The Liturgical instinct of the Feast of the Presentation which we Celebrate today is “Light.” For Christ is our light and the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light! In the Gospel Simeon holds Jesus and calls him “A light for revelation to the Gentiles.” And thus, this feast has long featured the carrying of candles by the faithful in procession, and the blessing of candles. For this reason the feast was often called “Candlemas.”
Biblically the feast celebrates the “purification” of our Lady when, as a Jewish woman, she would present herself forty days after giving birth to be welcomed back to the community and was blessed. I have written more the history of that here: The Churching of Women
For this reflection, perhaps we do well to attend to four teachings or perspectives we gain of Jesus our Light in the readings. We are taught that our relationship with Jesus is: Cleansing, Consoling, Compelling, and Communing.
I. Cleansing – The Gospel opens with this description: 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.
It might strike us as odd, even irritating that a woman or a couple would need to be purified after giving birth. But ancient Jewish practice exhibited great reverence for rituals of birth and death. And on account of the deep mysteries of life that were represented not only by these events, but also the fluids (e.g. blood, and amniotic fluids) that accompanied them, a kind of purification or blessing was deemed necessary for those who returned to the community after these events. (See more at the link above).
And while we may wonder at (or even scoff) at these notions, the fact is that all of us need purification and cleansing. We are sinners, and we live in a world tainted by sin. The Lord must purify us all; and unless this happens, we will never be able to endure the great holiness, glory and purity of God or heaven.
Jesus our savior alone can cleanse and purify us and make us able to endure the glory of God. The first reading both describes our need for purification and also points to Jesus, the one who purifies us:
But who can endure the day of [the Lord’s] 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. (Mal 3:2-4)
Yes, only the Lord himself can purify us to endure his glory. Thank you Jesus, our Light and Savior for the sanctifying grace by which, alone, we could ever hope to endure and rejoice in the glory that waits. Thank you Jesus for your grace and mercy by which we are able to stand before our Father and praise him for all eternity. Thank you Jesus our purifier, our savior and Lord.
The first gift our saving relationship with Jesus is cleansing.
II. Consoling – Well aware of the burden of sin, ancient Israel longed for a savior. The pious knew well that sin brought strife, pain, and deep grief. Among the pious who longed for the Messiah were Simeon and Anna, who frequented the Temple looking, and longing. Of Simeon we are told:
[He] 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.
And of Anna who is described as among those who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem, we are told she was:
a prophetess, 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.
So here are two of the pious of Israel longing and looking for the consolation of the Messiah who would save the people and bring consolation and peace.
But what is true consolation and peace? It is to be reconciled to the Father, Abba; to once again see Him and be able to walk with him in the Garden in the cool of the morning. True consolation and peace are found only when the gates of heaven are opened and we look once again on the glorious and serene face of our Father who loves us.
Here too is a gift that can come only by the ministry of Jesus, for no one knows the Father but him and anyone to whom Jesus reveals Him. Jesus is our peace and our consolation by leading us back to his Father in and through his Sacred Heart, and by his Holy Passion.
Simeon, as he holds Jesus, is holding the Gift of the Father, and thus a tremendous gift of peace and consolation come to him in a kind of prevenient way. So he can say:
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.
Such a consolation to hold the infant Jesus, and know that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to save us. Yes, and now Simeon can go forth in peace from this world for he has beheld the light of God’s saving love in Jesus.
III. Compelling – Among the things were are told in this Gospel is that Jesus is no merely neutral figure. He is the one on whom all human history, both collective and personal, hinges. And the “hinge” is our choice for or against Jesus. Simeon says to Mary,
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.
Yes, all of human history, personal and collective hinges on Jesus. Jesus compels a choice. We are free to choose for or against him, but we must choose. And on this choice we must make depends the rise or fall of us all.
Here is a dramatic truth, Jesus our savior has come, and now we must choose. Choose wisely and carefully, for upon your choice depends your rise or fall.
Jesus says, Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Matt 12:30).
St Paul says, In the past God overlooked ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30). And again, We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God! (2 Cor 5:20)
Where will you spend eternity? That depends on your stance toward Jesus. Your future rises or falls on Him. Will you choose him? You are free to choose, but you are not free not to choose! Jesus compels a choice, and on this choice your very life will rise or fall.
IV. Communing – It is a remarkable truth that Jesus did not merely save us from on high. He became flesh and lived among us. Today’s Gospel says,
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.
Imagine the intimacy of Jesus dwelling among us then, and still now “tabernacling” among us in the Blessed Sacrament and in the temples of our heart through His Spirit. Our Lord seeks communion with us, and is not ashamed to call us his brethren (Heb 2:11).
On this feast of the Presentation allow the allow the Lord into the temple of your heart. Give him access to your soul by receiving him in Holy Communion and seek his presence tabernacled in our Church. Today Jesus is not only presented in the temple, he is presented to you. Reach out to hold on to him and receive in your heart, like Simeon. Run and tell others to come, like Anna.
Jesus our Light and salvation is here. He brings with him cleansing, consoling, and communing. He also compels a choice. Choose him now, run to him, he is here and he is calling!
14 Replies to “Perspectives on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus, the Light of the World”
Johannes Eccard’s “When to the Temple Mary Went.”
Amazing how much you have drawn out and placed before us about the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord. I am greatly benefited.
Thank you, Monsignor. This is a very comforting post: through our relationship with Jesus, we can be cleansed, comforted, and reconciled to our heavenly Father. It is only through Jesus Christ that we can find peace for our souls.
However, I had lunch with a Christian friend of mine yesterday, and we had a long talk about being Catholic vs. being non-Catholic. She believes that all that is needed is a “relationship” with Jesus Christ, and I was trying so hard to tell her why it is necessary to be in the Church that He founded. The Eucharist, Confession and the other Sacraments are all part of this relationship, right? So many of my friends think that all that is needed is prayer and trust and faith, and that Jesus will not desert them. I find myself being challenged by this notion often: is it necessary to be “Catholic” to be saved? Are we supposed to be sharing this message? Please excuse me if I am getting a little “off-topic”.
Do I have to be a Catholic in order to be saved? No, but it helps. The Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium, its pathbreaking decree on the Church, declared that “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (Lumen Gentium, para. 16) This decree reflects the view of many of the early Church Fathers, who argued that the Church, a mystery, has existed from the beginning of time and thus has embraced many sincere pagans who have never heard the Gospel message. It is true, of course, that Karl Rahner, the famous Jesuit theologian, took this idea rather far. At some points he seemed to suggest that membership in this church or that church was not at all necessary for salvation, and one can, perhaps uncharitably, interpret some of his writings as suggesting a sort of Universalism — the heresy that claims all will be saved, in all circumstances. The problem for our sincere Protestant Fundamentalist brothers and sisters, like your lunch companion, is twofold: firstly, they cannot be sure that their theological understanding will keep them on the right path to Our Lord, given their rejection of the teaching of the Magisterium as to Who Jesus is and how we ought to pray to Him; and secondly, they have cut themselves off from the wonderful, mysterious Sacramental life of the Church. Not a safe thing to do! Not at all!
Will they be saved? None can say but we can certainly hope so. Will Catholics who receive the Sacraments regularly be saved? None can say but if we continuously reach out to Jesus through prayer and the Sacraments, reaching for His mercy and his graces, then we can, as Benedict XVI has taught us in Spe Salvi, go forward with confidence and hope, knowing that the Judge in the high court of heaven is also our advocate, our Paraclete, our defense attorney. The court, as I’ve written elsewhere on this blog site, is rigged in favor of the defendant!
Let us recall, with trepidation, that Noah’s ark is a type of the Church, and Jesus Himself warned “And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matt. 24:37) Noting that a mere 8 out of the entire world’s population were saved at that time, let us evangelize (as Noah did–for more than 100 years!) as if everyone’s eternal destiny depended on it–it does.
Thank you Msgr. Pope, for an inspiring homily. Our parish priest also has that special gift of communicating and I was looking forward to his homily this morning. Unfortunately, it was DDF Sunday, and we received a “financial” sermon for the yearly appeal. I understand the necessity, but missed the wisdom of our pastor. Your homily fed my spirit, and I thank you, again.
I am a little confused by this reading as there seem to be two things going on at the same time: the purification of Mary (40 days after giving birth) and the presentation of “the first-born male.” Are the two turtledoves or pigeons an offering for “purification” or an offering “to redeem” the first-born son?
Well since He is a “firstborn Male” both are operative.
Were those two things normally done on the same day (the woman’s purification and offering for first born male)?
I think so.
Msgr. thank you for another enlightening post. I have a question regarding Simeon’s message to Mary. “You yourself a sword will pierce”. So we aren’t talking about a literal sword here. But what is it? Would it be a piercing suffered in union with Jesus when he was pierced on the cross? A little clarity here would be appreciated. Thanks.
Yes, certainly it is an allegory for suffering.
My pastor observed that it took 80 days after the birth of a girl for a woman to be purified, and he wasn’t touching THAT with a 10-foot pole.
yeah I mention that in the linked article and do touch it with a 10 ft pole.
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