My father had an “odd couple” of favourites. One was John Wayne, the other Mario Lanza. He would always insist on saying Mario Lanzo, with an “o”, especially when my mother would point out it was Mario Lanza, with an “a”!
Towards the end of his life, I remember getting him the latest videos of John Wayne and his Wild West movies, and the CD’s of Mario Lanzo (!) and other tenor voices. At the time, I was stationed in Geneva and so was able to fly back once per month to see him at home. A few months before he died, I noticed that the videos and CD’s I had bought him had remained unopened. When I asked him why, he responded with a quote from the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes, which I only realized much later. He said, “my eyes have had enough of seeing, my ears of hearing.”
Now, you could react to that by being sad, by supposing he was withdrawing and had lost the zest for life. Or else, you could see it from his side as a choice to let go. We can have enough of seeing and hearing things proper to this life, yet have a growing desire to see and hear the things proper to the next life. It’s a sort of purification of attachments – legitimate and worthy attachments – to become ready to be attached for ever only to God.
Throughout our readings today, the theme of purification is present. Indeed, the Presentation of the Lord, as well as being called Candlemas, has also been called traditionally the Feast of the Purification, with reference to Our Lady’s ritual purification after having given birth.
But it is in the first reading especially that the prophet Malachi speaks of purification. “The Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his temple … He will sit and refine the sons of Levi, like a fuller’s alkali or a refiner’s fire, so that they can make the offering to the Lord as it should be made.” The Light of Christ is a purifying Light and not just an illuminating Light. It is a Light which burns away in and from us all that belongs to darkness, all that is not worthy of ourselves or of God.
If we draw closer to Jesus, he will enlighten and purify us. In this beautiful if difficult life on earth which the Lord has given us, we necessarily make connections and attachments: with people, with where we live, with our culture, and so on. These are the stuff of this life, for better or for worse. Sadly, we also make attachments which are harmful: sin, negative habits of acting or speaking, prejudicial attitudes, and so on. All these good things and not so good things form in us a complex unity and “cling” to us, to who we are, maybe even at times making us think we are the things to which we are attached.
As life proceeds, however, especially if we have a real relationship with Jesus and the world of heaven, we begin to realise that these attachments have to be put in order. They must not take precedence over Him. And so, we need to undergo a purification, often painful, which Jesus himself demands of us and enables us to accept, so that our hearts, souls and bodies are eventually free to surrender to Him.
In the Gospel reading, I like to think that the Temple in Jerusalem into which Mary carries the child Jesus is mainly in the dark. Then, “suddenly”, as Malachi says, the Light comes in. To me this is the image of the human person into whom Christ can “suddenly” enter, as he did with St. Paul for example, and fill him with light. It is a beautiful light, bright and glowing, warm and uplifting. When St. Paul was thrown to the ground by this Light, he became blind. Once he got used to it, he began to see. He knew that Jesus the Nazarene was now in him. He saw in Jesus’ light that his heart and soul were a mess, and so he goes off into the Arabian desert for three years. Why? To be purified of all his pride and arrogance. Once the sworn enemy of Christ and the Church, he then becomes the fearless preacher of both. His purification does not end in Arabia, but only begins there!
The same is true for us. We can be scared to let Christ in: “Let him enter, the King of Glory, the Lord, the Mighty, the Valiant in war”, proclaims the psalm. “O gates, lift high your heads, grow higher, ancient doors, let him enter, the King of Glory!” Those gates and doors are the gates and doors of our hearts and souls. Christ will not enter unless we open them. If we do, we will experience what Paul experienced, though maybe in a different way. Christ, the Valiant in war, will come in and fight and conquer our darkness with us. Of course it will be painful! Of course we will have to face things in ourselves we would prefer to hide or ignore. But His love for us, His desire to make us splendid temples of his own Light will conquer and so, therefore, will we.
And so, to you and to myself, I propose this coming week that we take a look at our attachments, good and bad. That we allow Our Lady to bring in the Light of the World into our inmost selves. To start taking an inventory of what we see and sense needs letting go of. To prepare ourselves to be purified with the wonderful fire of the Refiner, and cleansing alkali of the Fuller. To present ourselves before the face of the Lord with burning hearts, hearts aflame with purifying love. To become the Candle in Candlemas, burning brightly with expectant joy for the “sudden” return of our Beloved Saviour and Lord.