“Lord, now you let your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled.” Luke 2:29
Every once in a blue moon, the 40th day after Christmas falls on a Sunday, and we all celebrate the feast of the Presentation together. It’s been 11 years since the last time. I was a transitional deacon then, in Silver Spring, Maryland. That was a winter when we had two blizzards in one week. There was a convent of nuns at the parish where I was living. I took it upon myself to shovel the walkway from their house to the church, so they could get to Mass. The snow was piled three feet deep. It took all day.
Anyway, this feast marks an end, and a beginning.
Old Simeon—faithful and vigilant in the Lord’s temple—he solemnly declared that his long wait had come to an end. This little baby, this cooing infant is none other than the light of God that shines for every nation.
The age of prophecies has ended. The expectations are now no longer expecting. God has become man. The definitive moment has arrived. Human history needed a turning point, and Simeon was among the first to realize: This is it. Baby Jesus has given human history the turning point it needs.
But of course this means that the Presentation of the Divine Baby in the Temple also marks a beginning. The beginning of salvation. The beginning of the pilgrimage that ends nowhere short of heaven.
Candlemas day means our Christmas observances are definitely over, completely over. If your dry, tinderbox Christmas tree is still in the house, your insurance company may cancel your homeowner’s policy. But we already knew that Christmas has ended. Last year has ended. 2013 is long over now.
In fact, Simeon realized: all the hopeless strife of the past is over now. The confusion, the anxiety that burdens us, and exhausts us, and makes us old—guess what? It’s over. Because our pilgrimage with, and in, and towards Christ has begun.
The Lamb, willing to suffer for us, Who came to pardon and refresh: He has taken us unto Himself, into the bosom of His Church.
He has put His life in us by the ministry of the sacraments, so that—speaking of endings and beginnings—because of the sacraments, we can’t say where we end and where Christ begins. Through the sacraments He gave to His Church, He unites Himself to us so intimately that where we end, and where He begins, is simply a mystery. “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
What we can control, what we can grasp and understand and work on, is this: Bringing our sins and bad habits to an end. We can search ourselves, and face the truth in all its unvarnished painfulness, and admit our faults in the confessional. Then the guilt ends, and the new and improved version of myself begins.
May God in His kindness shine His light into our hearts! May He help us to end our vices. May He lead us through the pilgrimage of this life to the beginning of bliss in heaven, which doesn’t end.