Today is a special Sunday, the Feast of the Presentation or the Feast of the Candlemas in the old liturgy.
The Presentation was first observed by the Eastern Churches and was called the “The Encounter,” as we see this dramatized in today’s Gospel, the encounter among Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna. When the Western Church or the Roman or Latin Rite observed it, the first feast observed was called Feast of the Purification of Our Lady, or Feast of the Candlemas.
This introduced the blessing of the candles for the Feb. 2 liturgy.
In todays’ Gospel, we see the figures of Simeon and Anna as sources of edification and icons of prayer and fasting; truly faithful disciples and missionaries of God to emulate. The qualities worth emulating are their focus on and fidelity to mission, no matter how seemingly simple and single-minded: to wait in the temple for the Saviour, the Messiah to appear in the temple The prophets’ fasting and praying while waiting were their way of preparing for this moment.
Simeon’s nunc dimittis most eloquently expresses this focus on and fidelity to mission: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace… for my eyes have seen your salvation… a light of revelation to the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”
Defined by mission
It was solely for this moment he lived for, for his eyes to see Christ the Messiah. Everything in his life—his fasting, his praying, his waiting—was oriented towards and had meaning because of this moment, his mission.
In a very “extreme” way, Simeon’s life, as well as Anna’s, was shaped and defined by the end, the goal, the mission. It is not a case of the end justifies the means, but the end determining and giving meaning to the means.
This also introduces us to the core grace of mission—the encounter with the Lord. This is vividly captured in the Eastern Church’s ancient celebration of this feast, the Feast of the Encounter.
Then Simeon further defines the results or what we would at times refer to as the by-product of this encounter. As we see in Simeon and Anna, they rejoice and praise God for this moment of the encounter, the by-product of a life deeply marked by joy and lived in gratitude and praise.
Simeon gives us another by-product, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace… for my eyes have seen your salvation… ” The spiritual freedom, the transcendental liberation of a person who has accomplished his/her mission in this world and encountering Christ is the deeper and rich fruit of the encounter.
We see these in many stories of persons who experience this profound moment of encounter. St. Theresa of Avila exclaims in her prayer that God alone suffices and thus nothing else matters; “let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you.”
St. Thomas Aquinas had this moment in the middle of writing his definitive work. He simply put down the pen and stopped writing. When asked why, he repeats a similar “prayer” as Avila’s saying that he had encountered Christ and nothing else matters.
This great spiritual freedom, the liberation of the heart and soul is a grace that is available in the encounter. But the choice must be made by us. The choice is to die to self and to die to the world. This death liberates us and blesses us with spiritual freedom.
“Now Master let your servant of in peace,” as Simeon describes this choice to die to self and to the world, reveals to us another by-product: peace.
This is the peace that Christ later on talks about in the Gospels as the peace that the world does not give, but only he can give.
Later on in the story of the Gospels, we have Christ living out this same pattern of a disciple and a missionary: focus on and fidelity to mission that leads to the encounter with God; not just any encounter, but one that is the defining moment of one’s life meaning and mission.
In the words of Christ, “it was for this purpose that I came”—or was sent—and later he restates this in the Agony in the Garden, “not my will, but your will be done.” The choice was made at that moment of encounter. This choice led to the moment of the Cross that allowed the Resurrection to happen.
There is one exercise in our course for public school teachers where we ask them to remember the moment when they choose to become a teacher in the public schools; that moment when with great clarity they dedicated their life to this mission.
I would like to think this is a common pattern for us all. If we are to trace our life line of choices to live out the moment of great clarity when we encountered God and knew what he sent us into this world for, our mission, I think we will all identify the dying to self that came with the choices, especially the most important choices.
It is the nature of choice to give up something in order to purse what we discern to be of greater value; to die to self that God’s grace and love may live and grow in us; to die to self that Christ’s life may come shining through and in us.
The Presentation of Our Lord in the temple is the Presentation of Our Lord, Our Savior to the whole world as the light of the world. The call and the grace of this feast is for us to be like Simeon and Anna: Renew our focus on and fidelity to mission and be single-minded in living our life according to this mission, with devotion and dedication.
Today, in the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord, Christ Our Savior is revealed to us, “light to the nations.” Simeon and Anna, too, show us a pattern of life that will lead us to an encounter with Christ Our Savior and from this encounter we become followers of Christ; an alter Christus, another Christ in the world, a light to others to lead them to their own personal encounter with Christ.
We can hope that we may also pray our nunc dimittis: Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace for I have seen and shared with others the light of Christ.