Presentation of the Lord (Fr. Francis)
This weekend we celebrate a feast that seems to bring us back to Christmastime. The feast is the Presentation of the Lord. This Feast used to be called the Purification of Mary, remembering an ancient rite when women went to the Temple to be prayed over after childbirth. This same custom, by the way, continued in the Church up to the fifties in a blessing that used to be called Churching.
A number of years ago the Church changed this feast from a Feast of Mary, the Purification, to a Feast of the Lord. Because Simeon called Jesus the Light of the Nations, this feast is also the day that candles are blessed. It is sometimes called Candlemas. In the Eastern Church, this feast was called the Feast of the Encounter, the first encounter of the Old Testament, represented by Simeon and Anna and the Temple, with the New Testament, represented by the Lord. Jesus is presented in the Temple following the ancient Jewish laws. In the New Law of the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ own body would become the New Temple.
The image that keeps occurring at me in this feast is that of a young mother and father and their new baby. So many times I’ve enjoyed watching our young couples bringing their new baby to Church. They are so excited about the birth of their treasure, so grateful to God for this child that they cannot wait to bring the child before the Lord to thank God properly. I really believe that is what Mary and Joseph were doing when they walked into the Temple with Jesus. Simeon, like all of us, wanted to hold the new baby. When he does, a spirit of prophecy comes upon him. He realizes that in this child he is in the presence of God’s salvation, the Light of the Nations.
Simeon also prophecies the pains that Mary would have as she witnessed God’s plan being worked out in this child. The devotion to the seven sorrows of Mary grew from this: the Prophecy of Simeon, the Flight into Egypt, the Three Days’ Loss of the child Jesus in the Temple, Meeting Jesus with the Cross, the Crucifixion, the Taking Down from the Cross, the Burial. The encounter with the Lord would demand continual sacrifice from all including Mary. The reward of this encounter is great, the presence of the Savior.
The Lord is presented as an infant to the Temple, now the Temple will never more be the same. The abiding presence of God, the Holy of Holies, is now transferred from the inner sanctuary to the child in Simeon’s arms. We all were presented to the Church as infants for our baptism. The Church will never again be the same. Now a special presence of the Holy of Holies, the presence of God’s intimate life, dwells within the newly baptized.
Every child born and baptized, every single one of us, presented to the Lord, carries within himself or herself a unique image of the Holy of Holies. Each one of us is called to seek that image within us, to develop it. We are called to allow God to take over our lives. This presentation with its resulting purification results in sorrow, for to follow the Lord means to sacrifice our own material inclinations and our physical desires for the sake of the cultivation of the spiritual within us. This presentation results in joy, for when we live with the Lord we have meaning in our lives.
“Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears from death into life.” The encounter with the Lord is a step into the spiritual. All that we have will be lost by the end of our lives, but Christ and his love and the way we love him in others, that is the life that is forever.
An interesting element of the story is that neither Simeon nor Anna have any specific status or role in the Temple. They are not part of the priesthood and they have no special function; they are simply devout people who through a lifetime of prayer and devotion have come close to God. It is because of their devoutness that they have been favored to recognize the true identity of Jesus. The priests and the officials of the Temple do not see what these devout people see. This is something that we observe in the life of Jesus over and over again: the simple people accept Jesus for who he is while the religious functionaries explicitly reject him.
Another interesting feature of the account we are given by Luke is that both Simeon and Anna were elderly. We are told Anna’s age, eighty-four years; but we are not told Simeon’s age but since he was nearing death we can assume he was quite old. They had both spent years longing for the coming of the Messiah and praying that this would come about sooner rather than later.
I think that this longing is important and that it is often a feature of old age. Older people often have a longing in their heart, frequently this is for the welfare of their children but it could be more generalized and be simply for the fulfilment of God’s plan for the world. Our prayer life changes as we go through the different stages of life; the prayer of a child is not the same as the prayer of a teenager or of a young adult. And the prayer of an elderly person is not the same as that of those who have young families. It is important to recognize these differences and for us to adapt as we reach each stage of our life.
Simeon and Anna longed for the coming of the Messiah and their prayer was fulfilled. May we too obtain what we long for and let our prayers be answered.
On this Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we ask God to transform us from people tied to the material to those whose encounter with Christ leads us to live for the spiritual. Amen.
Fr. A. Francis HGN