29 January, 2017

Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus (Candlemas) - The point of living

Luke 2:22-40
Simeon said, ‘Now, Master, 
you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared’ (Luke 2:29-30)
The Presentation of Christ - Giotto Di Bondone
With each passing year January has become more and more a time when we are pressured to question, for good or ill, the way live and to take up new diets, keep a dry month, look for new jobs, book the next holiday, or join the gym in attempts to lead healthier, thinner, fitter, richer, and generally better lives. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but oftentimes the new-found goals and aspiration that we arbitrarily fix ourselves through these attempts at changing how we live can become smoke screens, ways of procrastinating to deal with more fundamental questions about the very point of living. But it is precisely questions such as “Is this it?” or “What am I doing here?” that form that background to our celebration of the Presentation of Jesus to the Temple. In this solemnity we are encouraged to reassess our ultimate goals and the defining elements of our existence in the light of both our readings and our liturgy.

If we look at Luke’s gospel we encounter two characters, beyond St Joseph and Our Lady, whose life is clearly defined by their encounter with Jesus. The first one is Simeon. Now, although the gospel does not reveal anything about his age, tradition has often pictured him as an elderly figure. But really all we know about him is that he was ‘upright and devout’ (Luke 2:25), and that, as a special grace from God, he had been promised to encounter the Messiah before his death. Up to this point Simeon’s whole life had been an unspeakable yearning for Jesus, and when he eventually does meet him, he is overwhelmed by this encounter – the whole point of his life is fulfilled, everything falls into its proper place, and the ultimate goal is finally achieved. The gospel does not say whether or not Simeon died soon after this, and there is no reason to think he did. All we are told are the prayer and the prophecies he utters. He says 
‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, 
because my eyes have seen the salvation 
which you have prepared’.
That is to say, “Thank you, Lord, for keeping your promise, and for letting me encounter Jesus. Now I can find peace for my longings, because all I wanted to do in life, all I ever wanted to be when I grew up, you have let me achieve it.” And to this day, Simeon’s words of thanksgiving and joy are recited at the end of funerals on behalf of the deceased, and they are prayed daily at Compline as thanksgiving for the day.

The second character is Anna, the prophetess daughter of Phanuel, (Cf. Luke 2:36) whose pious and holy life is provided with crowning glory when she too meets the Lord. Her encounter with Jesus is the fulfilment of a life devoted to serving God in his Temple, and it is the cause of such an uncontainable joy that she begins to speak to all those seeking renewal about Jesus. For Anna the encounter with Jesus is both the fulfilment of her existence and a validation in her service of God.

Finally, in today’s liturgy (a little different from other Sunday Masses) we have begun with a procession recalling Simeon and Anna as they journeyed to meet the Lord. More importantly, by processing in a figure of eight and so tracing the ancient infinity symbol around the church we have represented of our pilgrimage through life guided by the light of the Lord. As it is in this liturgical action, so it is in our daily living; we are encouraged to go forward to encounter the Lord Jesus who comes to meet with us in the Eucharist fulfilling of our ultimate goals and renewing us in his service.

So, we see that today’s celebration of Candlemas provides us with examples of holy living and it goes a long way in answering questions we may have about the point of living. Here both the gospel and the liturgy present us with the same answer, Jesus.
Encountering, being with, and becoming like Jesus is the only point of living; a goal that frees us form the fickle realities of this world and from the burden of self-centredness, enabling us to live life to the full, enjoying and cherishing who we are, our relations, and the world around us.

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