Monday, February 2, 2015

The Presentation of the Lord

Ave Maria!  Below is an article on today's feast that I was asked to write for The Lamp, the official publication of the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins.  While the closing paragraph refers specifically to consecrated virgins, it applies to all of us whom our dear Lord loves so much and to Whom we strive daily to return love for love.  Each one of us is called to learn the many lessons of the Presentation of our Lord and to live them out according to our individual vocations.  Come, let us rejoice in His light and salvation!

Come, let us worship the Lord of creation;
he enters his holy temple.
~Invitatory Antiphon for the Presentation of the Lord

            On the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the liturgy celebrates primarily the entrance of the Infant Jesus into the temple for the first time.  Let us go back in time to that glorious day when suddenly there comes to the temple the Lord whom we seek (Mal 3:1).  We don't notice anything out of the ordinary, just a typical Jewish mother and father coming to the temple 40 days after the birth of their firstborn to fulfill the Mosaic law.  In keeping with their Jewish customs, their little one will be presented to the Lord and his mother will be purified.  Nothing unusual, nothing special.  This has happened before, and it will happen again.  Such is life.

            Yes, but – !  Here is no ordinary child!  This small, weak, dependent, silent baby is called "Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace" (Is 9:6).  Jesus, whose name is above all other names! (Phil 2:9)  He is the King of Glory – the Lord, the mighty, the valiant! (Ps 24:8)  This is the Son of God – and, as such, He is not subject to the prescriptions of the Jewish law as are the other firstborn of the Hebrews.  But all is hidden right now, covered by the veil of the deep humility of this Divine Child. 

            From the moment of His birth in the obscure town of Bethlehem, amidst the squalor of animals whose crude trough serves as His makeshift bed, our Lord Jesus is teaching us His way of humility.  Wrapped in swaddling clothes that limit his movements and curtail his activity, the Holy Babe gazes upon us with pleading eyes and invites us to imitate Him.  "Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart!" (Mt 11:29).  He who by the oblation of His Body upon the Cross will show himself "the Priest, the Altar, and the Lamb of sacrifice" (Preface V of Easter), now allows His mother to offer Him to the Father. 

            The Incarnate Word, whose voice will one day go forth throughout all the earth and whose words will resound to the end of the world (Ps 19:4), remains silent as the righteous and devout Simeon takes Him into his arms, blesses God and utters the most stupendous prophecy.  This Child will be the salvation of mankind and the light for all the nations (Lk 2:29), a sign of contradiction, destined for the fall and rise of many (Lk 2:34).  Anna, who worships in the temple night and day with fasting and prayer (Lk 2:37), also gives thanks to God and prophesies of the Child to all who are awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem (Lk 2:38). 

            Mary and Joseph marvel at hearing these things about their Son (Lk. 2:33).  They also teach us humility for only the humble are amazed.  The proud are too full of themselves to be astonished by anything, not even by their own stupidity and foolishness, which squelch their capacity to be surprised by God.  Our Holy Father is fond of telling us that our God is "a God of surprises" and often reminds us that we must be open to being surprised by God.  He suggests that we ask ourselves the question "am I open to God's surprises?"  While meeting with thousands of young people at the university of Santo Tomas in Manila this past month, Pope Francis encouraged the youth to let themselves be "surprised by God's love."  Mary and Joseph's humility keeps the door of their hearts ajar to the wonders of God, not only here in the temple when they present Jesus to the Father but even before His birth as well forever after.

            There is humility as well in the couple's acceptance of Simeon's chilling warning to Mary that a sword will pierce her own heart (Lk 2:35).  Both she and Joseph must have been bewildered and afraid upon hearing these ominous words so far beyond their grasp, but with an unshakeable confidence born of humility, they accept in faith and love what they cannot humanly know.  The family returns to its own town of Nazareth, a village even more obscure than Bethlehem, where He whom heaven itself cannot hold (2 Chron 2:6) happily makes His home for the next 30 years.  Faithfully obedient to his earthly parents, the Lord quietly goes about His Father's business as He patiently waits for His hour to come.

            Along with humility, we learn obedience from our dear Lord in His Presentation in the Temple.  As the author of the book of Hebrews states, "Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said...'As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God'" (Heb 10:5, 7).  Our Lord's whole life is a lesson in obedience for us.  He plainly tells us that He always does what is pleasing to His Father (Jn 8:29) and that it is His very food to do the Father's will and to accomplish His work (Jn 4:34).  Humility and obedience are so tightly intertwined that they cannot be separated.  True obedience in the fullest sense, in the manner in which Christ Himself practiced it consistently and uncompromisingly, is not possible without humility.  And true humility leads to obedience.  If it fails to do so, then it's a false humility that will lead us away from God and straight into the hands of Satan, the father of lies (Jn 8:44). 

            In the Entrance Antiphon at the beginning of the Mass for this splendid Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we exult with joy as we pray:  "Your merciful love, O God, we have received in the midst of your temple" (cf. Ps 48:10).  We receive our Father's merciful love in the temple of the Catholic Church so many times during our lives, particularly in the holy Sacraments and through our blessed consecration to a life of virginity.  Indeed, all of us consecrated virgins can declare with St. John the Evangelist, "And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace" (Jn 1:16).  In profound  gratitude, let us bend the knee and adore this King of  Glory, our Beloved Spouse.  Let us lift up the gates of our hearts that He may come in and make them His own.  And let us pray for each other that we may always be Christ's humble, obedient brides and that through us His praise, like His name, shall reach the ends of the earth (Ps 48:11).

~Alice Claire Mansfield

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