February 2nd, Solemnity of the Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of the Virgin
The blessing of candles, the lit tapers, and the constant refrain throughout the day, Lumen ad revelationem Gentium, all draw our attention to that true Light which is the life of men, “and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Light dispels darkness, but the power of the light is only appreciated when we first grasp the nature of the darkness.
In darkness we cannot see, and so on the natural level, the natural ignorance of man God remediated by giving him an intellect capable of rendering the world intelligible. Still, even with knowledge, man is amazingly stupid, another kind of darkness, unable to touch divine wisdom. We see this all through the world when the purported results of science reject God and all things immaterial, with all the inconvenient consequences you would expect. Worse still, St. Paul tells the Romans that on account of worshiping creatures instead of the Creator, God delivered the nations up to dishonorable passions…which sounds all too familiar. This, the thickest darkness, is a deliberate turning away from the light of God and cleaving to evil, especially sins of the flesh, as the Apostle indicates.
If such is the darkness, then the light of Christ rises in every occasion to meet and overcome it. “Have confidence,” He says, “I have conquered the world.” Natural darkness is removed through the natural light of the intellect; supernatural darkness, through grace. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit’s gift of Understanding, which is always present with His sanctifying grace, that shines like a supernatural black light on the natural darkness of our minds, allowing us to behold the hidden beauty of God we need to believe in faith. That same Holy Spirit also grants us His gift of Wisdom, which perfects our intellect by seeing all things from God’s own perspective, ordered from Him as source and to Him as goal and end. And these effects of grace are the more pronounced in us, the more His grace holds sway in our hearts.
We might ask ourselves what the connection is, between such a meditation on light and the feast we are celebrating. In other words, is there any intrinsic link, an inner logic, joining the Presentation of the Christ Child and the light of grace illuminating our minds and making them perfect. Of course there is. The Presentation was not simply a ritual of showing the firstborn son to God, but included a sacrifice, as we heard in the Gospel, to redeem that child, as a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt, which foreshadowed the redemption of the human race from slavery to sin and the devil. In other words, the Old Testament sacrifice offered at the presentation and consecration of every firstborn son was a placeholder, a symbol, of the one, true, and all powerful sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.
Union with Christ is the key. That union enlightens us and saves us from both the paralyzing, stultifying darkness of our own sins and the brainwashing sins of this world, but we achieve that union, we see that light, primarily through joining Christ in His sacrifice. We cannot determine of our own accord when we will be called to suffer and shed our blood with Him, but it is in our power to focus our minds on that light through prayer. Meditating on His sacred Passion will yield an insight that shows not only the unity underlying all the mysteries in the life of our Savior but also the unity underlying His life and ours. And this light will also warm us, firing us with the charity to increase that union and brighten that light until we too are presented to the Lord, not in the temple in Jerusalem but in the everlasting mansions of heaven.