One of the most iconic symbols in the world of sports in the Olympic flame. For more than 80 years, the flame has been the central symbol associated with this event which brings athletes together from every corner of the world to compete in a growing variety of sporting events.
It has been the tradition that the person to light the official Olympic torch, which remains burning throughout the games, be somebody of sporting significance from the host country. In what I believe was the last Olympics held in the United States, the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the person who was given this honor was Mike Eruzione, the captain of the 1980 US gold-medal hockey team, and the player who scored the winning goal in their famous “Miracle on Ice” victory over the highly favored Soviet Union.
As he prepared to light the cauldron at the top of the Olympic stadium, Eruzione waved for his teammates, who were standing nearby, to join him, and they all lit the torch together in a gesture acknowledging that their success was not the result of one man alone, but of the whole team who worked together to achieve one of the most memorable victories in Winter Olympics history, a victory celebrated not just by that team, but by the entire country and many more.
This image is a fitting one for the Feast of the Presentation, which the Church celebrates today. As Mary and Joseph presented their child in the Temple, the prophet Simeon praised the Lord, proclaiming that Jesus is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). This light, which has come into the world, is meant to draw all people together from every corner of the world so that they might share in the victory that He would accomplish over sin and death in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Unlike the 1980 US Olympic gold-medal hockey team, however, this victory is the result of one man, for He alone was able to accomplish the defeat of our ancient enemy. However, that victory was won for all of us, so that we, too, might share in the fruits of His victory, namely, new life in Christ and the possibility of eternal life in Heaven.
The Feast of the Presentation also has a connection to the Consecrated Religious life. In fact, Pope St. John Paul II decreed that this feast day also should be celebrated as the World Day of Consecrated Life. Referring to the Gospel passage of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, he said: “In this way the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels, the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one.”
So, it’s fitting that we honor our own Sisters Elizabeth: Halaj and Kulesa. By seeing consecrated religious life in a much broader way than just the wearing of a religious garb and spending a lot of time in prayer, we can learn that the light of Christ’s love, which burns in the heart of each of them and keeps them firmly rooted in their religious and natural ways of living, has drawn them to Himself and consumed them with the desire (as Paul says in the first reading) to accept “the loss of all things, so that you might gain Christ and be found in Him” (Phil. 3:8-9), thru a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They profess the desire to belong to Him alone, and through that belonging to Him, hope to become that light which makes His merciful love visible to the world around them. The fire of Christ’s love has continued to burn in their heart for years, and has undoubtedly been a purifying agent in their lives, so that what shines forth is brighter and purer than even when they were first consecrated to this way of life years ago.
The words of St. Paul in our first reading provide a hint of where they are at this stage of their life’s journey, as he writes: “It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ [Jesus]” (Phil. 3:12). While they have much to be thankful for in their years in religious life, they make it their longing to continue moving forward, as Paul again clearly articulates: “Forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
The witness of our two sisters is an invitation to all who are young to look with hope to the future possibility of living the joy of a life well-lived. Their lives are modeled on Christ’s by conforming themselves more closely to the Lord, the love of their life, who will never abandon them, but will always give them the strength to become more perfect through any sufferings. By offering their prayers, sacrifices, wisdom, and love, they encourage all of us to build up the Body of Christ in our midst.
In one of his final homilies before entering into the final leg of his journey here on earth, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI addressed the consecrated religious of the world with words that beautifully summarize our celebration today which honors our two Sisters and all consecrated women throughout the world:
“Lastly, I invite you to renew the faith that makes you pilgrims bound for the future. By its nature the consecrated life is a pilgrimage of the spirit in quest of a Face that is sometimes revealed and sometimes veiled…May this be the constant yearning of your heart, the fundamental criterion that guides you on your journey, both in small daily steps and in the most important decisions.”