I clutched my ochre sweater as I walked through the yard this morning, relishing the second day of the coldest month in the Philippines. The northeast monsoon brings with it chilly winds coming from the Siberian High and it tends to blow strongest in February – it was 19°C during the wee hours of the morning.
It’s also Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and there’s a fiesta in the Parish where we celebrate mass every Sunday. According to Biblical accounts, Mary presented Jesus to God at the temple after observing a traditional 40-day purification period. At the temple, they were met by an old Jewish man named Simeon, who declared that the infant would be a light for the Gentiles – thus the event came to be known as Candlemas. It is also celebrated as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin – the Feast of Our Lady of Candelaria, the Spanish word for Candlemas.
According to the Bible, Simeon was promised that “he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). Thus, after proclaiming the Child Jesus as a Light for the world, he said he could finally and peacefully die.
It is said that in the Philippines, a party is called a fiesta. Yes, we love to party, and fiestas are big parties. There’s a whole day fiesta in the parish nearby, and candles will be blessed in churches during masses today. I have my candles ready – they will be lit later in the day.
Death – 44 deaths were on my mind this morning, as I gave my two small shi-poo rescues their time out in the yard, as the bigger dogs were safely ensconced in their barricaded places. They will have their time in the yard later in the day, in the meantime they snuggled in the cradles they have dug on the ground. They know how to keep warm too. The sweater I wore had been with me for several decades. It has a way of hugging and comforting me and I clutched it as I pondered upon Candlemas – a feast of ironies. An infant and an old man. Light and death. Purification and fire.
Jesus brings light. Simeon welcomes death after seeing the Light. I realized that this is what Candlemas means – that the light would overpower the fear of death. Instead of clarifying though, the realization ushers in a volley of ironies, centering on the death of 44 of our policemen, which is polarizing our country: Christians vs Muslims. Pro-government vs anti-governent groups.The gallantry of the elite corps vs the cowardice of the officials who refuse to own up to their blunders. Youth, skill and loyalty of the 44 who died, vs the ineptitude, inexperience and dishonesty of our government officials. The 44 did not want to die yet, like Simeon, they were not afraid to die. But did they see the light when they did? I pray that this is so.
Jesus was born, cast His light upon the world and then was killed. This is the world we live in. It’s not just in our country where the light cannot seem to penetrate the darkness. The Japanese are mourning the violent killing of two of their fellowmen by members of the Islamic State group. Wars are raging in various parts of the world, yet online news sites continue to shower us with the frivolities of the rich and famous.
Candles will be blessed and lit today, to commemorate Candlemas. Many more candles have been burning these past days to honor the 44 policemen, the Fallen 44. As we pray, have our candles blessed and light them, we dwell upon the Light of the Infant Jesus. It is a light that presents itself each time we experience a random act of kindness; when we share our blessings with the needy. It is that light that calls us to marvel at the beauty of a flower; it awakens us to the joy of a cool morning; it whispers comforting words as we listen to the birds chirping. It is here, there, everywhere – that light that makes us see that no matter what happens, there is beauty to behold, joy to experience, memories to cherish and fiestas to celebrate.
This is why we need to pause and honor tradition and rituals. They bring back a semblance of the sacred, a cause for hope and shed light upon our weary souls.