Going to Encounter the Light of Salvation, Feast of the Presentation, February 2, 2018

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
February 2, 2018
Mal 3:1-4, Ps 24, Heb 2:14-18, Lk 2:22-40

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • 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 2003), which is a shame, because, ordinarily, no one but daily Mass-goers has a chance to celebrate this feast and all that it means in Jesus’ life and is supposed to mean in ours. For those who pray 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 on Sunday and to try to encourage each other to obtain what this mystery contains in its fullness.
  • The point of this feast was summarized in the the first reading and in the beautiful instructions and prayers that we prayed at the beginning of Mass just before the procession, which describe the Presentation fundamentally as an encounter. The Prophet Malachi tells us, “And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek.” The Lord comes to meet us. We emphasized this in the instruction as Mass began before the procession of light.  “Today is the blessed day when Jesus was presented in the Temple by Mary and Joseph,” we said. “Outwardly he was fulfilling the Law, but in reality he was coming to meet his believing people.” After describing how Simeon and Anna met him in the Temple, we continued. “So let us also, gathered together by the Holy Spirit, proceed to the house of God to encounter Christ. There we shall find him and recognize him in the breaking of the Bread until he comes again, revealed in glory.” The awareness of the Presentation as an encounter with Christ continues throughout the Mass. In the Eucharistic Preface, we will pray that “we, too, [will] go forth rejoicing to encounter your salvation.” At the end of Mass we will ask the Lord that “we, going forth to meet the Lord, [may] obtain the gift of eternal life.” All of these prayers convey that Jesus is constantly being presented to us and we are supposed to be constantly presenting ourselves to him. The Christian life is meant to be a continuous mutual presentation, a lifetime encounter of love and life. The candles we blessed are supposed to symbolize our burning love for him. At the blessing of the candles, we asked God the Father to bless them precisely “so that, treading the path of virtue, we may reach that light that never fails” and in the Collect (opening prayer), we implored that throughout our life “by your grace, we may be presented to you with minds made pure.” Our encounter with the Lord here on this feast day and then on the mutual encounter of Christian life is meant to lead to an eternal encounter in the heavenly Temple.
  • So that’s what celebrating the Feast of the Presentation well intends to bring about in us at a global level. Concretely, however, this celebration also contains many practical applications to help us keep that continuous encounter throughout our life. I’d like to focus on five elements we can learn from this feast about that encounter with the Lord and how it’s meant to change us.
  • The first thing we can ponder is the nature of consecration. St. Luke quotes the Mosaic Law in today’s Gospel, saying, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord.” This is a citation of what we read about this morning in the first lesson of the Office of Readings, when the Lord told the Israelites through Moses “Every first-born son you must redeem,” adding, “If your son should ask you later on, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall tell him, ‘With a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, that place of slavery. … That is why I sacrifice to the LORD everything of the male sex that opens the womb, and why I redeem every first-born of my sons.’” (Ex 13:13-15). This right of “redemption” of the first-born Son was a way to relive the Passover, to make it present, to allow every generation to enter into God’s saving action. How much more beautiful still is it that in the Presentation Christ, the Redeemer, the New and Eternal Passover Incarnate, was himself being redeemed! He had come into our world precisely to lead us all through the true Passover in his blood from death to life, from sin to holiness, from this world to the new and eternal Jerusalem. In today’s first reading, the Prophet Malachy tells us, “And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek. … He is like the refiner’s fire or like the fuller’s lye. … He will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord.” Christ comes to purify us so that we might offer fitting sacrifice to the Lord. Today’s Feast is traditionally referred to as well as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary according to the ancient purification rites on the 40th day after a woman had given birth, but we know a deeper significance to this feast: She had already been purified at the first moment of her existence in St. Anne’s womb by the graces of the One whom she would later gestate and give to the world. And that same Refiner wants to purify us, by incorporating us into his redemptive self-offering to the Father in the new and eternal Passover. This is the way we offer our logike latreia, the only sacrifice that makes sense, which is to offer ourselves whole and entire to God as a holy and acceptable sacrifice (Rom 12:1-2). We enter into his priesthood, what the Letter to the Hebrews in today’s second reading describes as the work of the “merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people.” That expiatory offering for us takes place first in the consecration of our baptism, when we are presented in the Temple by our parents and godparents or, if we’re baptized later in life, by the whole Church community. To be consecrated means to be totally given to the Lord, to belong to God, to transfer the title of ownership of one’s life over to God, to be cut off (sacer) from worldly things to be with (con) God. Jesus is the supreme consecrated one. He would say during the Last Supper that he consecrates himself for us so that we might be consecrated in truth (Jn 17:19). This is what happens to us on the feast of our baptism. The consecration of religious men and women is a “more intimate form” (Vita Consecrata) of this baptismal dedication as they live out this sense of total belonging to God – God deserves our all! — and show the whole Church the path to remember that it is through our baptismal presentation in the Lord’s Temple that we, too, are the Lord’s and our whole existence is meant to develop within the sense of stewardship — not ownership — for the gift of our life. Today we give God thanks for the grace of our baptismal consecration, for the grace of our more intimate consecration through religious life or the priesthood, and we ask him to bless in a special way all those across the world who likewise seek to live out this special form of belonging, that we may truly be consecrated in the truth of God’s word and work.
  • Since 1997, the Church has observed on this feast the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. St. John Paul II decided to have this world day of prayer for religious men and women, for consecrated hermits, virgins and widows, for members of secular institutes and societies of apostolic life and other forms of living publicly by the evangelical counsels on the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation because, he said, “the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life,” something we see in those who lived in the consecrated state. Today as we mark this special World Day of Prayer, we ask the Lord to bless his consecrated men and women throughout the world with abundant and abiding fruits. St. John Paul II wrote in Vita Consecrata that the consecrated life “is not something isolated and marginal, but a reality that affects the whole Church.” Rather, he said, “The consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission, since it manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse.” The whole Church is able to learn through greater focus on consecrated men and women about the inner nature of our Christian vocation, how to live out our baptismal consecration, and how to strive for the eternal wedding banquet. Today we give God thanks for those great graces.
  • The second aspect of today’s feast on which we can meditate is the whole meaning of light. The Presentation is often called Candlemas. We began Mass today with a procession with lit and blessed candles. This is a quasi-sacramental manifestation of what Simeon says about the 40-day old baby Jesus in today’s Gospel, that he is a “light of revelation to the Gentiles.” We receive that light from him and are meant to burn with it. On the day of our baptismal consecration, our Godfathers went to the Paschal (Easter) Candle and lit from it our baptismal candle; the priest instructed us to receive the Light of Christ; and our parents and godparents were commanded to help us to keep that flame of faith alive in our hearts so that when Christ comes we may go out to meet him with all the saints in his heavenly kingdom. That was an image of Jesus’ parable about the five wise bridesmaids (Mt 25:1-13) who had plenty of oil in their lamp to keep their flame ignited for the Bridegroom’s return. Consecrated men and women burn with this light of love, an expectant light for Christ the Bridegroom and a charitable light of good deeds for their neighbors for whom Christ burns with love. They’re conscious reminders to all the baptized as to how we’re supposed to fill the world with Christ’s light, the bright light of his truth, the warm flame of his love. That light is supposed to burn all the more brightly as consecrated men and women help to fulfill the Bridegroom’s burning desire to light a fire on the earth and set it ablaze with divine love. Today we thank the Lord for all the light he has given us through the encounter of consecrated men and women with him and we pray for all consecrated men and women that we may continue to grow as those candles that the world needs to learn how to burn for loving union with the Bridegroom!
  • The third characteristic of the Feast of the Presentation is what we can glimpse in this great mystery in the temple about the evangelical counsels that distinguish the consecrated life. We see all three evangelical counsels on display. We see poverty in Mary’s and Joseph’s presenting a pair of pigeons. Normally if a family were of means, it would redeem a newborn male with a lamb, but Joseph and Mary were too poor to purchase a Lamb with which to redeem or “buy back” the infant Lamb of God. We also clearly see featured Joseph’s and Mary’s holy obedience. Three times St. Luke describes it, that they were dutifully and lovingly obeying what “is written in the law of the Lord,” doing so “in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord,” and seeking to “fulfill all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord.” This was the fulfillment of a lifetime in which Mary consistently said, “Let it be done to me according to your Word” and Joseph was so docile that he would promptly obey what the Lord said even in dreams. We also see a beautiful witness of chastity not just in the lives of the Virgin Castissima and in her “most chaste spouse” but in the example of Anna who, since she was widowed very early in life — probably in her very early 20s, since Jewish women normally married in their young teens —  spent the next five or six decades, until we meet her at 84, never leaving the temple but worshipping God day and night with fasting and prayer. After the death of her husband, God became her great love, and she served him more lovingly and faithfully than any wife a man. In professing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, consecrated men and women show the world what true wealth, true freedom and true love are all about, and encourage us all, no matter our state of life, to imitate Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna. On this World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life, we thank God the Father for the gift of grace given to consecrated men and women to unite ourselves intimately to his poor, chaste and obedient Son and we pray for all of us, that we may grow into ever greater union through these means according to our state of life.
  • The fourth aspect of the consecrated life we can see depicted in the Gospel is Simeon’s prophecy that Jesus was “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted … so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Jesus would be a cause literally of “ruin” or “resurrection” for many, provoking by his own life and words the manifestation of what was truly in their hearts. Even though Jesus came as Light, many preferred darkness; even though he came as Savior, many didn’t wish to be rescued; even though he came as the refulgence of God’s glory, many preferred to seek their own glory. And the great sign of Jesus’ contradiction is the Cross, where the vertical bar of divine worship contradicted the horizontal bar of worldliness. Consecrated men and women likewise experience this contradiction. Their poverty contradicts the materialism of the present age; their chastity the world’s sexual hedonism; their obedience, the world’s sense of radical autonomy; their community life, the world’s individualism; their eschatological existence, the world’s living for the here and now; their charity, the world’s obsession with “me” and putting ourselves first. They help bring many to experience Jesus’ resurrection but they, like Jesus, are a cause of ruin — we pray, temporary ruin — for many who are disturbed by consecrated men’s and women’s contradiction of spiritual worldliness. Every Christian is meant to be a contradiction of the things of the world in a similar way, to proclaim something radically different from the world’s values, namely Christ’s values, and consecrated men and women show a different form of life, namely Christ’s own life that contradicts and seeks to convert the world. Today we thank the Lord for helping us to find in Christ our resurrection, not ruin, our confirmation not contradiction, and we pray for all consecrated men and women that they will all be strengthened so that their “yes” to God echoing Christ’s might in contradicting the world’s “no” come to help the world to discover the truth about things and unite with us in pronouncing an existential and eternal fiat.
  • The final aspect we learn from today’s readings is about how this encounter with the Lord is meant to be dynamic, to transform us, ultimately to guide us. Pope Francis preached a few years ago that the Blessed Mother “enters the Temple holding the Child in her arms. The Mother walks, yet it is the Child who goes before her. She carries him, yet he is leading her along the path of the God who comes to us so that we might go to him.” Later about Simeon, he states, “As with Mary, the elderly man holds the Child, but in fact it is the Child who guides the elderly man. The liturgy of First Vespers of today’s feast puts this clearly and beautifully: ‘senex puerum portabat, puer autem senecem regebat.’ Mary, the young mother, and Simeon, the kindly old man, hold the Child in their arms, yet it is the Child himself who guides them both.” And he concluded, “Today we, too, like Mary and Simeon, want to take Jesus into our arms, to bring him to his people. Surely we will be able to do so if we enter into the mystery in which Jesus himself is our guide. Let us bring others to Jesus, but let us also allow ourselves to be led by him. This is what we should be: guides who themselves are guided.” That’s the essence of the Christian life and the consecrated life within the consecration of baptism: allowing ourselves to be guided by him who is the Way, by the Good Shepherd who leads us even in the valleys, by the Holy Spirit he sends to be our helper and guide, showing us the path into all truth and helping us to walk by the Spirit. On this World Day of Prayer, we thank the Lord Jesus for guiding us and we pray for all consecrated men and women that they will follow his guidance so closely and enthusiastically that they will become icons leading others to follow Christ in us to the celestial convent!
  • Today as we come to this temple to present ourselves anew to God on the Feast of the Presentation, we consecrate ourselves to him once again within the Lord’s own consecration during the Last Supper made present for us on the holy altar. We ask him to fill us with his holy light as we prepare to receive him in Holy Communion so that we may take the warmth of his love and the light of his truth out to illumine those who walk in darkness and the shadow of death. We ask him to help us always to recognize in him in the Eucharist our treasure, our liberating truth, our great love, and the help we need to proclaim his Gospel in and out of season, especially in those areas in which it calls the world to conversion. The same Jesus whom Simeon held in us arms we’re about to receive within. As we do, we thank the Lord for the gift of the consecrated life and we pray for all our consecrated brothers and sisters, that on this World Day of Prayer and beyond, they may continue to grow to belong more and more to the Poor, Chaste and Obedient Consecrated One, the purifying fire, our faithful and merciful high priest, the light of revelation to the gentiles, the glory of his people Israel, our Savior. And we ask him to let us, his servants, depart in his peace and bring that peace to the world!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 MAL 3:1-4

Thus says the Lord God:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.

Responsorial Psalm PS 24:7, 8, 9, 10

R. (8) Who is this king of glory? It is the Lord!
Lift up, O gates, your lintels;
reach up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may come in!
R. Who is this king of glory? It is the Lord!
Who is this king of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle.
R. Who is this king of glory? It is the Lord!
Lift up, O gates, your lintels;
reach up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may come in!
R. Who is this king of glory? It is the Lord!
Who is this king of glory?
The LORD of hosts; he is the king of glory.
R. Who is this king of glory? It is the Lord!

Reading 2 HEB 2:14-18

Since the children share in blood and flesh,
Jesus likewise shared in them,
that through death he might destroy the one
who has the power of death, that is, the Devil,
and free those who through fear of death
had been subject to slavery all their life.
Surely he did not help angels
but rather the descendants of Abraham;
therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters
in every way,
that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God
to expiate the sins of the people.
Because he himself was tested through what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.

Alleluia LK 2:32

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
A light of revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 2:22-40

When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for 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.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.