside me, who smiles in gratitude. Our candles meet, and the flame, fragile yet powerful, for a split second belongs to both of us.
In that moment, something changed for me: I realized that there exist things, like light, that one can receive without taking, and give without losing. The passing of the light did not require words — luckily, because almost no two people next to each other spoke the same language — and yet it expressed everything: a Love so great that it grows, instead of diminishes, by being shared. A God, and His Mother, who give all, and lose nothing.
The feast of the Lord’s Presentation illumines the whole month of February. Traditionally, candles were blessed on this day, because of Simeon’s prayer when Jesus was presented in the Temple: “My eyes have seen your salvation … a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:30-32). Traditionally also, the Presentation is a feast of consecrated life, since Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to His Father in the Temple, much as religious are called out of the world to live ever in God’s Temple, presented to Him daily in the living of their vows.
Complete self-gift to God, modeled in a particular way by religious, is the calling of every human person. We must answer this call not just once but again and again, ever more deeply, through the course of life, as we surrender anew something we thought we owned — a particular talent, perhaps, that is not being used; health; even the illusion itself of control. This can be terrifying. It is comfortable to decide what to give God — just one hour of our week, or certain times, or certain sacrifices. But to set no limits? To let His will permeate every moment?
In the inaugural homily of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI, echoing his beloved predecessor, addressed this fear: “If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Do we not then risk ending up diminished? No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.”
Do not be afraid to give God not just what you want to give Him, but what you know He is asking. In this gift, renewed daily, you will be astounded to find yourself not empty-handed but, like Simeon, holding Omnipotence Incarnate. And, cradled in your arms, He will be Light for those around you.
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.