Moved by the Spirit to Encounter Christ and Share His Light and Glory, Feast of the Presentation, February 2, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
February 2, 2014
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: 

 

This was the written text that guided the homily: 

Christian life as an Encounter with Christ, a Mutual Presentation

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 beautiful instructions and prayers that we prayed at the beginning of Mass just before the procession, which describe the Presentation fundamentally as an encounter. “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. It says something very important about encountering the Lord when we’re young, when we’ve become young parents, when we’ve gotten older. I’d like to ponder these lessons together, knowing of course that even though the lessons may pertain a little bit more to Christians in a particular phase of human life, they do contain lessons for us at every stage of life.

Why were Simeon and Anna able to recognize who Jesus was? 

Let’s begin with the rich lessons this feast has for seniors and for those who are beginning to get up in years. When I meditate on the Presentation in the Joyful Mysteries, I often ponder this question: How was it that Simeon and Anna, the two seniors in today’s Gospel, recognized Jesus when he was brought to the temple? Among the tens of thousands of people there 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 that day according to the law of Moses, how were they able to discern that the child wrapped in swaddling clothes in Mary’s arms was the long awaited Messiah?

The reason, I believe, is because they were present in the temple differently from everyone else. They were waiting for the Lord in the temple. They were longing for him. They were expecting him with hearts and “minds made pure” so that with that purity they could see the Lord when at last he came. They were waiting in holiness and in prayer, having allowed the Lord open their eyes to realities that can only be seen with faith-vision goggles. St. Luke describes them: Simeon was “righteous and devout,” guided by the Holy Spirit, and anxiously awaiting Israel’s consolation in the coming of the Messiah; Anna was a prophetess, 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 — something she had been doing by that point for about 60 years (most Jewish girls married about the age of 15, and she was widowed seven years into marriage and was now 84). Both of them lived their lives looking toward God, waiting for his coming. They both were so in love with the Lord that they 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 the redemption he had come to bring into the world. They were both advanced in years, but as Pope Francis — another man advanced in years — said this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica, “These two seniors are full of life! They are full of life because they are animated by the Holy Spirit, docile to his action, sensitive to his call.”

What all Christian seniors can learn from Simeon and Anna

Seniors or Christians of any age who likewise want to be full of life have much to learn from them. Many people can 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, to waste time on worthless pursuits in a second, irresponsible childhood. The best use of our later years is shown by Simeon and Anna. They used them to grow closer to the Lord, by encountering him 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 just as much as he was coming to Simeon at the end of his life is coming at the end of each of our lives. Simeon’s words, “Now, O Lord, let your servant depart in peace, … for my eyes have seen your salvation!,” are words each of us should want to say at the end of our life when the Lord Jesus returns for us. The vespers of our life are also a time to speak of God to others, to pass on real wisdom, 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, to manifest that loving and serving him is our greatest glory. More than anything else, Simeon and Anna shone with the light, the joy, and the love that can only come from Him who can give us the greatest gifts of all, Himself. Their joy, love and light were 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.

At a practical level, how can seniors imitate their wisdom? I would encourage those who are retired who wish to be “full of life” in this world and the next to do all they can to grow in intensify their encounter with the Lord, to respond to the Holy Spirit’s promptings drawing people to the temple by starting to come each day for daily Mass. Is there anything more important a senior could be doing on a Tuesday or a Wednesday than praying and receiving God inside? I’d encourage those who have received who are still healthy to use their training and their capacity for hard work to volunteer to help make the Church stronger, so that it may become for all people more and more a place where God is encountered in private prayer, public worship, loving service and fraternity. I’d encourage them to use the gift of time to encounter Christ in the person of those in need, joining the St. Vincent de Paul Society and engaging in acts of charity toward others, from family members to needy families and individuals. I’d urge them to use their ability to plan their day to make time to encounter Christ in sacred study, to get to know their faith better, to read the Bible, to learn God’s wisdom in such a way that their heart begins to burn for God like Simeon’s and Anna’s did. The same Lord who gave them the graces to live their senescence well will give all seniors those graces.

What Moms and Dads can learn from Mary and Joseph

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, and sacrificed to him. This was to show that every gift comes from God and every gift needs to be willing to be given back to God for his glory. 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. And as Pope Francis said this morning, they, too, were “full of life” in doing so because they were moved by the Holy Spirit to fulfill this law and consecrate Jesus objectively and subjectively to the divine service. Fulfilling the law of the Lord and consecrating our loved ones to him is a path of life, not death!

God the Father wants every child to be offered back to Him in Christ. This starts when a 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 of Baptism and Christ rises within him to new life; the old Adam, with the original sin within him, dies, and the New Adam, Christ, who is full of grace, rises. I sometimes wonder, however, whether some couples who bring their children for baptism are conscious of what this consecration of a child means or whether they just going through the motions as if baptism is a simple one-day ceremony that has no consequences for every day of that child’s life. Some parents after baptism, instead of continuing to see the child in light of the consecration and fostering it in practical ways, begin to try to take back what they’ve given, not taking the child, for example to Mass, not presenting the child to God in prayer at home, impeding rather than fostering the child’s vocation if much later the child discerns that God is summoning him to be a priest or her to be a woman religious. Parents, rather, are called to renew what they did on the day of their child’s baptism every day of their child’s life. In baptism a child is consecrated 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 merely presented in the temple, but becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit, spotless and immaculate on the inside, like a tabernacle holding the presence of God within. Parents are called to help the child become aware of this beautiful reality and structure their life in accordance with this blessing.

This means first raising their children in ways of 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 Jesus grew in wisdom and strength in the favor of the Lord. Couples are called to take their children with them from the temple to their own native place and help them to grow in wisdom, strength and the favor of the Lord, assisting them to live according to their consecration. 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,” and prays that they may become the “best of teachers.” Children, it is said, learn more by their eyes than by their ears, from observing their parents example more than listening to what they command. Children learn by seeing their parents pray, by observing their parents reading the Bible, by witnessing their parents drop to their knees in thanksgiving to God for blessings received, by noticing their parents going to confession, by beholding their parents make the right moral choices even when they will suffer for it. Then the child, who in the early years naturally reverences parents, wants to follow the parents in the ways of prayer and the Christian life. What they see with their eyes will open their ears and their mouths. Then they will start to ask questions about God, about prayer, about the Mass, 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, parents should first be talking to their children about who God is, how he helps us, how he loves us, how he calls us to follow him and his law if we wish to be truly happy, how he’s given us particular gifts for his service and how he hopes that we’ll freely say yes to that special mission. Notice what’s been stressed here. They communicate that God is a God of tremendous love, who blesses us with his word, his commandments, his Church, the vocation he gives us and more. Sometimes, we need to note, parents speak to their children about God, but present God as if he’s some type of angry punisher who if we don’t do our homework or clean our room or get ready for Church on time will delight in sending us to an infernal dungeon to make us pay the consequences forever. Therefore, in order to speak to our children about God accurately, parents need to continue to purify their understanding of God through prayer, study and the guidance of the Church. Likewise, St. Francis de Sales says that parents need to speak to God about their children, turning to Him in prayer for them, 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 baptismal consecration to its fullness. I was very moved the other night during adoration seeing one such mom whom I know has had some burdens with one of her children come to adoration to pray for that child. That’s the love of a Christian mother! That’s the type of prayer that a Christian mom and a Christian dad should be offering for their children every day, whether the kids are saintly or whether their rabble-rousers, whether they’re healthy or sick, whether they’re young or old.

What all children of God can learn from Jesus’ consecration in the Temple

Finally we turn to what young people can learn from this feast today — and, considering that we’re all God’s children and all infants in the light of eternity, we all have something to learn. Each of us here has been presented in the temple of God — many of us in this very temple — by our parents and godparents, and we were consecrated. We’re called to renew that consecration always. We’re first called to do it first and foremost in our encounters with God in the Sacraments. Every Mass is an opportunity for us to reconsecrate ourselves to the Lord. In my last parish, St. Anthony’s in New Bedford, there was incredibly beautiful art on the vault of the sanctuary, rich in Eucharistic symbolism. One of the symbols was a Menorah and few Catholics grasped what the Eucharistic symbolism of this Jewish candelabra is. It goes back to about 140 BC when, after the Greeks sacrilegiously ransacked the Temple of Jerusalem, Judas Maccabeus and his brothers over eight days reconsecrated the temple to God’s service. It was in the sanctuary at St. Anthony’s to remind all of us that at every Mass we’re called to rededicate ourselves to God. Every time we profess our faith in the Creed at Mass, we are renewing the profession made for us at our baptism, which is why we should do it with the same passion with which our parents and godparents made it on our behalf on the day they consecrated us to God. Likewise, every time we encounter Christ and confess our sins to him through the priest in the Sacrament of Penance, we ask him to take return us to that interior state of holy consecration that we first experienced on the day of our baptism, when we were covered with a white garment of consecration and told to take that garment, unstained, to meet Christ when he comes. Whenever we encounter the Lord in the Sacraments, we renew the encounter of our presentation at Baptism and are renewed for the pursuit of holiness that will bring us to an encounter that will know no end.

A Procession of Light in the World

In today’s feast, there’s a special symbolism involved in how we’re supposed to be living out our continuous encounter with Jesus in a sacramental life. Over the centuries, Christians have called popularly called this feast Candlemas or the “Mass of Candles.” That’s why we began with the procession of lit candles at the beginning of Mass, a liturgical act that not only renews something very important from our baptism, but also indicates to us in a special way our Christian mission. At our baptism, our godfathers came to light a baptismal candle, much like the candle lit at the beginning of Mass 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 also calls us to be the Light of the World. The way those two truths go together is that we are supposed to burning with his light. Our baptismal candle is lit from the Pascal or Easter candle, which points to the reality that we receive our light from Christ, who wants to make us candles, taking his light to the whole world, a world in which there often is so much darkness. He wants us to light others with the light of faith, just as you helped to light the candles of those beside you earlier today. We processed with these lit candles, a sign that he calls us to walk as children of the light, and to walk together as God’s family.

Today is a great day to ponder whether our lives live up to the symbolism communicated to us. Are we really coming to the Lord to be lit on fire with him so we might go on procession bringing that holy light out into the world? Or are we more often living in darkness bringing that darkness — a worldly absence of Christ’s light — into our homes and even into Church? This feast of Candlemas is a day on which Jesus, as we encounter him here in this temple, seeks to renew us as the light of the world so that, as he told us in the Sermon on the Mount, our light might shine before others who, in seeing our good deeds, may give glory to our Father in heaven. Jesus is indeed the Light of revelation to the Gentiles. The way he intends to bring that light to all the nations, however, is by sending us, one candle at a time, burning with his holy flame, to light everyone else ablaze with the light of his truth and the warmth of his love. That’s what the Holy Spirit wants to move us and help us to do.

Much More Privileged than Simeon and Anna

Today, whether we’re young or old, we give thanks to God for this feast as we come to a culmination so much greater than what Simeon and Anna received in the temple. Simeon was able to hold Jesus in his arms as he praised God and prophesied that the Child was destined to be the ruin and the resurrection of many in Israel and a sign to be contradicted. Today we have a chance to do far more than hold Jesus in our arms. We have a chance to receive him within and become one with Him in a holy Communion of love as Jesus seeks to make us, by our receiving his risen body and blood, sharers in his risen life. As he speaks to us, he wants to liberate us from contradicting him by our deeds, but rather echo his holy words to others through our lips and lives and become through our continuous encounter of holy communion with him a sign of contradiction against the various errors and evils of the world. The Mass is the place in which Jesus seeks to give us a foretaste of the eternal Temple where we, with Simeon, Anna, Bernadette and all the saints, seek to behold and encounter him forever. Jesus is the glory of Israel. Jesus is the light of revelation to all nations. How lucky we are that the Holy Spirit has moved each of us, as he moved Simeon and Anna, to come to the temple today, to recognize him, to rejoice in him, to receive him, and to reveal his light and his love 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.

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.