Fr. Jeffry W Belger
Pastor, St. Mary Catholic Church
Punxsutawney Phil made the headlines once again on February 2, with good news if you despise the season of winter. No shadow means an early spring. What is it that captures our imagination about an animal with supposed prophetic weather prognostication? For that answer, you would need to go to the tourism bureau of Gobbler’s Knob. They certainly have done their homework.
What I find fascinating is the history of Groundhog’s Day, and its connection to February 2, which on the Catholic calendar is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Forty days after the birth of Christ, he was presented, or consecrated in the Temple. (See Luke 2: 22ff) Now certainly the Spirit of God had already been present in the Temple, but for the first time, the Christ, the long awaited Messiah, was physically present- the true light of the world.
Simeon, a righteous and devout man, was at the temple that day and recognized the baby Jesus for who he was. And in his song, or canticle of praise, we see an important insight into the gift and responsibility of the identity we have in Christ. Speaking in praise of God, Simeon said: “…my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
Jesus is the light of the world. We celebrate this on the feast of the Presentation, or Candlemas Day, by blessing candles that will be used during our liturgies at church and will be used also by the faithful in their homes. In both uses, we are reminded that we are called to spend time basking in the light of Christ so that we then can reveal Jesus to others.
The celebration of Groundhog’s Day falls short in this very important point. If Phil, our furry friend, sees the light, it means 6 more weeks of cold and hibernation. If we see the light, we experience the warm glow of God’s love and are called to a new spiritual Springtime. Which is good because Lent, a word that means springtime, begins February 13.
I would invite you to take seriously this opportunity for spiritual renewal. During Lent, we are called to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Each of these penitential practices focuses our attention on our relationship with God and with one another. Prayer is spending time in conversation with God. And remember: conversation is both speaking and listening. Fasting is giving up something good, (food, drink, entertainment, etc.) to make room for something greater. In this case it is a more intimate relationship with God. And almsgiving is sharing your surplus with those who are in need out of a spirit of gratitude to God, who is the source of every good gift.
The disciplines of Lent should not be seen as burdensome any more than eating right or going to the YMCA for a good workout is. Both require a mindfulness of intention. And yes sometimes they are hard. But both are good for Body, Mind and Spirit. The alternative is hibernation both physically and spiritually. So in this respect, I say follow Phil. He said Spring is coming, so get out of your hole and live.