Homily for February 2, 2020
Presentation of Our Lord
Light of Truth
A few years ago, I was assigned to a parish that had a significant parish library. One day I was browsing through the library when I came across a book that caught my eye: it was entitled, “Ten Best Guesses About Life.” Written by a Catholic priest, the book’s introduction said, “Well, I don’t have any real answers about God, suffering, or the meaning of life, but here are my ten best guesses.”
That frustrated me so much I wanted to throw the book across the room! While I respect someone who is humble and knows their limitations, I’m looking for more than ten best guesses – I want to know if there are answers to these fundamental questions about the human person!
Thus, today’s Feast. This is often considered a feast of light, for two reasons. First, before the days of Netflix and Youtube, our ancestors were much more connected to the seasons and the sun and moon. February 2nd is halfway between the beginning of winter (the shortest day of the year) and the beginning of spring (the day on which the day and night are equal length). So, in a real sense, this is day in which the physical light is growing stronger, helping us believe that spring is right around the corner (which is also why that groundhog comes out in Pennsylvania on this day…). But more to our point, this is a feast that celebrates Christ as THE Light of the world.
God commanded the Israelites to consecrate every firstborn son to the Lord. A special sacrifice was required for the firstborn son, recognition that children are a gift from the Lord to be raised according to His commands. So Mary and Joseph bring Jesus forty days after Christmas to the Temple – 40 being the number of testing and purification in Scripture. This is the first time that baby Jesus would have been out in public – a sign that the Light of the World is now being offered to the world. Simeon sees this as not just a light for the Jews; no, he says that Jesus will be a “light for the Gentiles” so that the entire world will live in the light of God. This is why this Feast is often called “Candlemas Day” and candles are blessed today – as a symbol of Christ, the true Light of the World.
What is the connection between Jesus and light? Light illuminates – it shows us how things really are. We’ve all seen something in the darkness and didn’t know what it was – “Is that a bear at the end of my driveway, or just my trash can?” Light shows us what things really are, it reveals things hidden in darkness. And Jesus, as the Light of the World, illuminates reality.
John Paul II once said, “Christ reveals man to himself.” Do you want to know what it means to be human? Look at Jesus. Do you want to know the answers about God, suffering, the meaning of life and love? Look at Jesus. We don’t need “best guesses” when we have the light of Christ! Jesus continues His teaching work on earth today, through the Church. Jesus’ life, example, teachings, and Church all answer the deepest questions of the human heart.
That’s why I have never really understood why people so often disagree with teachings of the Church, Christ’s Body on earth. All of the teachings of the Church are meant to illuminate reality. Even the controversial teachings, like the teachings about sexuality or immigration or respect for life, are not a list of prohibitions, but show us what it means to be truly human. The Church’s teachings – which continue Christ’s teaching work – shed light upon reality itself, helping us make sense of this crazy thing we call life. After all, as Pope John Paul II also said, “The Church is an expert in humanity!”
But this light does more than just instruct us in Truth. Light also helps to purify us as well. We’ve all had that window that we think we’ve cleaned really well, but then the sunlight hits it, and all of a sudden we see a smudge we missed! Or perhaps we’re having dinner in a darkened restaurant, and it isn’t until we get home and face the bright bathroom lights that we realize we spilled pasta sauce on our tie! Light helps us purify things.
Isaiah tells us in the first reading that when God comes to His temple, He will “purify” the sons of Levi – those are the priests who offer sacrifice in the Temple. And Simeon says that Jesus will cause considerable controversy – He will be responsible for the “rise and fall” of those in Israel, and “hearts will be laid bare” – in other words, we will find out who’s fake and who’s real, who loves God and who only pretends to love God.
There really are only two options when it comes to Jesus. Either we love Him with our whole hearts, or we dismiss Him as irrelevant to our lives. If we’re somewhere in the middle, we will not stay in the middle – we will either be growing to love Him more, or will quickly lose what little faith we had.
Have you ever seen on EWTN a priest named Fr. Don Calloway? His conversion story is rather remarkable. He was a drug addict by 13, and a dealer by 15. His father, a military man, moved the family to Japan, where as a teen Don got involved in the Japanese mafia, dealing drugs, committing petty crimes. He eventually got kicked out of the entire country of Japan and was sent to rehab back in the States, but nothing was working. Finally, one Friday night when he was 20, he declined invitations from his friends for yet another party. He was depressed, miserable, empty inside, and didn’t want to be with them anymore. Bored at home, restless, and wondering if he should just end it all, he picked up a book from his mother’s bookshelf to distract himself.
The book happened to be about Marian apparitions – how Mary appeared in Fatima, Lourdes, and allegedly in Medjugorje in Yugoslavia. He read the book in one sitting and was moved to tears – God loved him? The purpose of his life was to spend eternity with God in Heaven? God wanted him to find abundant life through repentance and holiness? These simple yet powerful truths illuminated his mind – and caused him to purify his life.
The next day he went to a Catholic Church and met with a priest, who told him the good news of God’s Divine Mercy. He then went home and literally purified his room – he brought out over 20 big trash bags full of everything from his past life – rock concert tee-shirts, drug paraphernalia, books and CDs and anything that reminded him of his sinful past. He started attending Mass daily, praying the Rosary, and is now a Catholic priest.
His mind was illuminated by the light of Truth. That same light purified him, purged him of his sin. Today, that Light is offered to us. Do you question the meaning of life, of love? Do you wonder how to be happy, how to grow through suffering? Don’t just take your ten best guesses. The answers are out there – revealed by Christ the Light.