There is something special about each of our church buildings. One of the special somethings about our Union Street church is the stained glass. These windows of primarily saints surround us in our worship and remind us we are never alone. Did you know that Joan of Arc had visions from saints that were in the windows of her childhood church?
I haven’t had any visions, but I did have a moving experience yesterday. I was sitting in the Union Street chapel, staring at Our Lady of Sorrows. I didn’t take a picture, but here is a depiction of her:
She is located in the front of the church along with St. Helena and St. Agnes. She is Mary holding seven swords because she had seven sorrows. Simeon had prophesied that, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed,” (Luke 2: 34-35).
I’ve been captured by this window all year, because she holds the swords so tightly to herself. I tend to hold my sorrows tightly too. I know I need to hold them out to the Lord so we can bear them together, but I forget and think I can somehow handle them on my own (never works). Because Mary often pondered things in her heart, I wonder if she struggled with holding out her sorrows too. I mean, she’s Mary so probably not – but in my imagination, I like to think she knows what I’m talking about at least.
So I’m staring at this window and feeling solidarity with Our Lady of Sorrows, when the lights on the Christmas tree up there turned on! I think they are set on a timer so they will be on for daily Mass. The timing was impeccable. It completely turned my thinking. Here was Mary holding tightly to her sorrows, and light came in to shine on her. This soft, gentle light was like a reminder that she (me, all of us) doesn’t have to stay in the dark with her worries. God shines God’s light in all the dark places where fear tends to creep in. The love of this light dispels fear. The sorrows may remain, but the light accompanies. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” (John 1: 5).
So I share this with you, the church, because I would LOVE to hear if these windows, our saints of Union Street, have ever caused reflection for you. We would love to be enriched by your stories!
The Christian holiday of Candlemas, on 2 February, is a feast to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of baby Jesus. In France, this holiday is called la Chandeleur, Fête de la Lumière,* or jour des crêpes. Not only do the French eat a lot of crêpes on Chandeleur, but they also do a bit of fortune telling while making them. It is traditional to hold a coin in your writing hand and a crêpe pan in the other, and flip the crêpe into the air. If you manage to catch the crêpe in the pan, your family will be prosperous for the rest of the year. There are all kinds of French proverbs and sayings for Chandeleur; here are just a few. Note the similarities to the Groundhog Day predictions made in the US and Canada:
À la Chandeleur, l’hiver cesse ou reprend vigueur
On Candlemas, winter ends or strengthens
À la Chandeleur, le jour croît de deux heures
On Candlemas, the day grows by two hours
Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte
Candlemas covered (in snow), forty days lost
Rosée à la Chandeleur, hiver à sa dernière heure
Dew on Candlemas, winter at its final hour (http://french.about.com/od/culture/a/chandeleur.htm)
1st Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
Malachi is a pseudonym meaning “My Messenger.” The author probably wished to conceal his (or her) identity because his attacks on the priests and ruling classes were very sharp. Malachi arrived on the scene after the excitement of the return from exile had worn off. Morals were suffering. People were reneging on their tithes, intermarrying (and losing their cultural and religious identity), and oppressing the widow, the orphan and the foreigner. For Malachi, this moral slide began in the temple (Guentert, US Catholic, p. 22). Compare this with the Gospel!
St. Jerome identified the messenger referenced in this pericope as the prophet Ezra. Jesus adapted the words to John the Baptist (Mt 11:10) (Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 400). The imagery of lye and fire is meant to be transformational. When we allow God to come into our life and our decision-making, we can be refined and transformed! How have you found this to be true in your life?
2nd Reading: Hebrews 2:14-18
In this part of the letter, we understand that God made Jesus perfect through suffering. The verb translated ‘make perfect’ in Greek is teleioun. In the New Testament, this word has special meaning. It is used of an animal which is unblemished and fit to be offered as a sacrifice; of a scholar who is no longer at the elementary stage but mature; of a Christian who is no longer on the fringe of the Church. The thing or person fully (perfectly) carries out the purpose for which it was designed. Through suffering, Jesus was made fully able for the task of being the pioneer of our salvation. Jesus Christ fully identified himself with humankind by becoming a man, and suffered like humans do. Jesus really felt his humanity with us, and so he can really help, (Barclay on The Letter to the Hebrews, p. 26-28).
Gospel Reading: Luke 2: 22-40
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God:
see all, nor be afraid!” ~Robert Browning
It is by the wisdom of elders that our eyes are opened to what Jesus’ purpose will be. Anna’s name means “grace”. Like Simeon, she has spent her life in awaiting the Lord, (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 75). The reference to “a sword will pierce” is why Mary depicted as Our lady of Sorrows is generally illustrated with swords (see Union Street church window!).
The requirement for the wife only to be purified after childbirth is found in Leviticus 12:1-8. Since Mary and Joseph could not provide a lamb, they make the offering of the poor. The family of Jesus is here seen as totally observant of the law, (p. 74).
Only at great cost would Jesus carry out the purpose for which he was born. Both he and his mother would know suffering – but that suffering, as Anna the prophetess would affirm, would bring about the redemption of Israel while offering the light of salvation to the gentiles.
As we celebrate this feast, let us present ourselves to God, as Jesus did. Offering all we are, all we have and all we will become; let us, like Jesus, be willing to go forth from this place determined to be a source of light and healing in an often dark, broken world. Let us grow strong and wise, knowing that the favor of God rests upon us, (Sanchez, NCR for Jan. 17-30, 2014, p. 25).
Consolation as defined by Margaret Silf, Inner Compass:
- Directs our focus outside and beyond ourselves
- Lifts our hearts so that we can see the joys and sorrows of other people
- Bonds us more closely to our human community
- Generates new inspiration and ideas
- Restores balance and refreshes our inner vision
- Shows us where God is active in our lives and where he is leading us
- Releases new energy in us (p. 53)
Compare this to the consolation of Israel. How can Jesus help you find consolation?