Lessons from Candlemas
When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord (Luke 2:22)
I often sit in awe of God in the Holy Family while taken aback by realizing what a weakling St. Joseph was. You might say “What? Say that again?”. His renown for holiness has been passed down in our tradition 2000 years. It logically must be true as God chose him to father and shepherd His only begotten son as well as to love and protect the spouse of His Spirit. In a way, St. Joseph is a ‘stand in’ for God the father, completing the Holy Family as an extension of the Trinity itself.
And yet St. Joseph, who the early church named “Scourge of Demons”, is the weakest member of the Holy Family. His wife was perfect, and his son was God. He still had to carry the role of head of household and decision maker. That had to be intimidating! Food for thought to all of us!
A righteous and holy head of household was necessary in many respects; in one, to ensure the law of the Torah was carried out perfectly. We saw this first happen with Jesus’ circumcision and now this week with His presentation in the temple and purification of Mary. If we fast-forward to His passion and death that would take place 33 years later, we then known why it had to be. For the prophecies to come true, a perfect and perfectly innocent ‘lamb’ had to be ‘sacrificed’. By fulfilling the Mosaic law perfectly from the time He was born, Jesus was innocent at the time condemned and put to death. (1Sam 19:5; MT 26:66, 27:24; Jn 19:4, 7; IS 53:7)
God could have made this happen without human help. But what would we have learned from it? By working through humans, we have their example to follow in our own lives. We also can begin to recognize God’s actions vs. human-centered action in ourselves and others. This is necessary to our own change and growth. Our purification.
Ultimately, God (without any need on His part and solely by His own benevolence) placed Himself at the mercy of humans to do His will and work because HE chose to. And He chose those specific people just as He has chosen us specifically to be His instrument in our place of the world. More than His instrument, He wants to transform us into Himself, in our souls. We then carry Him most fully within us. His spirit in us reaches the souls around us. Prodding and poking them, even what we perceive as a hard-hearted person will shock us with moments of letting down their self-protecting shield.
Where to begin? For some, the first attachments to let go of are our current ways of prayer. These are emotionally soothing but only for a time. God wants us to experience interior peace habitually. Setting aside Awaken, Jesus Calling, He and I, and the barrage of litanies we’ve packed into our prayer time is necessary. Only then can we sit in silence to learn to hear Him. It requires His training of our soul to develop “ears to hear”.
Examining thoughts and choices during the day is a critical part of change that leads to growth because it gives us the ‘material’ for the conversation with God. These can only be real conversations when honest; otherwise, we fool ourselves with psychological consolation and pride.
This is not inward-focused, nor is its purpose to develop one’s own litany of sins. It should be an intimate sharing between hearts…yours and Jesus’. A fruitful approach is:
- I look at my thoughts in a situation. Were they centered in my assuming I know what is best and right? My expectations of the others involved? Conversely, were they fearful because of my perceived inadequacy?
- What are my emotions? Why am I feeling this?
- Recall a past experience when God was truly active in your life of His own initiative. It might be a single moment of His actual grace in a situation. It might be an interior ‘knowing’, sense or otherwise unspoken peace that came over you in prayer. Look to some instance where you realized “this is God”, the experience of being awestruck even if just a moment. You know it wasn’t of your own doing.
- Contrast that to a time when you thought or did something you were sure was ‘Godly’, only to have God teach you later it wasn’t His way at all. How do these thoughts and choices ‘feel’ when centered in you and not Him? You will soon come to recognize where God’s action exists within your heart and can define memory of it. You will know most concretely what isn’t of God and is of your own psyche. At the same time, you’ll learn to recognize the ways in which satan either ratchets-up your natural pride and emotions, messing with you, or imitates God and holiness to fool your thinking.
You’ll likely begin the humbling experience of realizing your so-called ‘discerned’ and ‘holy’ choices weren’t so holy or discerned after all. But don’t beat yourself up over it. St. Joseph did the same thing deciding to divorce Mary quietly, and God had to send him an angel to set him straight. May God do so for us too!
You’ll also find God brings to you the spiritual reading, devotionals and saints that He already has had planned for you in this very moment. Every saint had their own ‘favorite saint’ from which they learned and were inspired in their own calling and vocation. God will give you to the saints you need for mentoring and intercession, the devotions that will serve you, and more. But only if you first give them up to Him.
God delights in you and wants to exalt you as His own. Let Candlemas be your new start. Allow God to begin to purify your soul.
Let us then continue praying for our clergy and religious, especially Pope Francis, and for our worldwide church:
Almighty ever-living God, we humbly implore your majesty that, just as your Only Begotten Son was presented on this day in the Temple in the substance of our flesh, so, by your grace, we may be presented to you with minds made pure. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam 😊
P.S. The St. Josemaria Institute gives us wonderful resources for prayer and reflection on St. Joseph, including the Seven Sundays Devotion which begins today https://stjosemaria.org/a-spiritual-toolkit-for-the-year-of-st-joseph/