Monday, February 26, 2007
On Saturday afternoon, I noticed that the sky started looking awfully orange. So I took these pictures (which are shown untouched). We had some strong winds blowing in from the West, where it is more dry and dusty, creating a dust storm over the metroplex. Our power was out for most of the day. The picture above is from our back yard, looking toward the sun. The picture below is looking across the street from the front of our house.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
I love listening to Dennis Prager on the radio and reading his columns. Here is one of his columns I think everyone should read.
For much of my life, I, like most people, regarded the pursuit of happiness as largely a selfish pursuit. One of the great revelations of middle age has been that happiness, far from being only a selfish pursuit, is a moral demand.
When we think of character traits we rightly think of honesty, integrity, moral courage, and acts of altruism. Few people include happiness in any list of character traits or moral achievements.
But happiness is both.
Happiness--or at least acting happy, or at the very least not inflicting one's unhappiness on others--is no less important in making the world better than any other human trait.
With some exceptions, happy people make the world better and unhappy people make it worse. This is true on the personal (micro) and global (macro) planes.Read the whole thing here.
Friday, February 23, 2007
A sermon to begin Lent.
In 1969, one of the most successful self-help books of all time hit the shelves of bookstores across the country and was driven by curiosity and word of mouth onto the bestseller lists. It was Dr Thomas Harris’ book I’m OK, You’re OK. The title phrase became a common part of our vernacular, and the book itself is still in print, 15 million copies later.
The book’s early chapters lay out the doctor’s theory of "Transactional Analysis" and then moves on to the kind of practical applications we would expect to find in a self-help book. The phase “I'm OK, You’re OK” describes one of four life positions that each of us naturally take. The four positions are:
1. I’m Not OK, You’re OK
2. I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK
3. I’m OK, You’re Not OK
4. I’m OK, You’re OK
Harris argued that the most common position is “I’m Not OK, You’re OK”. The reason is as children we see that adults are large, strong and competent and that we are little, weak and often make mistakes, so we conclude “I’m Not OK, You’re OK”. The focus of the book is helping laymen understand how their life position affects their communications (or “transactions”) with other people and how it shapes their relationships.
Toward the end of the book, the author tries to move the reader to reevaluate which one of those four life positions they ought to have, and backing it up with religious philosophy comes to the conclusion that the best life position for you is to come to an equilibrium with the world in which you live, that is, to realization that “I’m OK, and You’re OK.”
Well my friends, not according to God. Indeed, every word and action that you encounter here today in scripture and in liturgy has but a single message: You are not okay (and I certainly know I'm not okay). Instead, there is something desperately wrong with us. We are fatally sick; we are mortally wounded; we are deeply estranged, and it is time for me and you to get right with God.
You can hear the urgency in the voice of the Prophet Joel: “Sound the trumpet in Zion.” Zion has always been the faithful people of God, those dear to his heart. The Prophet want us to call a fast to prepare for the coming judgment of God. Likewise, St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians—a hurting and deeply divided church—says “be reconciled to God.” And, “Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.”
Our faithful obedience is pleasing to God, but we have failed miserable at it. Consider the story of King Saul. “To obey is better than sacrifice,” Samuel pointed out to the King as we was getting his offerings ready (1 Sam 15:22). It was a sad moment because Saul had squandered his last chance at redemption. The Prophet said, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!”
As the Prophet Samuel turned to leave, Saul lunged at his in desperation. He caught hold of the hem of the prophet’s robe, and it tore. Samuel looked back at this miserable king lying with his face on the ground and said to him, “Today the LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel and has given it to one of your neighbors—to someone better than you.” Saul did not take advantage of the mercy given to him by the Lord, and in his rebellion, Saul let that opportunity pass him by.
Like Saul, all of us have fallen into disobedience. At different times and different ways, we have turned away from God. I’m not OK, You’re not OK. We have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, as St Paul wrote. As we heard just a Sundays ago in the 17th chapter of Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. . . Cursed is the man who trusts in man, depending on his own strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. . . Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.”
We were created for obedience, for fellowship, for life with God. And yet we have disobeyed, broken God’s trust, and rejected life with him. That fact is not without it’s consequences. We feel the consequences of poor choices in daily life—in broken relationships, in lost trust, in squandered opportunities. And yet that does not begin to compare with the eternal consequences we face from those deliberate transgressions of our heavenly Father’s will. Still, I think we hardly have any real sense of the gravity of sin and the reality of God’s wrath and judgment.
I remember after hurricane Katrina, there was the mayor or some official down in New Orleans who made some comment like, “We ought to consider if this might be a sign of God’s judgment.” I hope you heard some of the ridicule that met that statement. How dare he say something like that! How dare he be so insensitive and judgmental! Who does this guy think he is? Maybe you were thinking the same thing. Maybe you even thought it when I suggested that you might not be “okay.” As a culture, we have grown totally intolerant of such ideas.
I think a big part of that is me . . . and preachers all across our nation like me. It has become unfashionable to speak about God’s judgment in the pulpit. That’s something that I want to repent of right here and now. Sometimes we need to hear the bad news to appreciate the good news and embrace the good news. You may think it unpleasant, outlandish, audacious, or ludicrous. But I’m not here to tell you what you want to hear. I’m here to tell you what you need to hear. I’m here to telling you the way it is.
I think St Paul captured it in his letter to the Roman church. He begins his theological treatise on the gospel with this statement: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men” (Rom 1:18). He then proceeds to describe humanity’s rejection of revealed truth and corresponding descent into idolatry and moral depravity.
St Paul continues, “As they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also heartily approve of others who do them.”
What a close-minded fellow! You might think the same about me. But it is a message we need to hear and listen to, not only in Lent, but throughout the year. The Book of Joel points out our opportunity for mercy. “Yet even now,” saith the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts, not your garments.”
In the Gospel, Jesus stresses the importance of sincere piety. Repentance goes to the deepest level in the heart. It is something that is intensely personal, and penance for show is ultimately a futile effort.
God offers us mercy because he wants us to accept his mercy. Let us take full account of our need for mercy. Let us fast and do penance and mourn our sins. As your forehead is marked with a cross of ashes mixed with the oil of the sick, take account of the shape of mercy that you bear in your life.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’ll say it again: “I’m not okay; You’re not okay.” But he’s okay (pointing to the figure of Jesus), and he really loves you and me. After laying out the bad news in his letter to the Romans, St Paul relishes in the good news. “God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Photo: Scott Gunn
Monday night seemed like it just wasn't her night. We have yet to see how things will work out, but I thought the following comment posted on Stand Firm was very perceptive.
It strikes me that there’s a lot of carrot and stick in the way that KJS in particular was treated here. The carrot is she’s treated as one of the primates and even given an elevated position among them. The stick is that she can lose it if ECUSA doesn’t at least put on a better pretense of complying with Windsor/Dromantine. Plus there’s a slightly stronger structure in place to protect the orthodox in ECUSA.
On the whole I’m not completely satisfied, but then the Anglican Communion has never done what I thought it should do. I think we can live with this though.
Monday, February 19, 2007
The Times of London made headlines elsewhere today with its front page headline "Churches back plan to unite under Pope." Religion correspondent Ruth Glendhill reported:
Radical proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pope are to be published this year, The Times has learnt. . . .
The latest Anglican-Catholic report could hardly come at a more sensitive time. It has been drawn up by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, which is chaired by the Right Rev David Beetge, an Anglican bishop from South Africa, and the Most Rev John Bathersby, the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Australia.
The commission was set up in 2000 by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, and Cardinal Edward Cassidy, then head of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity. Its aim was to find a way of moving towards unity through “common life and mission”. The document leaked to The Times is the commission’s first statement, Growing Together in Unity and Mission. The report acknowledges the “imperfect communion” between the two churches but says that there is enough common ground to make its “call for action” about the Pope and other issues.
In one significant passage the report notes: “The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the ministry of the Bishop of Rome [the Pope] as universal primate is in accordance with Christ’s will for the Church and an essential element of maintaining it in unity and truth.” Anglicans rejected the Bishop of Rome as universal primate in the 16th century. Today, however, some Anglicans are beginning to see the potential value of a ministry of universal primacy, which would be exercised by the Bishop of Rome, as a sign and focus of unity within a reunited Church.
In another paragraph the report goes even further: “We urge Anglicans and Roman Catholics to explore together how the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our Communions to grow towards full, ecclesial communion.”
The story was noticed by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, which issued an immediate response explaining that the new document is yet to be debated and received by the respective churches and should be viewed in the context of the 35 year dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. They rightly observed, "It is unfortunate that its contents have been prematurely reported in a way which misrepresents its intentions and sensationalises its conclusions."
We should remember that organic visible unity of the Roman and Anglican communions has been the stated goal from the begining of the dialogue. It is significant that the latest ARCIC document would report that the time for talking has run its course and a call for action is now appropriate. There also is often a serious disconnect between what church leaders talk about and what the average person in the pew is aware of and participates in. This will be a challenge to overcome in any plan of action.
I think we have lost some of the imperative in the Ecumenical Movement, a sense of urgency and action that needs to be regained. At the same time, it has been a struggle for the Anglican Communion to remain faithful to the apostolic faith and thus to remain together. As I have noted before, is it not time to consider healing the schism after more than 400 years?
The papal "fisherman's ring" which was given by Pope Paul VI to Archbishop Michael Ramsey (which has been cherished by his successors) was like a promise ring. It was a remider that possibilities do not need to remain intangible. It was an encouragement to keep the hope for full visible unity alive. In the course of our dialogue (and even before), Anglicans have been saying that a "Peter with the Apostles" model of papacy is acceptable to us and is a part of the Lord's will for his Church to be one. The proof (as they say) will be found in the pudding.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
This past Sunday, the Primates of the Anglican Communion went on a pilgrimmage to the island of Zanzibar. A High Mass was celebrated by the Archbishop of Tanzania in Christ Church Cathedral (pictured above and below). The cathedral was built on the grounds of a former slave market when it closed in 1873. It has the shape of a Basilica with a blend of vernacular Gothic and Arabic styles. It was constructed with reinforced concrete mixed with crusted coral stone. The external walls are covered by crenellations and recesses ending in tri-foil arches. The clock on the tower was a gift from Sultan Seyyid Barghash (1880).
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
A slave chamber is preserved next to the cathedral. The interior of the church is full of reminders of the slave trade. Dr. David Livingstone, the explorer, doctor, anti-slave activist, is commemorated in a stained glass window. There is also a crucifix made of the wood of the tree under which Livingstone’s heart was buried. It was his explicit wish that his heart should remain in Africa. Next to the altar, the place set apart for the "continual recalling of the sacrifice of [God's] Son" (BCP, p 574), is a red circle marking the spot of a whipping post. Slaves were tied to it, then whipped to test their strength and resilience before being sold.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
1 Corinthians 7:21
Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so.
Fr George Congar described the Mass in his report for the Living Church :
. . . the primates sailed two hours by boat to Zanzibar to celebrate a solemn Eucharist at the Cathedral Church of Christ, also known as the Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) Cathedral. Considered the most "Catholic" of the traditional mission societies, the UMCA heritage was evident in the color, music and liturgy of the Holy Communion service drawn from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
Over 600 worshippers packed the Cathedral, built in 1878 on the site of Zanzibar's former slave market in Stone Town. Archbishop Williams served as preacher, Archbishop Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania served as celebrant and the bishops of Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam served as deacon and sub-deacon in the elaborate Anglo-Catholic service which was conducted in both English and Swahili.
In high ritual style, Archbishop Mtetemela sung the liturgy, as clouds of incense arose from a censer held by the former Archbishop of Zanzibar, John Rahamdhani. The altar service reflected an ecclesial style seldom seen in The Episcopal Church, with copes, maniples, zucchettos and other finery. Yellow roses covered the front of the altar and much of the cathedral in honor of Quinquagesima Sunday.
Following a processional choir of 40 down the aisle to the hymn "Jesus Shall Reign," the primates proceeded down the aisle under a barrage of klieg lights and flashbulbs from the press, with 12 of the 14 new primates seated in canon's stalls around the high altar and the remaining primates seated in the stalls.
At the close of the service Canon Matthew Mhagama offered thanks to the Catholic missionary societies of the Church of England for planting the faith in Central Africa, and to the British Royal Navy for crushing the slave trade. "Whatever their shortcomings," the missionaries of the UMCA were "heroes." Their graves surrounding the cathedral were a testament to the power of the gospel and to their sacrifices for the "Catholic faith," he said.
The sermon was given by the Archbishop of Canterbury. As Bob Williams of the Episcopal News Service reported:
From its carved pulpit, Williams preached a homily based upon scripture lessons addressing Genesis's account of the rainbow after Noah's flood; the ‘patient, kind’ attributes of love as expressed in I Corinthians 13; and Luke's gospel account of Jesus restoring the sight of the blind man on the road to Jericho.
‘Today it is very appropriate to think how God makes us see,’ Williams said. ‘One thing we might reflect upon today is what thing are we blind to - who is it now whose suffering we cannot see, we cannot understand. ‘In some societies it may be women, the elderly, or children,’ he said. In others, ‘it may be minorities of one kind or another.... It is the case in our wealthy countries that we don't see the realities of suffering in other parts of the world.’
These international connections were underscored at the service's conclusion when the Archbishop installed Ugandan-born Hellen Wangusa as Anglican Observer at the United Nations.
God's love helps believers see ‘who we really are’ ... and ‘truly because of that we see others in new ways. ... So we begin to be able to set about the task of setting others free ... the chains, the shackles of our own fears fall away.’
Williams cited the conclusion of hymn writer-priest John Wesley, who said near the end of his life, ‘I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and Jesus is a great Savior.’ The congregation had earlier sung Wesley's classic ‘Amazing Grace’ as part of its ‘Act of Commemoration, Reparation, Hope’ repenting the evils of slavery.
Hymns and prayers alternated between Swahili and English during the liturgy, with loudspeaker calls to prayer from the neighboring mosque occasionally overheard between organ strains.
Most Zanzibaris are Muslim, dating from when the island was colonized and under the rule of Oman's Sultan before becoming a British Protectorate. In 1964, Zanzibar and the mainland Tanganyika were joined into the united nation of Tanzania.
. . . ‘This church is seen as God's intervention in human affairs through men and women of good will,’ notes diocesan secretary Nuhu J. Sallanya, writing about the cathedral. ‘The place of horror and despair has been transformed’ into an ‘area of worship and praise.’
Unfortunately, the event also highlighted the unhappy divisions in the Anglican Communion. Somehow, it seems fitting that our wounds of communion would be most visible in a place which has known so much wounding like Zanzibar. The hosting province had previously declared its communion with the Episcopal Church (minus the faithful remnant) to be "severely impaired." It was also reported that the primates were in widely divergent dress, from business suits to cassocks to choir dress to eucharistic vesture. Six primates attended, but would not receive Holy Communion on that occasion. The customary group photo was canceled. It was also reported that the pilgrimage received a hostile reaction from a Sheikh who wrote in the local newspaper that the visit would promote sexual immorality and cause scandal in the community.
To see more and larger pictures from the event, please visit Scott Gunn's collection at Flickr.com.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Friday, February 09, 2007
Back when Pastor Ted Haggard was dismissed as the pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs for scandal and sexual immorality, I jokingly remarked to my wife that before long he'll find a new job as a marriage counselor or some other kind of therapist. But now, the joke may be on his potential clients.
According to the Denver Post, he recently emerged from intensive therapy for "sex addiction" as was mandated by his pastoral oversight board. What caught my attention was when the article noted: "The Rev. Tim Ralph of Larkspur also said the four-man oversight board strongly urged Haggard to go into secular work instead of Christian ministry if Haggard and his wife follow through on plans to earn master's degrees in psychology." Toward the end of the article, it was also reported:
What has been termed Haggard's "restoration" is being overseen by another panel: H.B. London, who runs a Focus on the Family ministry to pastors, and megachurch pastors Tommy Barnett and Jack Hayford. London said he was not surprised Haggard was considering the psychological field. "Many of us that go into the healing, helping professions do so out of some sort of dysfunction or traumatic event in our lives, and we want to do what we can to help other people avoid what we've gone through," he said. "He is certainly gifted and intelligent and has an intuitive side to him. And he has life experience. Those are good credentials."
I don't think so. It is right that Mr. Haggard should be steered away from a continued future as a minister, but he should be steered away from being a counselor as well. The reason I made the joke to my wife back then in the first place is because the phenomenon of pastors who resign because they get divorced or have some sort of scandal and then become "wounded healers" as marriage counselors or the like has become a cliché, and an unfortunate one.
I would not say that these former pastors have nothing to offer others who may be going through similar circumstances or that one can never be a wounded healer, but I would argue that someone should stay away from their point of weakness. For example; I don't think those who seriously doubt Christian doctrine should become clergy; I don't think deserters should become military commanders; I don't think child molesters should become teachers or baby-sitters; I don't think drug addicts should become pharmacists, and so on.
Recovery is not the problem. The problem is that you may benefit others by serving them from your strong qualities, but you may hurt others by trying to serve them from your weak qualities. The Wikipedia article on Carl Jung's concept of the "wounded healer" stated it well:
"Jung felt that this type of depth psychology can be potentially dangerous, because the analyst is vulnerable to being infected by his patient's wounds, or having his or her wounds reopened. Also, the analyst must have an ongoing relationship with the unconscious, otherwise he or she could identify with the 'healer archetype,' and create an inflated ego."
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
This canon echoes the eucharistic theology of the Book of Common Prayer and the constant teaching and practice of Christian churches from apostolic times. The Prayerbook picks up St Paul's language from 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 when it warns, "As the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord's Body" (p 316).
But a recent fad in the Episcopal Church is to entirely ignore canon law, Christian tradition, and the Apostle's caution in favor of what is sometimes called "inclusivity" or "radical hospitality" by offering Holy Communion to the unbaptized. This is not about accidental communion of the unbaptized when the priest does not know, but about openly inviting and encouraging someone who is not baptized, does not profess the Christian faith, or may openly practice another religion to recieve the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion.
It is not an isolated issue. When my wife went to San Francisco on vacation a few years ago, she went to Grace Cathedral and brought back a Sunday bulletin. Looking at it, I noticed that they both invited everyone to Holy Communion (baptized or not) and also expressed in their Mission Statement: "We believe in one God, known to us in Jesus Christ, also known by different names in different traditions."
Fr Dan Martins has some insightful comments on communing the unbaptized here. On a similar theme, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops recently released a paper on worthy reception here called "Happy are those who are called to his Supper."
Monday, February 05, 2007
Today is the commemoration of the Martyrs of Japan. In 1549, Jesuits Francisco Xavier, Cosme de Torres, and John Fernandez arrived in Kagoshima from Spain with hopes of evangelizing Japan. Xavier visited Shimazu Takahisa, the daimyo of Kagoshima, asking for permission to build the first Catholic mission in Japan. The daimyo agreed in hopes of producing a trade relationship with Europe.
The shogunate and imperial government at first supported the Catholic mission and the missionaries, thinking that they would reduce the power of the Buddhist monks, and help trade with Spain and Portugal; however, the shogunate was also wary of colonialism, seeing that in the Philippines the Spanish had taken power after converting the population. The government increasingly saw Catholicism as a threat, and started persecuting Christians; eventually, the Catholic religion was banned and those who refused to abandon their faith were killed.
In 1597, twenty-six Christians (six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young boys) were executed by crucifixion in Nagasaki. The individuals were raised on crosses and then pierced through with spears. Persecution continued sporadically, breaking out again in 1613 and 1630, during which time Catholicism was officially outlawed. The church remained without clergy and was forced underground, but a remnant Christian community persevered until the arrival of Western missionaries in the nineteenth century.
While there were many more martyrs (numbering in the thousands), the first martyrs came to be especially revered, the most celebrated of which was Paul Miki. The Martyrs of Japan ("Paul Miki and his Companions") were canonized by the Vatican in 1862 and are commemorated on February 6.
Nippon Sei Ko Kai ("The Japanese Holy Catholic Church"), a member of the Anglican Communion, added the martyrs to their kalendar in 1959 in recognition of all the martyrs of Japan, commemorated on February 5. It was added to the kalendar of the Episcopal Church with the 1979 American revision of the Book of Common Prayer.
A monument dedicated to the Martyrs in Nagasaki.
Friday, February 02, 2007
St Blase (or Blasius) was the bishop of Sebaste in Armenia during the fourth century. According to various accounts he was a physician before becoming a bishop. Veneration of this holy bishop spread throughout the entire church in the Middle Ages because he was reported to have miraculously cured a little boy who nearly died because of a fishbone in caught in his throat. From the eighth century he has been invoked on behalf of the sick, especially those afflicted with illnesses of the throat.
The blessing of the sick by ministers of the church is a very ancient custom, rooted in imitation of Christ himself and his apostles. An annual blessing of throats is a traditional sign of the struggle against illness in the life of the Christian. A blessing of throats with candles tied together in the shape of a cross on St Blase's feast day (Feb 3rd, but sometimes done after the Candlemas liturgy) is performed as a prayer for good health throughout the year.
With two candles held in the shape of a cross, the celebrant touches them to throat of each person, and says
Through the intercession of Saint Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
As John's gospel tells us, the Light of God was coming into the world. This is the Christmas message--the Light of God coming into a dark world, the mystery of the Word made flesh. Today's commemoration brings to a close the Christmastide celebrations around the world. The true Light that comes down from heaven has filled the temple and blessed it anew. It is fitting that we bless candles used in God's temple on this day, and so we call it Candlemas.
They came to the temple in humble obedience to the Law of Moses. Jesus is presented to the Lord, since the firstborn son who opens the womb is especially dedidated to the Lord. Also, according to the Torah, an offering is made and the mother and child are certified to be ritually clean again. Incidently, we know that the holy family is poor at least at this time in life because Mary offers the alternative sacrifice appointed for the poor--a pair of turtledoves or pigeons.
John had written that the Light of God was coming into the world, but he also noted that many did not recognize it. We read in Luke's gospel that two people did recognize that Light very early on--the holy Simeon and the prophetess Anna.
There was no reason they should have recognized Jesus. He and his parents must have looked like any ordinary family, the same kind which come to the temple day in and day out. Jesus surely looked like any ordinary child. He was not wearing a crown or priestly vestments. Unlike many of the pictures you see, there was no glowing nimbus around his head, setting Jesus apart from all the other children. Yet, they saw something extraordinary in Jesus. They recognized the Light when it came into the temple becuase they already knew that light in the depths of their hearts.
Simeon and Anna are both old and wise. Age does not always come with wisdom, but wisdom seldom comes without age. Wisdom is shared through a long process of encountering and discovering. Their inner wisdom recognizes that Wisdom from on high who ordered all things, now wrapped up in a simple little baby.
Simeon and Anna both have a deep spirituality. Each one is continuously guides by the Holy Spirit. They know God personally in their own lives. Both demonstrate their gift of prophecy. Simeon prophesies that this little child Jesus will be the cause of great change in the world, and that Mary will share the pain that comes in that process. Anna began to proclaim God's praise for the work that Jesus will accomplish as Messiah.
Simeon and Anna have both longed for the fulfillment of God’s word, longed to see the promises made to Israel long ago realized in the world. They are eager to behold God's blessing upon the nations. Both respond to the Light they encounter by worshiping God and sharing the good news they have discovered for themselves. We are told that Simeon embraced Jesus and sang of the wonders of his glory. We are told that Anna was continually in the temple praising God.
On this day in which we commemorate the presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple and the purification of the blessed Virgin Mary, may we find the grace to be like Anna and Simeon, who were filled with the Light of God and were able to recognized that Light in the world.