Let us immerse ourselves in the circle of Christ’s light.
Among the many things remembered about Pope St. John Paul II, one of the most delightful and human is that he was an early riser. His secretary Archbishop Mokrzycki recalls, “He woke up by himself. He had an alarm clock in his bedroom, but I do not remember him using it but once.” With a day starting around 5 a.m., the late Holy Father loved the mornings. And why did he wake so early? John Paul II once playfully admitted, “I like to see the sun rise.”
John Paul II told a Wednesday audience, “Sunrise and sunset are not anonymous moments in the day. They have unmistakable features: the joyful beauty of dawn and the triumphant splendor of sunset follow the cosmic rhythms that deeply involve human life.” In the evening Christ hung on the cross and accomplished our redemption; each morning should remind us of the Resurrection. God made the light at the first moment of creation, and by His rising from the dead He fills it with new meaning. John Paul II’s life, a life filled with the hope and promise of Christ, began each day with the promise of light: the sunrise.
Like the rays of the sun, Christ enlightens every man by his presence. Piercing the darkness of minds and hearts, the light of Christ reveals the depths of each person. The Second Vatican Council teaches, “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself.” Only when our lives are illuminated by Christ do they come into focus; Christ alone reveals the extent of life’s suffering and love. As when the sun appears above the horizon and unveils a landscape’s every hill and valley, Christ shines forth on the joys and sorrows of our hearts.
Today, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we proclaim the power of the light of Christ. Candles held by the faithful on this day, a feast also known as Candlemas, call to mind the verse sung by the noble prophet Simeon upon seeing the Christ Child. “My own eyes have seen your salvation,” Simeon sings, “which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The newborn Christ, the King of Israel, reveals new heights of life and love for God’s faithful, indeed for every man and woman.
Not every heart believes faith is a light. When faith is first given, at baptism, a candle is lit. The candle and faith are gifts. In fact the light from that baptismal candle is lit from the Easter candle. The Easter candle symbolizes Christ, who has redeemed and enlightened every baptized soul. The first work of God in the creation of the world was to speak forth light: “And God said let there be light, and there was light” (Gen 1:3). In our spiritual lives, God’s first great work is to enlighten us with faith: to give us light. St. Paul puts it this way, “For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of [Jesus] Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).
Pope Francis exhorts us in his beautiful first encyclical letter to the Church, saying, “There is no human experience, no journey of man to God, which cannot be taken up, illumined and purified by this light.” The light of Christ is not the sort of thing that limits us. Our lives are not smaller or narrower because of the Gospel. Again, Pope Francis assures us, “The more Christians immerse themselves in the circle of Christ’s light, the more capable they become of understanding and accompanying the path of every man and woman towards God.”
The light of faith pierces the darkness, showing us the way forward. Christ shares this light of life with us, guiding our footsteps. The light of Christ may not drive every shadow of suffering from our hearts, yet he remains there, leading us by the light of his presence, opening a way of light in every moment of life’s suffering. Darkness, even, has the capacity to purify us. Meister Eckhart says, “Truly, it is in darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us.” Faithfulness to Jesus, even in the most difficult circumstances, will conform us to His perfect light.
Today’s feast exalts two who believed. Anna, the prophetess, and Simeon longed to see this light. God, faithful to the desires of the hearts, heard their pleas. St. Catherine of Siena writes, “In the light of faith I am strong, constant, and persevering.” Anna and Simeon, whose hearts were illuminated by the light of faith, waited patiently for the Lord to carry out his work in their lives. They were rewarded with a foretaste of heaven, getting to gaze upon the face of the Savior.
No greater work is there in the life of a Christian than to spread the light of Christ. As Jesus says, “I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (Jn 12:46). Filled with faith, symbolized by the candles of this great feast, may we pass on the luminous hope we have received!