February starts with the Feast of Candlemas, the rounding off, as it were, of the Christmas season. I love this Feast with its blessing of candles and procession of light into Church – Let us go in peace to meet the Lord Jesus, the light of the world. The world in general is certainly in need of light, in need of Jesus, the light of the nations. The political, economic, ethical, ecological problems besetting all nations right now are challenging, to say the least. At a personal level, too, we live in a world of greyness, very like the greyness of a damp, dreary, overcast northern European February. Our days are not often full of light, of clear decisions, of obvious paths. With Christmas over it can be hard to continue to focus on the Good News, Emmanuel, God With Us; to hold firmly to Jesus, the light for my way, the image of what a fully human life can be like. The path can easily be lost in the undergrowth, in the clutter of our lives. So at the beginning of this month maybe we could pray particularly for the light of the Christmas message to continue burning in our lives as we go on our way, noticing perhaps the tiny signs of new life, of growth despite the seemingly endless winter, both in nature and in our own hearts.
I think it is good to reflect on two people central to the Gospel story of the Presentation. They appear from nowhere, make a brief appearance, disappear again into the shadow of their lives. Two elderly people, past any apparent social usefulness, living on the fringes of our busy society, unnoticed. We have all seen Simeon and Anna and possibly paid no attention to them, passed them by. They are at daily Mass, muffled up in coats and scarves and woolly hats, always occupying the same place. Unless we actually know them personally we will not pause to think how different their lives must once have been, busy like ours, full of relationships and work, hopes and joys. They have not always been this age!
Simeon captures our attention first of course, because he speaks so eloquently, not knowing that 2,000 years later we will be praying with these words of his every evening. God has certainly used his quiet faithfulness to confirm and reassure the faith of countless people down the centuries.
Then we have Anna, whose life has been hard. Anna has been widowed for longer than most people, now 84 she was widowed after a mere 7 years. My own aunt was widowed, like Anna, left with two small children after only 6 years of marriage. Can we imagine how hard that must have been for Anna, a young woman very possibly left with small children and dependent on her parents again, or her brothers and their families, for support? Yet we sense no bitterness about her hard road, lost love, broken dreams. Indeed, with advancing years she has become ever more faithful to God’s promises; her heart, like Simeon’s, is attuned by prayer, by years of faithful, patient searching. And her faithfulness is at last rewarded as she recognises Jesus and gives praise to God, then goes out to spread the news to all who will listen! She comes by at the right moment, but the essential thing is that she had hung on faithfully to the promise and her heart was listening for its fulfilment. God can work most effectively if the door of our heart is wide open, as that of both Simeon and Anna surely was.
Simeon and Anna can offer hope to all of us, perhaps especially to those of us whose years are advancing at an unwelcome pace. As we reflect on the fact that the most significant thing that ever happened to them, happened towards the end of their lives, they give hope to us all. You do not retire from life as a Christian. All of us can offer a very valuable witness of faithful living, of lives lived with gratitude and with hopeful focus on the God who loves us; of lives with a bit more time for real, deep prayer. This can be a time for balancing a measure of continuing activity and involvement with new approaches to prayer, for reading and reflecting, for prayer for the world and for the manifold needs of those whose lives touch ours, for listening and then speaking of God to others, for daily quiet acts of kindness and generosity. No one is ever too old to spread the Good News! And Simeon and Anna are models for all of us, whatever our age, when we go through bleak times, when life does not live up to our dreams. Simeon and Anna bear witness to the truth that prayer is not a waste of time!
May we all, whatever our age, bear Christ’s light into every aspect of our lives.
Mary Cockroft, Oblate of Stanbrook Abbey