Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Fourth Joyful Mystery

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke (2:22-40)
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."
And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed--and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by 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.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.

Ever since that very first Passover, in which God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, by killing the first-born sons of Egypt, but ransoming the first-born sons of the Israelites by the blood of the lamb, God demanded that every first-born child be consecrated to Him. In a manner, He chose the priestly tribe of the Levites in lieu of the first-born sons; nevertheless, each family had to buy back (redeem) their sons from God (Numbers 18:15-16), and to make a sacrifice of ritual purification through the offering of a lamb and a turtledove (or, if the family was poor, two turtledoves, as Luke records, again showing us the absolute condescension of the Most High God to be not only a Child, but a poor Child; cf. Leviticus 12:1-4).

It is this ritual which is being performed in the story of the Presentation, as Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to the Temple to consecrate Him to the Lord. And while St. Luke tells us that the sacrifice was made, he's mum about the redemption fee: Jesus was not any Son, but the Son of God, and Mary knew this. It was not for her to buy Him back, but to offer Him freely to God--an act that would be ongoing in her until that final act of offering Him at the Cross. He who was not redeemed would be the Redemption of the world!

Once again we see the utter obedience of the Holy Family: first, in Mary's assent to the Angel, and later in Joseph's assent to God in taking Mary as his wife. Now we see their obedience in offering Jesus to the Lord, and in making a sacrifice for a purification that wasn't needed by Mary except "to fulfil all righteousness", just as Jesus' baptism wasn't needed by Him for His own salvation, but only as His demonstration, first, of total humble obedience to the Father, and second, His absolute identification with sinners. So Mary, utterly pure in her conception, and suffering no loss to her virginity in birth, needed no purification physically-speaking, but nevertheless she was obedient to the command of the Law, and submitted to it in humility.

It was this humble submission to the Laws of God that made possible Mary's next mediatorial act, as she presented the Christ to Simeon, who had waited long years to see Him. What a joy that must have been to the old man, who never doubted God's promise that he would see the Salvation of Israel and the Light to the Gentiles! And as Simeon's words reveal, this Presentation included with it the promise of the Cross, as Christ would "be a sign to be opposed". As Archbishop Fulton Sheen writes,
Simeon...said that the Babe would disclose the true inner dispositions of men. He would test the thoughts of all who were to encounter Him. Pilate would temporize and then weaken; Herod would mock; Judas would lean to a kind of greedy social security; Nicodemus would sneak in darkness to find the Light; tax collectors would become honest; prostitutes, pure; rich young men would reject His poverty; prodigals would return home; Peter would repent; an Apostle would hang himself. From that day to this, He continues to be a sign to be contradicted. It was fitting, therefore, that He should die on a piece of wood in which one bar contradicted the other. The vertical bar of God's will is negated by the horizontal bar of the contradicting human will. As the Circumcision pointed to the shedding of blood, so the Purification foretold His Crucifixion (Life of Christ, p.38) .
And just as Jesus would be a sign that was contradicted, Simeon warned Mary that her involvement in Redemption, her role in mediating Christ to the world, would involve her own suffering, just as it did Christ's: "And a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Lk 2:35). In fact, the sword in Mary's heart and the spear in Jesus' heart seem to be inseparable, together for the same purpose: the revealing of men's hearts. For while the NRSV (used above) makes Simeon's words to Mary seem like an afterthought, the original Greek places "and a sword will pierce your own soul too" immediately before the statement that "the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed". Perhaps there is some indication in the Greek which this layman doesn't know about that causes most translations to bracket the words about Mary's suffering as separate from or incidental to Simeon's prophecy, and someone more versed in Greek could point it out to me in the comments. But it would seem that Mary's suffering is intimately united to Christ's, and thus bound up in a subordinate and secondary way to our Salvation, though nevertheless as a vital component. Archbishop Sheen again writes,
She was told that He would be rejected by the world, and with His Crucifixion there would be her transfixion. As the Child willed the Cross for Himself, so He willed the Sword of Sorrow for her. If He chose to be a Man of Sorrows, He also chose her to be a Mother of Sorrows! God does not always spare the good from grief. The Father spared not the Son, and the Son spared not the mother. With His Passion, there must also be her compassion. An unsuffering Christ Who did not freely pay the debt of human guilt would be reduced to the level of an ethical guide; and a mother who did not share in His sufferings would be unworthy of her great role (ibid.).
Let us take recourse to our Mother of Sorrows, confident that she will lead us deeper into the mystery of love and forgiveness found in the Heart of our Suffering Saviour. May we strive to be obedient to God's laws as the grace of Christ empowers us, and may we, as Simeon, wait with patient faith for His final victory and our final Salvation! Amen.

(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)

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