2 February 2020Presentation of the Lord

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Presentation of the Lord
Fourth Sunday of the Year - A Cycle - Matthew 5:1-12

Some years ago New York magazine listed outstanding New Yorkers. There was but one Catholic mentioned. She was Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker. For fifty years, she practiced the Beatitudes daily in her House of Hospitality in New York City. She fed, clothed, and housed the poor. She practiced the Beatitudes so well that secular editors saluted her. She was our "tainted nature's solitary boast." Why were there not more Catholic New Yorkers on the list? There are a million in New York City.

A woman came to Jesus saying, "I can give you nothing but myself." Christ replied, "Then you have given me everything."

The Beatitudes are the owner's manual Jesus gave to each of us at Baptism. Note the Beatitudes refer to the world we live in and not the life hereafter. No people had to take a dictionary with them when they went to hear the Beatitudes. (Elijah Brown)

The Gospel opens in Galilee in northern Palestine. Were Jesus to return to the province, He would find it unchanged. Its terrain would bring happy memories to Him. This area gave Him the colorful title - the Eternal Galilean.

For twenty centuries, Christ followers have struggled to practice the Beatitudes. Some have achieved splendidly the goals of Christ. The majority of us have not done well. But nothing beats a try but a failure. (Unknown)

Those who would climb to loft heights must go by steps, not leaps. (Unknown)

We can take consolation from TS Eliot, "For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."

The Beatitudes outlined in today's Gospel were portions of a longer talk of Jesus. The whole talk is called the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes are called the Charter of Christianity and the Magna Carta for humanity.

If you journey to Israel, you find guides working on the principle that paying customers should be kept happy. They will point out to you the mountain where the Beatitudes were first spoken to a spellbound crowd. But scholars do not know the precise spot.

Jesus spoke these famous words in the second year of His public ministry. So perhaps we talk about 28 AD. The eight Beatitudes are considered many slices of one brilliant emerald. There is little to distinguish them one from the other. The Nazarene could have added or subtracted one and still the total message would be the same. No one would have been wiser.

The Beatitudes were given not to increase our knowledge but change our lives. (DL Moody)

James Lowell wished Christ had added, "Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they will never cease to be amused. Blessed are they who have nothing to say and cannot be persuaded to say it."

Nor would Jesus pull your leg by claiming He was the first to enunciate these principles. Cicero, who died in 43 BC, penned, "There is nothing that makes a man more like God than mercy."

The spinal cord of the Beatitudes is love. This is our love of God as well as belief in His love for us. But also it includes love of neighbor. Important too in this formula is love of one's self. It is difficult and perhaps impossible to love others if we dislike ourself..

The God of the Old Testament required of his people justice. That is the same justice commanded of us by tax collectors. (Andrew Greely)

With the Beatitudes, the modus operandi has evolved to a new level. God through His Son asks us for love. We are asked to help the other fellows even though they don't deserve it. We are invited to be generous with money even though we have mortgage payments. From what we get, we make a living. From what we give we make a life. (Arthur Ashe)

God the Father said, "Thou shalt not do evil." His Son says, "Thou shalt do good." The former is the Silver Rule. The latter the Golden Rule.

Why was Dorothy Day a saint? She was cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful, patient when difficult to be patient, pushed on when she wanted to stand still, kept silent when she wanted to talk, and stayed agreeable when she wanted to be disagreeable. It was quite simple and always will be. (Unknown)

To paraphrase GK Chesterton, one cannot argue that the Beatitudes have been tried and found wanting. Rather, they have been found hard and not tried.

If you need courage to practice the Beatitudes, think of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's words: "We are fools for Christ's sake...We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. Jesus is greater than our greatest problem."

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Presentation of the Lord
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord: The Feast of the Encounter

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.

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.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Presentation of the Lord

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Presentation of the Lord

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Presentation of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord which fortunately this year falls on a Sunday. Forty days after the birth of Jesus his parents present him to the Lord going up to Jerusalem to do so. For many years this feast was called the Purification of Mary or sometimes Candlemas but these days we refer to it as the Presentation of the Lord. The account of these events comes in chapter two of Luke's Gospel where the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus are combined.

It is not clear from the text whether the Holy Family remained in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus until the forty days were up. But it is unlikely that they would have travelled the seventy miles back to Nazareth only to return to Jerusalem a couple of weeks later. Most likely they remained in the vicinity of Bethlehem which was only five or six miles from Jerusalem.

Most ordinary people would not have undertaken a long journey even to present their first-born son in the Temple as the Law of Moses required. But in the case of Jesus Mary and Joseph both presumably thought it was fitting and quite important that Jesus is seen to observe the Law and so would have surely delayed their return to Nazareth until they could do what the Law required.

When they get to the Temple the Holy Family encounter Simeon who we are told was promised by God that he would see the Messiah. He takes Jesus in his arms and pronounces the words, 'Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.' This prayer is recited in the Church every day in the service of Compline, which is what we call Night Prayer.

But Simeon, who is clearly a prophet, warns Mary that a sword will pierce her own soul too. By this we understand that she will witness her son's death on the Cross of Calvary. Clearly Simeon recognises very well what Jesus' mission is going to entail. We are also told about the prophetess Anna who praised God and spoke of this child to everyone who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.

Clearly these two devout people understood the scriptures well and had realised that a Saviour was to come to rescue the people from their sins and inaugurate the Kingdom of God. They are two people who are incredibly devout and who spend their time in the Temple offering prayer and sacrifice to God and who are therefore given the ability to recognise the true identity of this little child. They understand the incredibly wide scope of his mission and realise that a new age has dawned. Neither of them will live to see its fruition but they are filled with joy that the promises of God are about to be fulfilled.

Finally, we are told that, once the requirements of the Law had been fulfilled, they returned to Nazareth and the child grew to maturity. Jesus was filled with wisdom and enjoyed the favour of God. These years in Nazareth are hidden years but they are important in the life of Jesus. He grows up and acquires the human maturity he needs in order to be effective in his mission.

  Essentially, this feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a festival of light which is why we bless candles today. Christmas and Epiphany are also feasts of light. Christmas celebrated at the darkest time of the year marks the arrival of the Light of the World, the one who is to rescue mankind from darkness and bring him into God's wonderful light. The Epiphany too in a sense is also a feast of light since Christ is made known to the Gentiles in the shape of the Magi and we understand that through this Christ has come to bring light to foreigners as we as to the people of Israel. It is no mistake that the Magi are guided by a star which leads them to the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

And here in the Feast of the Presentation Simeon reminds us that Christ has come as a light to the pagans and to give glory to the people of Israel. Often in the Church this feast has involved processions of the people bearing candles and it always includes the blessing of the candles which will be used in the Church in the coming year. Essentially, this lovely feast marks the true end of the Christmas season and on Monday we will take down the crib and our Christmas celebrations will have come to their conclusion.

An interesting element of the story is that neither Simeon or 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 favoured to recognise 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 generalised 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 recognise 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. Amen.
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