Feb. 2 is Candlemas, which means one thing — before Mass, I’m going to bless a whole bunch of candles for our parish, as many as we can find. I even planned ahead this year and purchased the Advent candles in time to be blessed.
Oh, yes, also a groundhog named Phil will stick his head out of a hole somewhere in Pennsylvania and otherwise sensible adults will claim that if he is spooked by his shadow, then it will predict the weather. The timing of the holiday makes sense; Feb. 2 is halfway between the start of winter and the start of spring, so everyone is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t mind Phil, really, and it’s all in good fun. In fact, the groundhog tradition is connected with Candlemas. Here’s an old English song to prove it:
If Candlemas be fair and bright; Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain; Winter will not come again.
Sound familiar? Phil stole his idea from the Catholic Church.
If I haven’t confused you enough yet, I should also mention that Candlemas, which is the same date as Groundhog Day, is also the Feast of the Presentation. This is the celebration of the presentation of Our Lord in the Temple by Joseph and Mary, who offered God a sacrifice of two turtledoves to mark the occasion. As they entered the Temple, an old man named Simeon greeted them, prophesying that the infant would be a light for the whole world. Again, just like with Candlemas and Groundhog Day, we have that theme of light overwhelming the darkness. So, three overlapping holidays all highlight the same, basic truth — If a shadow has come over you, God has come to set you free.
The image of Our Lord being dedicated as a baby is particularly heartwarming. Growing from infancy into adulthood is a description of our growth in spiritual life, and it makes me think of my own children. They already look different now than when they were infants, but yet they’re still themselves. They’ve grown and changed as if guided by some unnameable, distant goal, a particular goal that God is directing them toward. They’re developing unique personalities and interests, but all in harmony with who they have been in the past and who they might become. With each day, they are becoming more and more themselves. It’s a picture of sainthood, of stepping out of the darkness and into the light, becoming more visible, more clearly defined, more who God has called us to be.
If we are born under the shadow of original sin, and if our actual sins and the chaos of life seem like a never-ending winter, take heart, because even if it doesn’t feel like it, the shadow is passing. God is calling you into the light, and as the warmth of His love brightens your days and your heart glows with his presence, you are becoming more and more yourself.
Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.