Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
February 2, 2003
Mal 3:1-4; Heb 2:14-18; Lk 2:22-40
1) Today we celebrate a great feast, one that is fixed 40 days after Christmas, so it can fall on any day of the week. It’s rare, then, that it falls on a Sunday (the last time was 1997), which is a shame, because, ordinarily, no one but daily Mass-goers have a chance to celebrate this feast and all that it means in Jesus’ life and is supposed to mean in our lives. For those who pray the Rosary — as the Holy Father is asking each one of us to do during this Year of the Rosary — we meditate upon it at least two times a week in the Fourth Joyful Mystery. But it’s great to celebrate this feast together as a parish family and to try to encourage each other to obtain what this mystery contains in our own lives.
2) This feast is so rich and it has so much for people of all ages. I’d like to break down what God is trying to say to us today into the particular lessons those who are older can take from this feast, that parents can take from this feast, and that children and all disciples can get out of it. The lessons for each age group can also benefit those in others, but there are particular messages in this feast that we shouldn’t miss.
3) First, for seniors and for those who are getting older. There’s a great question that I’ve always meditated upon when I pray this decade of the Rosary: How was it that Simeon and Anna, the two senior citizens in today’s Gospel, recognized Jesus when he was brought to the temple? Among all the people in the temple that day, why were they the only two to recognize the Lord? Among all the scores of babies brought to be presented in the Temple each day according to the law of Moses, how were they able to discern that the child in Mary and Jesus’ arms was the long awaited Messiah? That task is much harder than finding Waldo…
4) The first reason is because they were waiting for the Lord in the temple, which means that they were waiting in holiness, waiting in prayer, having the Lord open their eyes to realities that can only be seen with faith-vision lenses. St. Luke describes them. Simeon was “righteous and devout,” looking forward to Israel’s consolation by God in the coming of the Messiah, and guided by the Holy Spirit. Anna was a prophet, who, once she became a widow at a young age, essentially married herself to God, never leaving the temple, worshipping God there by prayer and fasting night and day. They both lived their lives looking toward God, waiting for his coming. They both were so in love with the Lord that the burst forth speaking of him toward others. Simeon took Jesus in his arms, praised God, and then presented him not just to Israel as her glory but to all the nations as their light. Anna, as soon as she saw Jesus, began to praise God and began to speak of him to all who were looking for redemption.
5) The lessons of their lives are obvious for all seniors, as well as for all the rest of us who want to be faithful to the Lord. So often people look at old age as a sad time, especially if one is a widow or widower. It doesn’t have to be that way. Others look at it as a time just to have fun, to play as much golf as possible, etc. That’s a real waste of time. The best use of our later years is shown by Simeon and Anna. They used them to grow closer to the Lord, in prayer, in sacrificial love, in time spent worshipping the Lord in his holy temple. They used them to reflect on their death, as Simeon did, and to live a life in loving expectation of the Lord who is coming to us at the end of our earthly lives. “Now, O Lord, let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation!” It’s also a time to speak of God to others, to present the Lord to those who don’t see his presence, to show how he is the light shining in the midst of so much darkness, that loving and serving him is our greatest glory. More than anything else, they shined with that light, that joy, that love that can only come from Him who can give us the greatest gifts of all, God. That joy, love and light was not absent of suffering. They had both suffered in their lives, Anna lost her husband at a young age, Simeon is almost presented as a monk who had left everything else to give himself to the Lord. But they used every opportunity, even their crosses, to grow closer to God. Their example is an example to us all.
6) Next we turn to what this feast teaches young adults and couples, especially those with young children. Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to present their child to God. In the law of Moses, every first born child had to be given over to God, placed in the Lord’s service, sacrificed to him. This was to show that every gift comes from God and every gift needs to be given back to God. Every first born animal was actually sacrificed in the temple. First born children obviously would not be killed, but a lamb, or for poor families (like the Holy Family), a pair of pigeons or turtle doves would be offered vicariously. Mary and Joseph, fulfilling perfectly the law of Moses, came to offer Jesus back to God. He was to be consecrated to God’s service. And this wasn’t just a one-shot deal offering. They would continue to offer Jesus to God all the way until he was offered on the Cross for our salvation.
7) Every child needs to be offered back to the Lord in Christ. Every parent, who receives this gift from God, is called by God to offer him back to God. This starts when the young couple brings their newly born child to be baptized. The child is, in a certain sense, sacrificed. The child dies in Christ in the sacrament and Christ rises within him to new life. The old Adam, and its original sin, dies, and the New Adam, Christ, who is full of grace, rises. I sometimes wonder, though, whether some couples are just going through the motions. In fact what happens in baptism is that their child is consecrated to the Lord, not just by an external action of presenting the child in the temple, but also on the inside, by the Lord, in grace. The child is not just presented in the temple, but becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit, spotless and immaculate on the inside, like a tabernacle holding within the presence of God.
8 ) But this act of consecration is meant to continue through the parents’ lives and not stop at the baptism. Like Mary and Joseph, they’re called to renew the consecration of their child to God’s plan for the child, a plan that calls the child to become a saint, to become holy, to live fully as a child of God. This means first raising their children in the faith. At the end of the Gospel passage, we read that Mary and Joseph, when they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth, where the child grew in wisdom and strength in the favor of the Lord. Couples are called to take their children with them from the temple and raise them in the faith, helping them to live according to this consecration they’ve made, treasuring the vocation of their child to be a saint and encouraging the child to live it fully. How is this done? In the baptismal rite, it says that parents are supposed to be the “first teachers of their children in the ways of the faith,” “by word and example.” Children, it seems, learn more by their eyes than by their ears. They learn by seeing their parents pray, by their parents read the Bible, by their parents drop to their knees in thanksgiving to God for blessing, by their parents going to confession, by their parents making moral choices even when difficult. Then the child, who naturally idolizes parents when growing up, wants to follow the parents in the ways of prayer. Then they start to ask questions about God, about prayer, about confession, about morality and parents can teach them much more easily. The second piece of advice comes from St. Francis de Sales. He said that parents need to speak to their children about God and to God about their children. In other words, they need to be talking to their children about who God is, why he puts us here on earth, how he helps us, how we’re called to follow him and his law if we wish to be truly happy, etc. They need to talk to their children about vocations from God, that we’re all put here with a purpose, with special gifts for his service. That God might be calling them to be a priest, and if so, they should say yes; that he might be calling them to be nun, and if so, they should say yes; that God might be calling them to get married, and if so, they should prepare themselves by leading holy lives to make their future marriage as holy as possible. Then they need to turn to God in prayer for their children, so that their children may remain faithful to the Lord, may be protected above all from the harm of sin, and may live out their lives of consecration.
9) Finally we turn to what young people can learn from this feast today, as well as all disciples, since we’re all children. Each of us here has been presented in the temple of God — most of us in this very temple — by our parents and godparents, and we were consecrated to God. We’re called to renew that consecration always, but especially at Mass. Every time we profess our faith, we renew the profession of faith made for us at our baptism. Every time we confess our sins, we take ourselves back to that interior state of holy consecration from our baptism, when we were covered with a white garment, reflective our the inner purity of that consecration, and told to take that garment, unstained, to meet Christ when he comes. We, therefore, in the sacraments renew ourselves to the pursuit of holiness. And especially today, which is called Candlemas or the “Mass of Candles,” we’re called to reflect on our mission. After our baptism, our godfathers came to light a baptismal candle, much like the candle you’ll receive today, and the priest said, “Receive the Light of Christ!” We were told to keep that light burning brightly. Jesus, as Simeon says in today’s Gospel, is a “light of revelation to the Gentiles.” He is the Light of the World. But, in the Sermon on the Mount, he calls us to be the Light of the World. That means that we are supposed to burn with his light. Our baptismal candle is lit from the Pascal or Easter candle, which points to the reality that we’re supposed to burn with that light. He wants to make us candles, taking his light to the whole world, a world in which there often is so much darkness. We’re called to carry Christ’s own light there, in my mind, in our lips, in our hearts. Today we’re called to reflect, as we receive and use these candles, on how we’ll we’re doing, whether we’re coming to the Lord to receive his light and bringing it out into the world, or whether we’re often living in darkness and bringing that darkness in here. This is a feat in which we’re reminding by Jesus directly as he said to us in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the World! Let your light shine before all, so that in seeing your good deeds, they may give glory to your heavenly Father!” Jesus is indeed the Light of revelation to the Gentiles. But the way he brings that light to them is by sending us, one candle at a time, burning with that light. May we burn brightly!