February 2: On reaching “that light which never fails”

My thoughts usually turn to the prophet Anna – mentioned at the presentation of the Lord in the Temple as told in Luke 2 – on this day in the liturgical calendar. I typically lament that the Scriptural witness and the tradition on which it is built do not let Anna speak for herself. Only Simeon is given words, beautiful words. But today, a much more recent silencing disturbs my memory of Anna, and of Simeon too, and of the proclamation of God’s light, for all to see. That recent silencing is the brutal taking of the life of Tyre Nichols.

In Luke 2, the old prophet Simeon is clear-eyed about what encountering the infant Jesus meant for him: His life’s mysterious imperative, to see and witness to the light, had been fulfilled. God now let him depart this world in peace.

Fast forward 2,000 years, to January 7, 2023, and Tyre Nichols only wanted to get home, home to his mother, when abysmal violence met him. How on earth to think this atrocity together with the feast of Candlemas? I do not know. But I do know that when candles were (and are) blessed on Candlemas this includes candles to light the way of those who will die in the coming year. And surely, nobody assumes that these candles will only burn during hours of peaceful deaths. Deep in my heart, I believe that if God’s light were not stronger than all the depth of human iniquity that can surround people passing from this world to the next, it would not be worth blessing candles today. So, I place my hope in what the prayer for the blessing of candles says: that even through a violent dying, one can “reach that light which never fails.”

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