Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life
Monday of the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Pro Orantibus Day
November 21, 2016
Rev 14:1-5, Ps 24, Lk 21:1-4
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin. Most of the liturgical elements for today’s feast come from the Pseudogospel of St. James (and even later pseudogospels like the Pseudoevangelium of Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary) that attest that Mary was presented as a young girl of three into the Temple in Jerusalem where she was raised until the time she was betrothed to Joseph. We read in the Pseudogospel of St. James, written about 200 years after the events and so historically useless according to the details but useful in terms of the traditions based upon it later, “And the child became three years old, and Joachim said: ‘Call for the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let every one of them take every a lamp, and let them be burning, that the child turn not backward and her heart be taken captive away from the temple of the Lord.’ And they did so until they were gone up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her and kissed her and blessed her and said: ‘The Lord has magnified your name among all generations: in you in the latter days shall the Lord make manifest his redemption unto the children of Israel.’ And he made her to sit upon the third step of the altar. And the Lord put grace upon her and she danced with her feet and all the house of Israel loved her. And her parents sat down marveling, and praising the Lord God because the child did not turn away backward. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord like a dove that is nurtured: and she received food from the hand of an angel.” The essential point of the passage was Mary’s being consecrated to the Lord from the beginning of her life and her joy in the Lord’s presence. And on this day the best way we can honor her is by seeking with God’s help to imitate her in what is emulable.
- Today’s readings help us to do that. Today in the first reading from the Book of Revelation we see a glimpse of the eternal destiny of those who, like our Lady, open themselves up fully to the Lord’s will in their life and allow their existence to develop according to the Lord’s word. The 144,000 dressed in white, whose garments were washed in the blood of the Lamb, are a snapshot of the redeemed exemplified par excellence by our Lady. The number 144,000 is a symbolic, not a literal one (as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and some fundamentalist Protestants claim). 12 is one of the magic numbers in Hebrew, flowing from the 12 tribes. 144 is a sign of the multiplication of the descendants of the 12 tribes and the spiritual progeny of the 12 apostles times 1,000, meaning to describe a vast multitude. We see about them that first they had the Lamb’s and the Father’s name written on their foreheads. They, like Mary, were thinking as God the Father and God the Son think; they were filled with God’s wisdom and they weren’t ashamed to live by that wisdom publicly. They were singing before the throne what seemed to St. John to be a “new hymn,” a hymn only they could sing, because doubtless that knowledge came from the experience of their life of love for the God, from their conformity with him, from their suffering for him, from their being “ransomed from the earth.” Some of the Fathers of the Church looked at the human person as a wind instrument played by the breath of the Holy Spirit and those who make this sacred music in life are those who are docile to the Holy Spirit’s inbreathing like the Virgin. Revelation summarizes their approach to life by saying that these are the ones who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes,” which is a beautiful description for how every Christian is meant to behave. Jesus calls each of us to follow him through life all the way to heaven; as the Good Shepherd he calls each of us sheep by name to follow in his footsteps, and those who make the eternal sheepfold are precisely those who like Mary have followed the Lord wherever he has led in this world and forever. They follow Jesus to the presence of the Father; they follow Jesus across the road to care for those left in a ditch; they follow Jesus with courage even into situations of suffering, when their own heart and flesh can be pierced as Mary’s was. St. John adds that “no deceit was found on their lips” and that they were “unblemished.” They were living and speaking the truth as we see in the life of the Virgin. And they show us the way to be numbered among them in God’s eternal kingdom. In the Responsorial Psalm, we asked, “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? Or who may stand in his holy place?” And the answer to that question was, “He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, a reward from God his savior. Such is the race that seeks for him, that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.” Those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes are those who seek God, who desire to see him face-to-face. That desire leads them to keep their hands sinless of all bribes but to use their hands to pray, for generosity toward God and charity toward other, for honest work, for embracing and helping others; it leads them to keep their heart clean of all that can lead it to become hardened toward God and toward others; and it keeps them from desiring what is vain, and mammon is certainly among a vanity of vanities. For us to enter into the Lord’s holy place here on earth and in the celestial Jerusalem we must align our desires, hearts and hands to the Kingdom, we must set our eyes on the Lord’s face and seek to follow him wherever he leaves, free of deceit, free of moral blemish. And our Lady is at the head of that pilgrimage.
- In the Gospel, we see another icon of our Lady and the true Christian. We meet a widow who purchased the kingdom of heaven for two-thirds of a penny, the equivalent of the two lepta she put into the temple treasury. After Jesus had finished his “formal” teaching in the courtyard of the Temple of Jerusalem, he began to “people watch,” in order to continue to instruct his apostles about how to put what he taught into action. They saw the stream of people putting money in the temple treasury, which was a large trumpet shaped receptacle leading to a secure money box. People would put their coins in the horn at the top, which was like a funnel, and then the sound of the coin would resonate as it rolled down the metal tubing into the box. Many rich people, St. Luke tells us, were putting in large sums and “making a lot of noise” on the treasury trumpet. But then a poor widow came and put in two lepta, two small coins which together were worth less than a penny and likely barely made a sound. Then Jesus gave a surprising lesson that obviously the disciples never forgot. Jesus praised the poor widow rather than all the rest, saying that she had contributed more than all them, for they “gave out of their surplus, but she gave everything she had, all she had to live on.” This widow, because of her poverty, could easily have been excused for giving nothing. She could have easily chosen to drop into the trumpet only one of the coins and kept the other for herself. But she didn’t. She gave it all. And her generosity was praised by Jesus and will remain until the end of time. What could have moved her to give to the temple even what she needed to survive? There’s only one reason: her deep faith. She believed not simply that God exists, or that he worked various miracles in the past to help her people. She believed so much in him and was so convinced of the importance of what was going on in God’s house that she wanted to dedicate her life and all her goods to continuing and expanding that work of salvation. She accounted the continuance and expansion of that work even more than her own life. The point is not how much we contribute, but how much of a sacrifice it is; not how much we give but how much we have left over. This woman sacrificed her entire livelihood, spending herself and what she had in the service of the Lord. She had probably regularly entrusted herself and her children to God’s providence and the Lord had never let her down. Our Lady similarly didn’t even have the resources to offer a lamb at Jesus’ presentation, but she gave everything in trust to God, showing us how to live in a way that Jesus would be tempted to pull the saints aside in heaven and point out the way we are spending ourselves in his service, seeking to build up his Kingdom, the Kingdom we celebrated yesterday on the Solemnity of Christ the King. We are called to come to the Temple each day, like Our Lady at her Presentation, like this poor widow, and give everything we have.
- One of the modern witnesses of the lessons our Lady teaches us in her presentation and today’s passages from Sacred Scripture reinforce is the nun or monk consecrated to God who spend their life in God’s prayer as Mary did her first years in the Temple and then as a contemplative on the streets. Today the Church marks Pro Orantibus Day, the annual observance begun by Pope Pius XII in 1953 and expanded by St. John Paul II in 1997, on which the whole Church prays in a special way “For Those Praying,” for all of those in convents, cloisters, monasteries and hermitages who intercede for us without ceasing before God. It’s held purposefully on the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the model of total dedication to a life of prayer and intercession in God’s service. It’s a day on which we thank God for the contemplatives’ silent, hidden, generous and beautiful vocation. It’s an occasion on which we recognize them, thank them, encourage them and commit to give the material support they need. It’s a day on which we ponder their example of consecration and of following Christ the King, the Lamb of God, wherever he leads and reigning with him through prayer. Contemplative life is a great and indispensable gift of God. All of us benefit spiritually from the orantes’ prayers and sacrifices, even if many of us are unaware of their intercession or naively think that their hidden life is being wasted. They remind us — ensnared by the frenetic, noisy and provisional — that God is truly the “pearl of great price” and the “one thing necessary.” In a world that seeks to structure itself without God, their very existence helps us to recall that God is real, provident, and worth our all. They teach us how to adore Christ the King with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. Today, as every day, communities of contemplatives are before God constantly praying for us, that we may long, like them and our Lady, to see the Lord’s face and give whatever we have, even if it seems as small as a lepton, to God and his glory. Today we pray for them, thank them and thank God for them. We’ll never know until heaven how many of the graces we’ve received — and disasters we’ve averted — have taken place on account of their incessant prayers.
- Today we come to present ourselves in the Temple. We come with longing for the Lord. We come with sinless hands and clean hearts. We come seeking to imitate the generosity of the saints and give God not only our livelihoods but our lives to God. We come to the Lamb’s Supper asking him for the strength to follow him wherever he leads, along the way of the Cross, through the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. We ask our Lady to teach us how to sing that “new song” of the saints here on earth with honest lips, raised hands, and lifted hearts, so that we might join her in the chorus of the 144,000 singing forever more in her Son’s eternal kingdom.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 rv 14:1-3, 4b-5
and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand
who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
I heard a sound from heaven
like the sound of rushing water or a loud peal of thunder.
The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.
They were singing what seemed to be a new hymn before the throne,
before the four living creatures and the elders.
No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand
who had been ransomed from the earth.
These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
They have been ransomed as the first fruits
of the human race for God and the Lamb.
On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished.
Responsorial Psalm ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks for him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Gospel lk 21:1-4
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, “I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”