On this Candlemas Day, here is a meditation from Fr. Francis Xavier Weinger:
“Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, in peace!”–Luke 2.
These were the words of holy Simeon as he received the divine Child from the arms of its mother. Who would not congratulate him that the Lord fulfilled his ardent longing, and that, too, in so perfect a manner, by look upon the Infant God?
To behold the promised Redeemer, and then depart from this world to his eternal home, had been the suppliant prayer of Simeon from the days of his youth to his venerable old age; and this silent but intense desire of his heart was gratified on the Feast of the Purification, which we celebrate today.
Mary, with the divine Child in her arms, entered the temple with Joseph, her virginal spouse. Simeon looked upon the Child and, the Holy Spirit illuminating his soul, recognized in Him the Saviour of the world; and not only that, but he glanced with prophetic vision into the future, and God permitted him to behold the consequences of His advent into the world,–the Church so gloriously founded by Him. He thanked God for the happiness and grace when he saw himself among the number of those for whom Christ was to become a sign of resurrection and glorification for eternal life. The Lord granted his ardent desire, and surely in a more perfect manner than he anticipated, from which arose his prayer: “Now, O Lord, dismiss Thy servant in peace!”
The example of Simeon indicates, in the most explicit manner, what is required that we may also bid adieu to life, consoled and strengthened in the Lord. O Mary, sweet consoler of the dying, obtain for us the grace of a happy death! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor of God!
Simeon longed to depart from this world. Unlike so many, even among those who have received the light of faith, death held nothing terrible for him. Why is it, beloved in Christ, that the approach of death is generally regarded with such apprehension, and even terror? Because the human heart is entirely too much engrossed by the things of this world–its goods and treasures. Men toil on as long as their energies will permit, to acquire what they deem a sufficient competency to enable them to spend their declining years in comfort, ease, or luxury; and when the grim monarch of the tomb bids them leave it all, their whole interior undergoes a fearful struggle. Men pass their lives in enjoyment, they are happy in the love and affection of the family circle, or their days pass on in dissipation and forbidden amusements, when suddenly death appears and bids them go. Ah! then what trouble, what misery, what resistance on the part of those whose prayer is not: “Now, O Lord, dismiss Thy servant in peace;” but a very different one: “Now, O Lord, let Thy creature enjoy the goods of earth, and grant unto me still many days with my family, relations, and friends. Ah! let me taste still longer the joys of earth.”
Simeon longed for death; not so the child of the world. Simeon held the Child Jesus in his arms, and pressed Him to his heart, hoping ere long to embrace Him in the kingdom of His eternal love; which circumstance refers to another fact, from which we learn the reason why every Christian does not long to be dissolved, and to be with Christ.
Man, indeed, believes in Christ, adores Him, and is resolved to live as a child of His Holy Church, but by all this he does not attain to the personal knowledge of the Lord, whom he loves, so to say only in name. Hence the weakness of his love, and desire, and longing for God. We are satisfied to live in His grace, but Jesus is not the principal thought, the principal wish, the principal desire of our hearts. Man lives near Him, but in spirit he is more engrossed with other men and objects than with God, and all that concerns His empire.
Therefore, he does not feel the ardent longing to leave this world, to haste to his Creator, and to abide with Him in the full possession of His superabundant love, and to sigh with St. Paul: “I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ.” How very different would this be did we but follow the admonition contained in the example of the venerable Simeon, holding in his arms the Infant Saviour. This should remind us of the presence of Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament, and of the happiness of being permitted to have intercourse with Him therein. It should remind us of the great privilege we enjoy of speaking to Him, of laying before Him each wish of our hearts, and even of receiving His precious Body and Blood,–a happiness which was not granted to Simeon.
Indeed, generally speaking, what Christ was to do for us, was not so well known to him as to us. While Christ has already lived and accomplished the work of redemption in us, Simeon enjoyed but for a few moments the opportunity of remaining with Him in person; for Mary and Joseph left the temple, and took the little Infant away. But now, Christ abides among us in the tabernacle, and never for a moment ceases to invite and entreat us to come to Him. Oh, that we might fully comprehend how to appreciate and make use of this immeasurably great gift!–this gift of the perpetual presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament! Only through the perfect application of this precious gift will the meaning of all the relations of Christ become clear to us. When we call Him our Father–Brother–Friend–the Spouse of our souls, we begin to anticipate what our hearts will feel for Him when we behold Him unveiled–freed from the sacramental forms–when we look upon His glory in heaven, and embrace Him there.
In the measure that the personal love and knowledge of Jesus Christ increases in us by our intercourse with Him, in the same degree the desire grows evermore intense to fly to Him from this world of sin to a home of eternal bliss. For what would be the possession of the whole earth, with its riches and its pleasures, compared to that possession into which we enter, if we depart this life in the grace of God, and hear from His divine lips the blessed words: “Enter into the joys, the glory, and the delights of thy Lord.” “The conqueror I let sit with Me on My throne.” Oh, what are all the fleeting honors of this world compared with the brilliant luster of the crown which Christ will put upon our heads, when we shall have reached the refuge of His love in heaven! and what are earthly joys compared to those which He has prepared for His own, beyond the skies!
We may, it is true, enjoy the delights of the happy family circle–our parents, children, friends–and it will be a bitter pang to part with them by death; but the pain of that separation will be repaid a thousand fold by the bliss which a union with Christ in heaven will bring to us. Through Him we enter into the communion and beatitude of the saints, of His blessed mother, St. Joseph, and all the celestial host. Ah! then, may we not indeed, with the holy Simeon, and the venerable Apostle of nations, desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ?
One circumstance which intensifies that desire is this: What a joy it will be to leave the world, and with it the many, the innumerable offenses by which in every hour of the day and night Jesus Christ is insulted and crucified anew, even by those who call themselves children of His Church! And we, ourselves, alas! are not free from reproach in this regard; for we offend Him, if not by mortal sins, at least by innumerable venial faults and imperfections, from which we can not keep ourselves free without a special grace of God. What a motive to desire heaven, and to sigh from the deepest depths of the heart: “I long to be dissolved, and to be with Christ;” where I will be confirmed in grace, and forever free from the fear of displeasing my Lord and God; where I will be purified from every stain of sin, and will become an object of His pleasure and love for all eternity.
The holy Simeon was endowed with the spirit of prophecy. He penetrated the secrets of the ages yet hidden in the mystic veil of futurity; and the destinies of the Church were revealed to him. He beheld the combat which the Church of Christ would have to enter upon, and the different manner in which the children of men would apply or reject the priceless gift of redemption. When Simeon held the Infant Jesus in his arms, the massive gates of heaven were yet closed, and his soul must descend to Limbo, and wait until Christ would enter His kingdom of glory, and take with Him the souls saved through His passion and death.
Look in spirit upon your own dying bed. How different will it be! Christ has entered His kingdom, and there awaits the just soul with a heavenly crown. Now, if during life, our whole desire was to be with Him, a desire which displayed itself by our aspiration after the perfection and fidelity of the saints in imitating Him, then we will, after death, fly immediately to Him, and enter into His beatitude and love. God grant to us all, beloved in the Lord Jesus, through the intercession of the blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, and St. Anna, the grace of a happy death, full of an ardent longing after Christ, our dearest Saviour! Amen!
“A light to the revelation of the Gentiles.”–Luke 2.
The feast which Holy Church celebrates today in honor of the Blessed Virgin has a twofold name. It is called the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin. This name relates to the historical event, which took place when Mary presented herself in the temple, with the divine Child, that she might there fulfill the precept of a law which, properly speaking, did not regard her in the least.
The name “Candlemas Day” refers to the rite of blessing the candles to be used by the faithful, which is observed with proper solemnity by the Church. In regard to these blessed candles, there are three special periods of life when the Church places those candles, enriched by her benediction, in the hands of her children, and these are: First, at their entrance into this world–when they receive the sacranient of baptism; secondly, when, for the first time, they approach the altar, and from the hands of God’s minister receive the Body and Blood of Christ; and, thirdly, when, at the close of life, the soul is about to go forth and meet the Judge of the living and the dead.
Let us consider today what relation the lighted blessed candle bears to our conduct as children of God in imitating Christ, at the baptismal font, at first holy communion, and at the bed of death. O Mary, who becamest, through Christ, a light to guide mankind, obtain for us the light of grace clearly to discern our vocation as children of God, and to walk therein with unfaltering steps! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God!
Our Holy Mother Church places a lighted blessed candle in the hands of each one of her children, first, when they enter this world,–or, to speak with more exactness, on their entrance into the visible kingdom of Jesus Christ by the sacrament of baptism. Her intention in doing this is shown by the words which the priest, in her name, directs to the newly baptized infant: “Receive this burning light, and keep thy baptism so as to be without blame. Observe the commandments of God, that when our Lord shall come to His nuptials, thou mayest meet Him, together with all the saints, in the heavenly court, and mayest have life everlasting, and live forever and ever. Amen!”
What an admonition is contained in these words! Preserve pure and unspotted your baptismal robe; preserve the remembrance of the promises made by you; forget not your baptismal vows; observe all that you have so solemnly taken upon yourselves before the Lord. As Christians, you have renounced the devil with all his works and pomps; try, then, ever to live as true servants of Christ. And what is meant by a truly Christian life? Beloved in Christ, one glance at Him, who is the Light of the world, will teach us this.
Man, left to himself, knows but little of all that regards his ultimate destiny and last end; he can not realize the malice and horror of sin, for his spirit is shrouded in dark night, and he dwelleth in the shadow of death. But let him become well instructed in the truths of faith; let him look at Christ, the Light of the world, and consider what He,–through His word and example, from the moment of His advent into the world, through His life and death upon the cross,–teaches us by His Church.
Christ, the Son of God, assumes our flesh to free us from the evil of sin, which quenches in us the light of grace. Besides this, we learn from the lips of the prophets–from Christ Himself, through the teachings of the Apostles and their successors–that all are saved who here in the state of grace participate in the fruits of the Redemption. We are clearly instructed in all that is calculated to fill our hearts with hatred and horror of sin; we are told what we must do in order to be cleansed from it, if, after baptism, we have had the misfortune to offend God thereby, and fall once more into the power of Satan.
The Christian who, in this regard, permits himself to be thoroughly illuminated by the light of faith which Christ brought into this world, will become also thoroughly in earnest in his resolution to amend his life. “No more sin!” Such a one avoids the occasion of sin; yes, in the first moment of temptation, he cries out against Satan, in the most holy name of Jesus, “Depart,” and thus conquers the tempter, which, through his knowledge of Christ, and the study of His divine example and doctrines, but, above all, through his ardent love, he can easily accomplish.
If this be so, what then is the reason that so very few retain their baptismal innocence, and that by far the greater number lose it so soon? I answer by saying that it is because we forget to glance at Christ, Who, through sin, was crucified for us.
The second occasion on which the Church presents her children with a blessed candle, is on the occasion of their first communion. She admonishes them by this not to be satisfied merely to avoid sin, but with unwavering footsteps to walk after Christ in the way of Christian perfection. He is the brilliant Light which makes of this darksome earth a glorious way to heaven.
In our lives as true children of the Church we must strive ever to know, in as distinct a manner as possible, the most holy will of God, and pray always for the strength and will to fulfill it perfectly. And what is, in general, the will of God in our regard? To this question St. Paul replies: “This is the will of God: your sanctification.” Through what? This question also the great Apostle of nations answers with equal certainty: “Those also whom He has elected, He has predestined to become conformable to Himself;” and he says of himself: “Be ye my imitators, as I am an imitator of Christ,” and each true Christian should be enabled to say the same to the rest of mankind. But, alas, what darkness envelops that portion of the human race who know nothing of Christ; while the halo, as it were, of a brilliant sunlight encircles those who look at His bright example and obey His admonition: “Learn of Me;” and again: “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice.”
To what heights of perfection can those Christians attain who glance at Christ and imitate His example! This we may learn by the lives of the saints; and, as this symbolical light sparkles in our hand at Holy Communion, Mother Church points at the same time to the source of all grace by which we are enabled to live in the imitation of Christ after the manner of the saints.
This, beloved in the Lord Jesus, is our intercourse with Christ in the most Holy Sacrament, which is the only way to attain, to His personal knowledge, to the perfect love of Jesus Christ, and to follow His example until we attain to the highest degree of virtue.
If the illuminative light–as it shines through Christ into the hearts of the innocent ones, who are united with Him for the first time through a worthy communion–is never permitted to burn dimly; but, by frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist, is always enlivened anew, then indeed there is an unequivocal assurance that the fervor which characterized their first Holy Communion remains ever the same, and that their endeavors after Christian perfection in following the Lord will be crowned with success.
The third period of life when the Church places the blessed candle in the hands of her children, is at the moment when the soul is about to leave the body, and its flickering beams cast their uncertain light on the pallid countenance and fading eyes of the dying Christian.
If we would that our zeal should grow constantly greater, and our fervor increase as children of light, let us keep ever in view the remembrance of the powerful word–Eternity–united with the abiding thought of the certainty of death and its approach, which comes nearer each moment. It is, as the Apostle styles it, the answer of death within us.
Happy for us, my dearest Christians, if this threefold relation of the blessed candle burns with ever increasing brightness around our spirits, for then indeed Christ will surely remain for us the Light to guide our steps to the empire of His glory! Amen!