The Presentation of the Lord/Candlemas – 2nd February

January 28, 2011

The nights are getting slightly lighter and the morning a little brighter. Each year we welcome the extra few minutes of day and long for the advent of spring and summer. Light is vital to us all both for illumination but also for warmth. The Church has always used candles in the Liturgy to remind us of Christ who is THE light of lights. At Christmas and at Easter candles are used in the celebration of Mass. And on Wednesday we celebrate the feast commonly called Candlemas. We recall the presentation of the infant Christ in the Temple, forty days after is birth.

In the gospel for the day we hear of the old man Simeon who praises God because he has now beheld the ‘light of the nations’. During Mass candles are lit and blessed to emphasise this and the liturgy looks back to joy of Christmas but also forward to the triumph of Easter.

The nights may still be long and cold but Wednesday’s feast brings some warmth into our lives. It reminds us that Christ is the Light of the World. It celebrates the fact that the light of Christ shines in our world today. It calls us to be living flames bringing warmth and light to others but in so doing showing them, through our lives, the way to Christ himself.

St Francis de Sales – 24 January

January 21, 2011

We live in an age which is obsessed with its ‘rights’ – in every situation you can find people who are keen to assert that they can’t be pushed around. Some of those caught in the glare of the media seem pushy and obnoxious. We are urged to contest anyone who stands in our way. It seems as if the meek and the peacemakers are regarded with scorn. That’s why we need saints like the one we celebrate on Monday.

St. Francis de Sales was the epitome of gentleness. His writings are shot through with genuine meekness, and his own life was one of humble service. Perhaps his most famous observation was that ‘you win more flies with a spoonful of honey than a barrel full of vinegar’. But he was no pushover and certainly showed great courage and bravery. Born in 1567 he became Bishop of Geneva in 1603. In his early years as a priest he had been under threat from Protestant extremists who were angry at his success in winning people back to the Catholic faith. In Geneva, the very epicentre of the Calvinist reform, he faced much abuse and aggression. And yet by the time of his death many of those same Calvinists acknowledged that a saint had been in their presence. Francis managed to combine loyalty to the faith with scrupulous courtesy and concern for all those he met – even his opponents.

It would be easy for us to retaliate in kind when we find ourselves mocked or ridiculed for our faith. It is harder and better for us to learn from Francis. May he pray for us so that we can, in the words of the old hymn, ‘love friend and foe in all our strife’.

St Anthony of Egypt – 17 January

January 14, 2011

We may often feel that the world is becoming increasingly hostile to faith and also, maybe, that the Church is tainted by that secularism. The saint who we celebrate on Monday was of the same opinion even though he lived nearly 1700 years ago!

St. Anthony was born in Egypt sometime in the middle of the third century and died in the year 356. After hearing the gospel message to ‘sell all you possess and give it to the poor’ he did just that and retreated to the desert to escape the world and also to maintain some severity in the face of a church that some of his contemporaries were afraid was losing its moral fervour. There he stayed but God had other plans for Anthony. The world and the leaders of the Church would not leave him alone. He was eagerly consulted by rulers and played a crucial part in upholding the true faith about Jesus’s divinity, being a keen supporter of St. Athanasius in his struggle against the heretics.

In time others came to join Anthony in the desert and the organised themselves according to a rule of life. A century later St. Benedict was to us this in setting up his great religious order, so in many ways Anthony can be seen as the father of monasticism.

Anthony is important because he shows us how God demands complete devotion but also how He uses us in ways beyond our understanding. As we enter into a new year let us pray that we will be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, go where He leads, but also be prepared to deal with the people he sends to us.

Baptism of the Lord

January 11, 2011

On Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This feast can cause some misunderstanding if we begin in the wrong place. If we think that the primary reality of baptism is ‘the washing away of original sin’ then we will have to do mental contortions to explain why Jesus was baptised at all. If, however, we start in the right place and see Jesus’s life a normative for our own then we can begin to understand far more about the feast and about the sacrament of baptism.

Just listen to the gospel reading for the day. It speaks of Jesus being revealed for who he really is – the beloved Son of the Father. In his baptism the divine trinity is revealed at work in the life of Jesus – he is the Father’s beloved Son who is filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the primary reality of baptism – revealing who we really are. Jesus is shown as he is in his very nature, our baptism makes us like him. It does take away original sin because it recreates us as the Father’s sons and daughters. What Jesus is by nature we are made by grace.

So this feast is not a puzzle to be solved but a wonderful celebration of the power of the holy Trinity. Jesus’s baptism shows the Trinity at work in our world, in the font that work in continued as are adopted as God’s beloved children.