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No matter what the year in the liturgical cycle, the Gospel for this Sunday is always the narrative of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.  Some reflections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. (There were no public Masses, therefore homilies, from these days each year, but there are Angelus reflections. On the second, third or fourth Sunday of Lent, the Pope would normally go out to a Roman parish or a youth detention center, so there will be homilies from those Sundays.)

2006:

The image of the desert is a very eloquent metaphor of the human condition. The Book of Exodus recounts the experience of the People of Israel who, after leaving Egypt, wandered through the desert of Sinai for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land.

During that long journey, the Jews experienced the full force and persistence of the tempter, who urged them to lose trust in the Lord and to turn back; but at the same time, thanks to Moses’ mediation, they learned to listen to God’s voice calling them to become his holy People.

In meditating on this biblical passage, we understand that to live life to the full in freedom we must overcome the test that this freedom entails, that is, temptation. Only if he is freed from the slavery of falsehood and sin can the human person, through the obedience of faith that opens him to the truth, find the full meaning of his life and attain peace, love and joy.

2007:

During these days of Lent, let us not distance our hearts from this mystery of profound humanity and lofty spirituality. Looking at Christ, we feel at the same time looked at by him. He whom we have pierced with our faults never tires of pouring out upon the world an inexhaustible torrent of merciful love.

2008:

It means not off-loading the problem of evil on to others, on to society or on to God but rather recognizing one’s own responsibility and assuming it with awareness. In this regard Jesus’ invitation to each one of us Christians to take up our “cross” and follow him with humility and trust (cf. Mt 16: 24) is particularly pressing. Although the “cross” may be heavy it is not synonymous with misfortune, with disgrace, to be avoided on all accounts; rather it is an opportunity to follow Jesus and thereby to acquire strength in the fight against sin and evil. Thus, entering Lent means renewing the personal and community decision to face evil together with Christ. The way of the Cross is in fact the only way that leads to the victory of love over hatred, of sharing over selfishness, of peace over violence. Seen in this light, Lent is truly an opportunity for a strong ascetic and spiritual commitment based on Christ’s grace.

2009:  (Same Gospel as this year)

Today is the First Sunday of Lent and the Gospel, in the sober and concise style of St Mark, introduces us into the atmosphere of this liturgical season: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mk 1: 12). In the Holy Land the Judean desert, which lies to the west of the River Jordan and the Oasis of Jericho, rises over stony valleys to reach an altitude of about 1,000 metres at Jerusalem. After receiving Baptism from John, Jesus entered that lonely place, led by the Holy Spirit himself who had settled upon him, consecrating him and revealing him as the Son of God. In the desert, a place of trial as the experience of the People of Israel shows, the dramatic reality of the kenosis, the self-emptying of Christ who had stripped himself of the form of God (cf. Phil 2: 6-7), appears most vividly. He who never sinned and cannot sin submits to being tested and can therefore sympathize with our weaknesses (cf. Heb 4: 15). He lets himself be tempted by Satan, the enemy, who has been opposed to God’s saving plan for humankind from the outset.

In the succinct account, angels, luminous and mysterious figures, appear almost fleetingly before this dark, tenebrous figure who dares to tempt the Lord. Angels, the Gospel says, “ministered” to Jesus (Mk 1: 13); they are the antithesis of Satan. “Angel” means “messenger”. Throughout the Old Testament we find these figures who help and guide human beings on God’s behalf. It suffices to remember the Book of Tobit, in which the figure of the Angel Raphael appears and assists the protagonist in every vicissitude. The reassuring presence of the angel of the Lord accompanies the People of Israel in all of their experiences, good and bad. On the threshold of the New Testament, Gabriel is dispatched to announce to Zechariah and to Mary the joyful events at the beginning of our salvation; and an angel we are not told his name warns Joseph, guiding him in that moment of uncertainty. A choir of angels brings the shepherds the good news of the Saviour’s birth; and it was also to be angels who announced the joyful news of his Resurrection to the women. At the end of time, angels will accompany Jesus when he comes in his glory (cf. Mt 25: 31). Angels minister to Jesus, who is certainly superior to them. This dignity of his is clearly, if discreetly, proclaimed here in the Gospel. Indeed, even in the situation of extreme poverty and humility, when he is tempted by Satan he remains the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord.

2010

Christ came into the world to set us free from sin and from the ambiguous fascination of planning our life leaving God out. He did not do so with loud proclamations but rather by fighting the Tempter himself, until the Cross.

2011

The Devil opposed this definitive and universal plan of salvation with all his might, as is shown in particular in the Gospel of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness which is proclaimed every year on the First Sunday of Lent. In fact, entering this liturgical season means continuously taking Christ’s side against sin, facing — both as individuals and as Church — the spiritual fight against the spirit of evil each time

2012  (Again, like this year, Mark was the Gospel)

St Mark’s concise narrative lacks the details we read in the other two Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The wilderness referred to has various meanings. It can indicate the state of abandonment and loneliness, the “place” of human weakness, devoid of support and safety, where temptation grows stronger.

However, it can also indicate a place of refuge and shelter — as it was for the People of Israel who had escaped from slavery in Egypt — where it is possible to experience God’s presence in a special way. Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mk 1:13). St Leo the Great comments that “The Lord wanted to suffer the attack of the tempter in order to defend us with his help and to instruct us with his example (Tractatus XXXIX,3 De ieiunio quadragesimae: CCL 138/A, Turnholti 1973, 214-215).

What can this episode teach us? As we read in the book The Imitation of Christ, “There is no man wholly free from temptations so long as he lives… but by endurance and true humility we are made stronger than all our enemies” (Liber I, C. XIII, Vatican City 1982, 37), endurance and the humility of following the Lord every day, learning not to build our lives outside him or as though he did not exist, but in him and with him, for he is the source of true life.

The temptation to remove God, to arrange things within us and in the world by ourselves, relying on our own abilities, has always been present in human history.

Jesus proclaims that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15), he announces that in him something new happens: God turns to the human being in an unexpected way, with a unique, tangible closeness, full of love; God is incarnate and enters the human world to take sin upon himself, to conquer evil and usher men and women into the world of God.

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Sorry for the repeat – it’s just easier this way.  Yes, it’s too late to order parish materials, but most of these books and booklets are available in digital format, and at a low cost (including….free). 

  • Reconciled to God, a daily devotional from Creative Communications for the parish.  You can buy it individually, in bulk for the parish our your group, or get a digital version. (.99)amy-welborn-3

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  • The Word on Fire ministry is more than the Catholicism series – as great as that is! There are also some really great lecture series/group discussion offerings.  I wrote the study guide for the series on Conversion – a good Lenten topic. 
  • A few years ago, I wrote a Stations of the Cross for young people called No Greater Love,  published by Creative Communications for the Parish. They put it out of print for a while…but now it’s back!

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Looking ahead to First Communion/Confirmation season? Try here. 

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Today, of course is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Two and a half years ago, we spent a few days at Lourdes, as part of our 2012 Grand Tour.

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We had just spent a few days at a gite near Montignac and the next stop would be another rental in the Pyrenees.

I didn’t know what to expect, since much of what I had read treated Lourdes with a dismissive air, describing it as “Catholic Disneyland.”

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It’s amazing to realize that Lourdes has been a pilgrimage site for a century and a half.  If you ever get a chance, read a good history of the apparition and its consequences and uses by various parties within France and the Church.  It’s really one of the most fascinating events of modern Catholicism in which every aspect of this crazy, mysterious life on God’s earth comes to bear: God’s unexpected grace and movement among us; God’s power; our receptivity; our temptation to manipulate and distort; our fears; our hopes – answered in God’s grace.  Full circle.

(Also, if you have time and the inclination, peruse Zola’s Lourdes. Yes, he has his point of view, but as an account of what 19th century pilgrimage to Lourdes was like, it’s fascinating.)

Anyway, the town of Lourdes isn’t that bad.  Yes, close to the shrine, the religious souvenir shops selling the exact same goods (always a mystery to me) are crammed in shoulder to shoulder – but that’s what you find at Assisi and Rome around St. Peter’s as well. No different, just more concentrated here. The town, as I told someone going the next year, isn’t at all picturesque – if that’s what you’re expecting, forget it.  It’s a busy, ordinary modern mid-sized French town, not a picture-book charming village tucked in the mountains.

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The view from the hotel roof, looking down on the river and the (mostly) hotels lining it. The green-lit building on the bridge was a bar, inhabited by Irish football fans – there for a match v. a Lourdes team – until *very* late.

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But then the shrine.

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I pointed out to the boys the presence of the sick and the pride of place given them.  For every Mass, every procession, every prayer service, the sick are brought in first by the volunteer attendants.  On the walkways, there are specially marked lanes for wheelchairs.  One night, we saw an older man in a wheelchair (being pushed by a young man) get so frustrated with an unaware pedestrian strolling along in the marked lane, he almost poked him with a cane, and would have if the walker hadn’t been alerted Monsieur, pour les malades by someone (er…me).

When I mentioned the place of les malades to the boys, they asked me, “Why?”  I was startled that I had to explain – well, I said, besides being simply polite and compassionate, it’s also a response to the presence of Jesus in those in need, it’s honoring that presence and obeying his command to see him there.  It’s a living expression of what Jesus said: the last shall be first – the sick and weak – like Bernadette herself –  being the last in the world’s eyes.

Les Malades.

They are first to the waters, first to the light, first to the Body because in their physical condition, we can see them, we Christ, and we can even see ourselves.  For we are all the sick, we are all weak, crippled, deaf, paralyzed, suffering, in pain, we are all dying and every one of us yearn to be whole.

And so every night at Lourdes, the darkness illuminated by our thousands of tiny lights, we walk, shuffle, stride, limp and are pushed toward that water. We go on, just as we have always done across time, everywhere  led by the One who bound Himself to this weak, suffering Flesh, awash in the womb of a mother

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This was the line to go into the grotto. Just as he got there…this fellow was turned away. Pas du chien.

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I bought the picture below at a shop well off the beaten path.  The artist made pictures like this and hand-crafted rosaries.  She said to me, “Now you can say that you bought

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— 1 —

Another quiet week at the homefront.  Basketball, roof repair (finally!), brick-n-mortar school schedules and coldish weather keep us close to home these days.  But in a couple more weeks….we’re free! (-ish)

— 2 —

This week, I’ve been reading Captive Paradise, which is a history of Hawaii.  No, we’re not going there (although I’d love to!) – I’m just on a kick.  I read a history of the leper colony at Molokai, and this was on the “new releases” shelf at the library.  And then, as I started reading it, I noted that the author was talking about charging up against politically correct interpretations of history, and I was all in. 

I adore revisionist history – from any angle. I’ve always been just as interested in historiography as I am in history – may I blame my 9th grade history course at Knoxville Catholic High School which used a curriculum that was all about primary sources and interpretation?  Perhaps.  I’ll have more about it when I finish, but at this point, I’m really interested in the various interpretations of pre- and post-contact island life.

Although since everyone’s  – seriously, EVERYONE’S –  name  begins with “K,” I admit that I’ve given up on the details. Big Picture, people.  Big Picture.

— 3 —

Speaking of historiography, tonight while I was running , I listened to this week’s In Our Time, which was about the 4th century BC Indian king, Ashoka.  Ashoka is famed for converting to Buddhism and attempting to shape his kingdom according to Buddhist ethics.  What was fascinating about this program was the straight-up disagreement between the historians.  First we had two (young female) historians who told the story of Ashoka pretty straightforwardly, admitting a bit of ambivalence about the sources, but really not too much.  Then comes the Old Boy who basically says everything that’s been said so far is BS because reliable primary sources are non-existent.  Awkward!  It was a fascinating listen, not only for that but also to learn about later (and present-day) Hindu-dominated India’s neglect and outright ignoring of the Buddhist king who abhorred the caste system.

— 4 —

Speaking of my exercise…

I run/walk in a facility that has a track floating above a gym.

(Running around a track is certainly rat-in-a-maze-like, but it strikes me that doing a treadmill would be worse. So 80 laps it is!)

Last year, during intramural basketball season, I took note of a particular team and a particular coach, and I’m stupidly happy to be able to have them in my sights again this year as I run in circles above their games.

They are teenagers, and their coach is one of them – they’re maybe 16/17 years old.  But the thing is – and this is what I noticed last year – the kid who coaches…wears a tie, every single game.  Sometimes he sports a jacket it with it, and other times a sweater vest, but whatever, it’s hysterical.  I love it.  He stands at the sidelines like he’s Rick Paterno in his jacket and tie, coaching his friends, while the other side is coached by some dad being all casual in shorts and a t-shirt, and tonight, when they were losing by a lot, he grabbed someone’s jersey, threw it over his vest and tie, and put himself in the game for the last two minutes.

Everyone thinks they’re doing it like an individual…but only some of us actually are.

— 5 —

I was thinking I would try to do a learning post for Melanie this week, but with a writing deadline,  basketball on Saturday and a birthday party on Sunday, that’s not happening. So for now, I’ll just mention a couple of things:

This past week, Michael read this book, which is part of a 3-book series: Michael at the Invasion of France.  I am a firm believer in the “living books” pedagogy of history, either with non-fiction or historical fiction, and this was a great example of how well this works  It’s an excellent book (Joseph had read it a few years ago) about a boy involved in the French Resistance.  Her “author’s note” at the end about the role of children in the Resistance actually made me choke up a bit as I read it.

(My) Michael read it and then we’ve spent a couple of days working through the study materials Calkoven herself provides – background material as well as questions that (my) Michael discussed with me and wrote about.  Ample opportunity to discuss, not only the specifics of history but also issues of loyalty, authority, and resistance as well.

Last year at some point, I had let our subscriptions to the Cricket-group magazines lapse, but I recently renewed them – we subscribe to Muse, Dig, Odyssey and Calliope. Well, they all came this week…so there was a lot of “Go read some of the magazines.”  And I don’t even have to add , “And come talk to me about them,” because it’s like a tic with him.  As I’ve written before “narration” is a central aspect of the Charlotte Mason pedagogy, but with this one, I don’t even have to try.  I get narrated all. Freaking. Day. Long. 

— 6 —

So this happened this week:

I had purchased this book – Gods and Heroes in Art.  We have a couple of the saints-related titles  in the series, and they’re good, so since Michael is deep in the Percy Jackson books (again), I thought I’d add this to our considerable mythology collection.  I have lots of historical material, but nothing else specifically related to art.

We were leafing through it, and he paused at the “Perseus” entry.

“Wait,” he said, “I’ve seen that.  Isn’t that at our museum?”

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Find the credits.

Why, yes it is.

If you had asked me? Not in a million years would I have remembered ever seeing that painting before in my entire life.

I mean…what? 10. Years. Old. Barely.

Now. Can you please remember to put your shoes in your closet? 

Thnx.

— 7 —

 (Repeat from last week and the week before…but…still pertinent)

Lent is coming!  Full list of resources here, but take special note today, if you don’t mind, of these Stations of the Cross..and pass it on to your parish!

John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross, published by Ave Maria Press.  This, again, is available as an actual book and in a digital version, in this case as an app.  Go here for more information. (The illustrations are by Michael O’Brien)

"amy welborn"A few years ago, I wrote a Stations of the Cross for young people called No Greater Love,  published by Creative Communications for the Parish. They put it out of print for a while…but now it’s back!

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For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

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This was the edition on my parents’ bookshelves when I was growing up…

Fr. Dwight Longenecker has a short post on John Howard Griffin, the author of Black Like Me.  Fr. Longenecker hadn’t known until recently that Griffin was Catholic.  Most people don’t – nor do they know that he was the author of a very Catholic novel.

It’s called The Devil Rides Outside.  I read it several years ago when I was editor of the Loyola Classics series – the series of at-that-moment out of print and obtainable mid-century Catholic-themed fiction.

I have lots of interesting stories to tell about the books we were able to get and those we weren’t.  Perhaps I’ll do a blog post over the weekend about some of them.  It was really a very interesting job.

Anyway, I learned about Griffin’s novel and obtained a well-worn paperback with quite a lurid cover, and started it with high hopes.  This will be great, I thought – bringing back into print the novel by figure so well-known for one part of his life and work and completely unknown in the present for this one.

At the time he wrote it (the late 1940’s) Griffin, not yet Catholic (he was Episcopalian) was suffering from blindness caused by an injury he suffered while in the military in Europe during World War II.  He would be healed of the blindness in 1957.

Griffin was an accomplished and knowledgeable musicologist, and had spent time at Solesmes Abbey exploring both religious vocation and chant.  This novel came out of that experience.

It’s a fascinating piece of work – heated and intense, a confessional novel of a young man’s struggle to find God as he’s pulled between life in the monastery and outside.

In an interesting twist, the novel played a role in overturning censorship laws.  In 1954, Pocket Books decided to use the book to test Michigan’s censorship statutes.  It had been banned there because of Griffin’s (for the time) frank sexual scenes.  The case reached the Supreme Court which decided that censorship laws that were explicitly intended to protect the young were unconstitutional since the consequence of such laws was denying anyone access to these materials, not just the young.

My take?  I probably need to read it again, because that first reading was done with a specific purpose in mind: would this have general appeal to a 21st century audience? So back then, with that in mind I decided…no.  It was certainly interesting – that’s why I say I think I’d like to read it again – but on the whole I found it just a bit overheated, too long, a little hysterical and caricaturish in its portrayal of women.   It’s mainly interesting for the portrait of monastic life – and this is one of the reasons I read even not-“classic” fiction with Catholic themes: you get little glimpses of Catholic history without the academic overlay.

But wouldn’t it be awesome to republish it with this cover?

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You can read it on Kindle now, anyway….so there you go!

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It’s the time of the year during which the RCIA process intensifies, so, if you’re a part of that in any way – candidate, catechumen, sponsor, facilitator, pastor, etc…etc….Check out these resources:

The How to Book of the Mass  – much more here.  

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An excerpt:

When our Lord gave the disciples on the road to Emmaus the bread that He had blessed and broken, “he vanished out of their sight” (Luke 24:31). It was then that they recognized Him. We receive the Lord as they did in receiving the Eucharist. Now, at the moment that He is within us, we too should reflect, as they did, on the Scriptures that He has opened to us during this Mass, especially on what has made our “hearts burn.”

In our consumer-minded society, we can miss the treasure that we receive if we treat it like one more thing to “get” and then go on to the next thing. Our Lord is not a “thing.” He is God, who has deigned to come intimately into our lives. We should reflect on His Presence within us and ask what He would have us do.

We should commune with our Lord and meditate on His Presence within us. We should thank Him for the great gift He has given us. We should pour our hearts out to Him and ask Him to fill us with the graces necessary to fulfill God’s will for us in this life.

The same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, preached and healed throughout Israel, who suffered and died on the cross, then rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, now is within us. We will never exhaust the multitude of wonder that should fill our hearts at this moment!

The Words We Pray  – more here, inclulding an excerpt. 

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It’s a collection of essays about traditional Catholic prayers, from The Sign of the Cross to “Amen.”  Each chapter provides a bit of historical and theological background, as well as more essay-ish, reflective material.

I have copies of both for sale here.

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…or Candlemas:

Another great piece from Roseanne T. Sullivan in Dappled Things. 

On Candlemas, the prayers said by the priest as he blesses the candles with holy water and incense include the symbols of fire and light as metaphors for our faith and for Christ Himself. The choir sings the Nunc Dimittis or Canticle of Simeon with the antiphon “Lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuæ Israel” (“Light to the revelation of the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel”) after each verse. A solemn procession may be made into the church building by the clergy and the faithful carrying the newly blessed candles to reenact the entry of Christ, the Light of the World, into the Temple.

From a sermon by Saint Sophronius, bishop in today’s Office of Readings.

In honour of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.
  Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendour of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil candlemasand to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.
  The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.
  The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

I love the way Elena Maria Vidal puts it:

At Christmas, we adored Him with the shepherds at dawn; at Epiphany, we rejoiced in the brightness of His manifestations to the nations; at Candlemas, with the aged Simeon, we take Him into our arms. With the prophetic words of Simeon, the day also becomes a preparation for Lent and the Passion of Our Lord. We must offer ourselves with Jesus to the Father; we must embrace our own purification.

This feast day links Christmas with Lent, the joyful mysteries with the sorrowful mysteries.

From a 1951 book of family faith formation:

Finally on the feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple, we put the light of Christ into our children’s hands for them to carry still further into the world. The Church has never been reluctant to place her destiny in the hands of the rising generations. It was once the custom at Candlemas for her to give each of her members a blessed candle to hold high and bear forth to his home. It was a beautiful sign of our lay priesthood and its apostolate in action. Now the blessed candles seldom get beyond the altar boys who are wondering whether to turn right or left before they blow them out.

Because the ceremony has died of disuse in many places, because we want our family to appreciate the great gift of light as a sign of God’s presence, because we all must have continual encouragement to carry Christ’s light of revelation to the Gentiles on the feast of Hypapante (Candlemas), we meet God first at Mass and then we meet Him again in our home in the soft glow of candles relighted and carried far.

And now for some #B16 from 2011

This is the meeting point of the two Testaments, Old and New. Jesus enters the ancient temple; he who is the new Temple of God: he comes to visit his people, thus bringing to fulfilment obedience to the Law and ushering in the last times of salvation.

It is interesting to take a close look at this entrance of the Child Jesus into the solemnity of the temple, in the great comings and goings of many people, busy with their work: priests and Levites taking turns to be on duty, the numerous devout people and pilgrims anxious to encounter the Holy God of Israel. Yet none of them noticed anything. Jesus was a child like the others, a first-born son of very simple parents.

Even the priests proved incapable of recognizing the signs of the new and special presence of the Messiah and Saviour. Alone two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, discover this great newness. Led by the Holy Spirit, in this Child they find the fulfilment of their long waiting and watchfulness. They both contemplate the light of God that comes to illuminate the world and their prophetic gaze is opened to the future in the proclamation of the Messiah: “Lumen ad revelationem gentium!” (Lk 2:32). The prophetic attitude of the two elderly people contains the entire Old Covenant which expresses the joy of the encounter with the Redeemer. Upon seeing the Child, Simeon and Anna understood that he was the Awaited One.

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