We are called to become light for all peoples

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Malachi 3:1-4

Thus says the Lord GOD: Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who will endure the day of his 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.

Hebrews 2:14-18

Since the children share in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life. Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham; therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Luke 2:22-40

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. Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man 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. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “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.” The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “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.” There was also a prophetess, Anna, 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. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. 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.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. It is also known as Candlemas since traditionally, blessings and procession of candles are included in the liturgy to signify that Christ is the light of all nations. It is another “epiphany” celebration as it echoes the Solemnity of Christmas when the Messiah was first revealed to the shepherds and the magi. Today the Christ child is once again revealed, but to two simple and elderly people. This time, unlike the angels’ message of joy, their words and testimony are a prelude to Calvary of a suffering Messiah.

In 1997, St John Paul II instituted the World Day for Consecrated Life to be celebrated on the same day of the Feast of the Presentation. In his homily on Sunday, February 2, 1997, during the Mass he celebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope pointed out three basic elements which are reflected in today’s Gospel reading, namely, the mystery of the coming, the reality of the meeting and the proclamation of the prophecy.

“The mystery of the coming” refers to the prophecy of the prophet Malachi, the prophecy of the mysterious and unexpected way of God’s coming. Carried in the arms of a lowly mother, “the King of glory” and the “Lord of hosts” enters into His own house unnoticeably (Ps 24:7-8,10). To the priest and the others who come into the Temple, the child is only one among many who waits in line to satisfy the precept of the Mosaic Law. The mystery, hidden from centuries, is made manifest only to a poor man and a humble woman whose faith leads them to recognize the true identity of the child.

“The reality of the meeting” refers to the encounter of Simeon and Anna with the infant Jesus. With hearts pure and meek, Simeon and Anna have lived their whole lives awaiting the promised Messiah who would some day visit the Temple. When the moment finally arrives, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, they are able to meet the future saviour face to face. Simeon’s canticle Nunc Dimittis, sung with the triumphant tone of heavenly peace, movingly expresses the reality of the event that has taken place; he could be released from the burden of life and departed in peace. The oracles of Isaiah are now fulfilled for all peoples (rf Is 42:6, 52:10).

“The proclamation of the prophecy” refers to Simeon’s prophecy. It is a prophecy “of love and of sorrow, of light and of darkness, of joy and of suffering, of death and of life” (To the priests, our Lady’s beloved sons ch. 442). Forty days after His birth, “while we are still at the dawn of Jesus’ life, we are already oriented to Calvary. It is on the Cross that Jesus will be definitively confirmed as a sign of contradiction, and it is there that his Mother’s heart will be pierced by the sword of sorrow” (Homily of St John Paul II Eucharistic Celebration on the Feast of Presentation February 2, 1997 Par.4).

Celebrated for the first time in 1997, the World Day for Consecrated Life is to be a day of recognition of the consecrated life of all religious, a life which is a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Those who are in consecrated life are called to reflect the light of Christ to all peoples. Though it is a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life, St. John Paul II also addressed members of secular institutes and societies of apostolic life (rf CCC 928-930). Entrusted with the task of proclaiming the primacy of God over every human reality, he invited us all, together with Simeon and Anna, to meet the Lord in His Temple, to welcome the light of His revelation, to commit ourselves in spreading the Good News and to become light to all people.

In this era of growing rejection of God, as Christians, Simeon’s prophecy is equally true to us. The attempt to follow and imitate Jesus is a constant struggle and a contradictory sign to the world in our daily lives. May we be able to see God’s continual presence through the lives of the religious in their fidelity, example, service and prayer.

Posted: February 2, 2020

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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