Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
Mal 3:1-4
Ps 24
Heb 2:14-18
Lk 2:22-40

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is one of my favorite feasts of the Church.  It is even more significant this year as the time for the Long Retreat is coming.  Among the most fruitful meditations the first time I made the retreat were those on the hidden life of Jesus.  They were fruitful in part because they were less contaminated by iconography and paintings of events such as the Nativity, Palm Sunday, the Crucifixion and so on.  Some of that art is mighty bad and theologically suspect.   Because of the lack of paintings and icons of the hidden life one is able to make a unique composition of place and application of the senses during the meditations. 

A short homily on the readings

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, traditionally known as Candlemas.  The Gospel passage is one of the many exquisitely beautiful ones found in Luke’s Gospel; a passage that includes Simeon’s prayer, the Nunc Dimitiis which the Church prays daily at the end of night prayer. 

More than any other Gospel, Luke gives us a window into Jesus’ family life.  The Annunciation, The Vistitation, Jesus’ birth, The Circumcision, Jesus’ presentation at the Temple and a brief look at Jesus at the age of 12.  Mary and Joseph were observant Jews who fulfilled all of the laws and customs surrounding the birth of a son.  They were indeed righteous people.  All of this emphasizes that Jesus was like us; like us in all things but sin. 

The story of Jesus is, above all, a human and humane one.  The details in Luke are ones with which we can identify.  Karl Rahner, SJ points out what is obvious in the second reading from Hebrews, Jesus “came into the world the same way we did in order to come to terms with the given facts of human existence, and to begin to die”

There are hints of this in Simeon’s cryptic comment to Mary “and you yourself, a sword will pierce” or, in another translation “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”  What did Mary feel when she heard these words?  Did she recall them later at the foot of the cross?

Thirty-five years in internal medicine and geriatric psychiatry have convinced me many times over that there is no deeper or intractable grief than that of  a parent who endures the death of a child at any stage of the child’s life; from miscarriage in the womb to death when the child has reached old age him or herself.  Despite the appalling popularity and use of the concept in the ill-informed media, there is no such thing as “closure” following the death of a child.  Only a new baseline.   Perhaps Mary was dimly aware of the future but she could have never imagined the mode of death as she and Joseph carried Jesus into the Temple.

Simeon and Anna are us.  They are us because just as we await Jesus’ coming in glory, they awaited his coming as the Messiah, the Promised One of Israel.  And they are examples for us because they recognized Jesus in the infant brought into the Temple.  Our challenge is to recognize Jesus when we encounter Him, wherever we encounter Him, and in whomever we encounter Him. When we encounter Him in the adolescent at school.  When we encounter Him in the child noisily exploring the world and, most critically, when we encounter Jesus in the child being carried in the womb; in the child who is under concerted attack by American society.

“Lord, now you let your servant go in peace,
Your word has been fulfilled . . . “

Wanted to load some photos but the upload is way to sluggish.  Will tray later. 

+Fr. Jack

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