Although it may not seem so, the days are getting longer as the winter solstice has passed and the daylight hours grow. As the light expands and intensifies, there is pause to consider if what is occurring externally is simultaneously happening in our spiritual lives. Is the light of Christ growing in our lives? When speaking about Jesus in John's Gospel, St. John the Baptist says, "He must increase and I must decrease."
On Feb. 2, the Church observes Candlemas Day, the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. This solemnity occurs 40 days after the birth of Christ, and is celebrated as a day of renewal, hope and purification. According to Scripture and tradition, the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph brought Christ to the temple in Jerusalem. Mary was cleansed on this day, and Jesus was presented to the Lord. During their visit to the temple, an elderly man named Simeon took the child Jesus in his arms, and prophetically recognized that He was "a light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of the people of Israel."
In 1997, St. John Paul II established a world day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life, which will be observed in parishes this year on Feb. 3 and 4 following the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord. By inaugurating this special day of prayer, he reminded the world of the unique role that religious have in helping the world to grow in holiness. Consecrated men and women are called to reflect the light of Christ to all people in a unique way through the public profession of religious vows.
Simeon's recognition of Christ as the light of the world reminds us that the call to holiness is extended to all people. All are invited to experience the light who is Christ. Important reminders about this biblical truth came from Lumen Gentium, a key document from the Second Vatican Council, which clearly defined the universal call to holiness. Every member of the Church plays a vital role in its life by the living out of their vocation and their participation in the Church's mission. God desires that the light of His Son continues to grow and increase in our lives. True holiness is not only for religious "professionals," such as priests and religious, but for everyone. Thus, the Church can only be as holy as each of its members.
Each vocation has unique ways of reflecting the light of Christ and illuminating the world. Each life is a wick, radiating the flame of Christ's love through Baptism and fed by the Sacraments. Whether married or single, a member of the priesthood or a consecrated religious, the inner light of Christ must increase in each one of us if our world is to be touched and transformed by the message of the Gospel.
As candles are blessed this month and we take the light of Christ into the discipline and darkness of Lent, a quote attributed to many comes to mind: "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." As we move into the penance of Lent this month, let's remember that growing in holiness is job one. Let's ask our Lord to grow His light in our lives and pray with St. Francis of Assisi, "Most high and glorious God, send light to the darkness of my heart."