The Presentation of the Lord
Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord which occurs forty days after the birth of Jesus and is also known as Candlemas day.
Forty days after the solemnity of Christmas, Mary and Joseph consecrated Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, fulfilling the Mosaic Law.
Simeon and Anna were two venerable elderly people dedicated to prayer and fasting in the temple, and their strong religious spirit enabled them to recognize the Messiah. Simeon utters a prophecy that Jesus will be the light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. Anna thanks God for the child and talks about him to all who looked to God for the deliverance of Jerusalem.
Inspired by the words of the prophecy of Simeon, (“a light to the revelation of the Gentiles”), by the 11th century, the custom had developed in the West of blessing candles on the Feast of the Presentation. The candles were then lit, and a procession took place through the darkened church while the Canticle of Simeon was sung. Because of this, the feast also became known as Candlemas.
Our Lady of Lourdes
On February 11, 1858, a young lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a sickly child of poor parents living in the small town of Lourdes in south-western France. The lady instructed Bernadette to return to the grotto, where she appeared to the young peasant girl a total of 18 times. At one of these times, the lady instructed Bernadette to dig in a certain spot where a spring streamed forth. Almost immediately cures were reported by those who drank there.
During the apparition on March 25, the lady identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. Having only a very rudimentary knowledge of her faith, she did not understand the term, but reported it to her parish priest. Bernadette reported the desire of the lady that a chapel should be built at the grotto.
In 1862 Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions and authorized the worshipt of Our Lady of Lourdes for the diocese. Today nearly 5,000,000 pilgrims visit the site every year, and it continues its history of miraculous healings. The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes became worldwide in 1907.
Sts. Jacinta and Francisco Marto
Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto, Portuguese shepherds from Aljustrel, received apparitions of Our Lady at Cova da Iria, near Fatima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon. At that time, Europe was involved in an extremely bloody war. Portugal itself was in political turmoil, having overthrown its monarchy in 1910; the government disbanded religious organizations soon after.
At the first appearance, Mary asked the children to return to that spot on the thirteenth of each month for the next six months. She also asked them to learn to read and write and to pray the rosary “to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” They were to pray for sinners and for the conversion of Russia, which had recently overthrown Czar Nicholas II and was soon to fall under communism. Up to 90,000 people gathered for Mary’s final apparition on October 13, 1917.
Less than two years later, Francisco died of influenza in his family home. He was buried in the parish cemetery and then re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1952. Jacinta died of influenza in Lisbon, offering her suffering for the conversion of sinners, peace in the world, and the Holy Father. She was re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1951. Lucia dos Santos, became a Carmelite nun and was still living when Jacinta and Francisco were beatified in 2000. Sister Lucia died five years later. The shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is visited by up to 20 million people a year.
St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows
Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was an Italian Passionist student. Born in 1838 the eleventh of thirteen children, he lost his mother at the age of 4. He was fond of music and dancing, and of theater and hunting. After being cured of two serious illnesses, he gave up his secular life to enter a Passionist Congregation monastery. He had a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary; after his novitiate was completed, he was given the religious name of Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. He was unfailingly cheerful and considerate of others. His superiors expected great things of him as he studied for the priesthood but before he could be ordained he died from tuberculosis at age 24 in the company of his fellow Passionists, holding an image of Our Lady of Sorrows and smiling peacefully.
His life in the monastery was not exceptional; like St. Therese of Lisieux he sought holiness in prayerful and faithful attendance to the details of every day monastic life. He gained his end, not by vainly longing to do great things that might never be given him to do, not by waiting for opportunities that might never occur, but by doing with all his might whatsoever his hand found to do.