Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Notes on the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple.

Today's feast goes by many names - the Meeting (or Presentation) of the Lord in the Temple, the Entrance of the Lord into the Temple, the Encounter of the Lord with Simeon and Anna, the Purification of the Virgin Mary, Candlemas, and so on. Coming forty days after the Feast of the Nativity, this feast has traditionally been seen as the definitive endpoint to celebrations of Christmas as well as an early reminder of the coming of Lent (a very early reminder this year, as Lent won't begin until March).

Reflecting on the events commemorated by this feast, I am always moved by the prophetic witness of Simeon and Anna, whose quiet faith in the coming of the Redeemer found confirmation in their encounter with the Christ Child. I suspect that most readers have known people like Simeon and Anna, believers of gentle yet prophetic faith whose example both humbles and inspires us; on this feast day, we would do well to recall these individuals, to commend them to God, and to give thanks for their presence in our lives.

To prompt further reflection on the encounter commemorated today and its meaning for us, I'd like to share part of a sermon on the Meeting of the Lord by Father Alexander Schmemann, reprinted in his posthumous work Celebration of Faith. Father Alexander wrote these words as he was dying of cancer, a fact which may give added resonance to his reflections on how our "earthly destiny" actually constitutes a "growth and ascent" toward God:
How striking and beautiful an image, the old man holding the child in his arms, and how strange are his words: "For my eyes have seen thy salvation..." Pondering these words we begin to appreciate the depth of this event and its relationship to us, to me, to our faith. Is anything in the world more joyful than an encounter, a "meeting" with someone you love? Truly, to live is to await, to look forward to the encounter. Isn't Simeon's transcendent and beautiful anticipation a symbol of this? Isn't his long life a symbol of expectation, this elderly man who spends his whole life waiting for the light which illumines all and the joy which fills everything with itself? And how unexpected, how unspeakably good that long-awaited light and joy comes to the elderly Simeon through a child! Imagine the old man's trembling hands as he takes in his arms the forty-day-old infant so tenderly and carefully, his eyes gazing on the tiny being and filling with an outpouring of praise: "Now, You may let me depart in peace, for I have seen, I have held in my arms, I have embraced the very meaning of life." Simeon waited. He waited his entire long life, and surely this means he pondered, he prayed, he deepened as he waited, so that in the end his whole life was one continuous "eve" of a joyful meeting.

Isn't it time that we ask ourselves, what am I waiting for? What does my heart keep reminding me about more and more insistently? Is this life of mine gradually being transformed into anticipation, as I look forward to encountering the essential? These are the questions the Meeting poses. Here, in this feast, human life is revealed as the surpassing beauty of a maturing soul, increasingly liberated, deepened and cleansed of all that is petty, meaningless and incidental. Even aging and demise, the earthly destiny we all share, are so simply and convincingly shown here to be growth and ascent toward that one moment when with all my heart, in the fullness of thanksgiving, I say: "let me now depart." I have seen the light which permeates the world. I have seen the Child, who brings the world so much divine love and who gives himself to me. Nothing is feared, nothing is unknown, all is now peace, thanksgiving and love. This is what the Meeting of the Lord brings. It celebrates the soul meeting Love, meeting the one who gave me life and gave me strength to transfigure it into anticipation.
Good wishes and prayers for all who celebrate this feast today. AMDG.


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