02 February 2014

Before Goundhog Day: Candlemas

"That's all very beautiful, you might be saying to yourself, but how can my heart - stony as it is, be illuminated by the light of the Holy Spirit? Let's take the candles we have received today as an example. How does a candle produce its light? By being consumed. The fire consumes the wax. The fire of love consumes our very substance - sacrificial love. I mean, radical self-giving, death to self. Don't be afraid of giving your life completely to God. We will shine with a great light if we allow ourselves to be consumed by a greater light: the light of Christ who, after being totally extinguished on the cross, blazed up in the glory of the Resurrection, an undying light which shines, radiates, casts light on all the world, now and always and forever and ever. Amen."

-Homily from Norcia monks, 2011 (read more here)

It's not often that I've seen Candlemas customs actually observed in parishes (likely due to fears of once again putting fire into the hands of the entire assembly for nearly the whole Mass...I haven't seen a church burn down yet), so I was so glad to have Sunday Mass by candlelight this morning. I love the myriad shades of symbolism of the flame: Christ as light of the world, hope, all-consuming love, the Holy Spirit, purgatorial fire. Real flame consumes our attention too - how fixated we are on our slender tapers until we can extinguish them at Communion, just as our attentions should be fixed on the true light. It wasn't until very recently that I learned of Candlemas as Groundhog Day's long predecessor. As much as Punxsutawney Phil provides a fun little annual ritual, Groundhog Day seems to flip the meaning of the day on its head. Rather than rejoice in the hope of new light (whether winter stays for 6 more weeks or not), we tend to fixate on the groundhog's fear - for an abundance of light will surely scare him back into his hole. Our hope is not predicated on chance, but on the real Light of the World.

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