by Father Mark Goldasich
When most people see the date Feb. 2, it conjures up the image, as Gwen Sublette notes in “The Book of Days,” of a “grizzly, short-legged rodent’s curious activity . . . to determine the next six weeks’ weather forecast.” Thank immigrants from Germany for this custom of Groundhog Day.
You know the drill: If the creature pops out of his home and sees his shadow, he’ll retreat in anticipation of six more weeks of winter; if he doesn’t see his shadow, spring is on the way, and he’ll abandon his winter home. Honestly, with our crazy weather in the Heartland, the groundhog has about as much chance of being right as the professional meteorologists.
For Catholics, though, Feb. 2 should remind us of something more significant: the presentation of the Lord as described in the Gospel of Luke (2:22-40). When Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, they encounter a man named Simeon who takes Jesus into his arms and proclaims him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”
Because Jesus is hailed as the light to the nations, it’s customary on Feb. 2 to process into church with lighted candles and to bless candles, especially those to be used in liturgies during the coming year. That’s why this feast is also known as Candlemas.
I like that play of shadow (Groundhog Day) and light (Candlemas) on this special February day. There can be a valuable spiritual lesson here.
Let me explain. When the groundhog sees its shadow, it bolts in fear to hibernate for another six weeks. Logically, the only way a person can see his shadow is if his back is turned away from the source of light. Social scientists remind us that we all have a “shadow side.” Spiritual writers and Scripture scholars refer to this “shadow side” as our sinfulness.
Focusing solely on this “shadow side” causes fear because we see the worst aspects of ourselves. The shadows, or sins, are there because we’ve turned our backs to the Light. The six weeks of Lent are an opportunity to gradually turn back toward the Light, putting our “shadowy selves” behind us, in the past. As we face the warmth of Christ our Light, we are then energized to become light for others.
Maybe this story can make things clearer:
Once a king had two sons. As he grewing older, the time came for him to choose his successor. He called both sons to the palace and handed each six silver pieces, with the challenge to fill the giant hall before the moon was at its highest that very night. The winner would be his heir.
The older son went to his father’s fields where hay was being harvested. Giving the foreman there the silver pieces, he had men move all the hay into the hall where it almost reached to the ceiling.
When it got darker, the younger son returned to the hall and asked that the lights be dimmed and the hay removed. Just as the moon climbed to its highest point, the boy lit a small candle in the darkened hall. Slowly, the glow of the candle filled the room. The son then handed the six silver pieces back to this father.
The king smiled and said to the younger boy, “You shall be my heir. Your brother filled my hall with hay; you’ve filled it with light, the very thing my people need.” (Adapted from Joseph Durepos’ “A Still More Excellent Way.”)
During Lent, let’s turn once again toward the Light and help others do the same. It’s the very thing we, and our shadowy world, truly need.