Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Because of Candlemas

Guest post by Allison Salerno
This morning I went to Mass, inspired not so much by a spiritual quest as by a need to get moving earlier in the day than I have been. My allergies, brought on by mold in our old house, have been annoying me, and it has been nearly a week since I exercised. So I walked our 10-year old son to the bus stop at the corner and then power-walked a mile and a half in the chilly February air to my parish’s Eucharistic Chapel for daily Mass.

When Mass began, and our pastor was blessing candles, I realized I had stumbled into a celebration of the Feast of the Presentation, otherwise known as Candlemas. It happens 40 days after Christmas, because by Jewish law that is the time when parents were to present their firstborn child in the temple for dedication. This Catholic feast day commemorates two elderly and devout Jews, Simeon and Anna, who had been waiting patiently for years at the temple in Jerusalem for the Messiah.

My parish’s Eucharistic Chapel sits on the first floor of a building that once housed a convent of Franciscan sisters. The community is gone. The parochial school where the sisters taught shut its doors years ago due to dwindling enrollment. A few years ago, the building was razed to make way for a large parking lot. The convent now is our parish center, and the lone Franciscan sister in our parish lives offsite in an apartment. She lectored to a small group of elderly parishioners this morning, recounting how Simeon and Anna recognized in the baby Jesus the Savior of the World. Simeon told Mary, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed."

Our pastor’s homily highlighted the faith of Simeon and Anna. “Faith requires patience,” he said. Here were two elderly people, waiting for years for the Messiah to arrive. In our world of instant gratification, accelerated by the ease of technology, we often lack the patience we need to see God’s plan for us. I was moved by the faith of elderly parishioners, many of whom I know personally. They cope with loss and illness, and the prospect of their own deaths, and yet they manage to place their faith in God’s providential care.

I have long stopped believing in coincidences. I had come to this Mass for a reason, and it had nothing to do with my allergies or my lack of exercise.

I have been unemployed since August 2008, when I was unceremoniously laid off as communications manager from a foundering nonprofit.  In the intervening months, I have struggled to discern what my path is for this next phase of my life.  I now teach writing part-time at a local community college and attend night classes for alternate-route teaching certificates in both English and Special Education. I hope to find work this fall as a high school English teacher.

Right now, our family budget is tight. We had to pull our two sons from their private school, where our younger son was receiving excellent learning support for his special-education needs. Even with scholarships, the tuition payments were not possible. Our house needs lots of maintenance and repair—a fresh coat of paint on the outside, new front stoop stairs, a new boiler, and so on. Our family vacations now are “staycations”—day trips to local historic sites, hikes through local parks, and visits to the beach.

While this time could be an opportunity for despair, it is not. Because I am Catholic, my faith gives me the patience to see the myriad blessings that already surround me: a strong marriage to a wonderful man, two happy and healthy sons, a warm home, food on the table, and time to help our boys transition into their teenaged years. Because I am a Catholic, the faith of my fellow parishioners, clergy and laity, sustains me.

Jobs come and go. Our faith in God, and His love for us, lasts forever.