Monday, February 2, 2015

Blessing Candles On a Snowy Day

Despite it being a snow day, the Seminarians and Priests of Saint John's celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord with the blessing of candles, a procession to the Chapel and a Solemn Mass. As we gathered for the blessing of Candles, I began with these words:

Can you believe its been forty days since Christmas?
Which is why this snowy morning
we celebrate the day when Jesus was presented in the Temple 
by Mary and Joseph. 
They brought him in fulfillment of the Law,
but, as the Orthodox call this day,
it was really the Feast of the Meeting:
the meeting of the Lord Jesus and his believing people.
We will hear Simeon and Anna this morning.
Filled with the Holy Spirit
they came to meet the Light to the Gentiles.
May the Lord enlighten our hearts with his Spirit,
as we process to the God’s house
to meet him in the Breaking of the Bread,

until he comes again in glory.

Here's the homily I preached on keeping our light burning in joyful expectation of the Lord's return in glory:

Almost a hundred years ago a young Yale Professor by the name of Clark Hopkins was chosen to lead a small group of archeologists for a dig in the sands of a remote part of modern day Syria called Dura-Europas.  There Hopkins uncovered the oldest-known Christian Church, complete with Baptistry.  

On one wall, to the right of the font, was a fresco depicting the wise and foolish virgins going out to meet the Bridegroom. And it makes sense. Picture, if you will, the freshly washed, white-robed neophyte staring up at the wise and foolish virgins, candles in hand. “Will you be ready,” they seem to ask him, “ready to welcome the bridegroom when he returns?”  “Will your lamps be still burning, or would you be left in the darkness, banging on a big locked door?”

When you were baptized, the priest placed a candle into the hand of your Father and said to your parents and godparents, “this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. He is to walk always as a child of the light. May he keep the flame of faith alive in his heart. When the Lord comes, may he go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”1

When the Lord returns, will he see your light still burning, or will you be left in the darkness, banging on a big locked door?

It all depends on whether you work hard enough to let that light shine by “treading the path of virtue, [that you] may reach that light which never fails.”2

For it was that path of virtue which led Simeon to behold “the Light for revelation to the Gentiles,”3 at which he prophesied the passion, sang the nunc dimittis and died.

It was the path of virtue which led old Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, to fast and pray in the temple precincts, day and night, until she beheld the child, gave thanks and proclaimed him “to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”4

And it is that path of virtue which will keep the light burning in your heart as well.  The path of those natural virtues by which you are a known to be a man of prudence and temperance, wise and just.  Those virtues of God’s grace by which you are known as a man of faith, of hope and of love.

That is why it is so good, on this snowy Candlemas morn, that we walk the halls of this holy house carrying blessed candles like the wise candle-bearers of old.  For that is what we do for a living here…strive to make the light of Christ so shine in our eyes and in our hearts that all who meet us along the way might see in us that light which is the co-eternal Son, “presented on this day in the Temple and revealed by the Spirit as the glory of Israel and the Light of the nations.”5

And then, on the last day, with Simeon and Anna and all the just, our lights burning brightly, we shall go up to meet the Lord and he will recognize us as his own and welcome us home to be with him in perfect peace.


1 - Rite of Baptism of Children, no. 100.
2 - Presentation of the Lord, Prayer for the Blessing of the Candles A.
3 - Luke 2:32.
4 - Luke 2:38.
5 - Roman Missal, Presentation of the Lord, Preface.