Every year on February 2nd the Church celebrates a feast known today as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It is a feast where we celebrate Jesus being presented in the temple when he was a baby by Joseph and Mary. Another traditional name of the feast in the West is the Mass of Candles, because it was at this feast that they developed the custom of a solemn blessing of candles that would symbolize the light of the world, that is Christ, coming into the world and His being presented in the Jerusalem temple.
Let us look at the prayer read outside at the beginning of our procession. Today is the blessed day when Jesus was presented in the Temple by Mary and Joseph. Outwardly fulfilling Jewish law, but in reality Jesus was coming to meet his believing people. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Simeon and Anna came to the Temple where they recognized the Lord and confessed him with exultation. So let us also, all of us gathered here by the same Holy Spirit proceed to the house of God to encounter Christ. There we shall find him and recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
As Simeon and Anna were privileged to see the Lord so we as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, are privileged to be members of his family. The Church provides us with the word of God, the sacraments, a community, and many wonderful opportunities, all of which help us to grow in faith toward our goal of spending eternal life with God. But indeed such a great privilege requires significant responsibility. These responsibilities include spending time in prayer daily, participating in the sacraments regularly and leading lives that stay true to the teachings of Christ and His Church. Additionally, although we do not like to think about it, Christianity implies a responsibility to suffer. Jesus suffered, which is an example to us who bear His name. We have the responsibility to live out our faith in school, at work, at home even in the face of great opposition to do otherwise. The great privilege that we have received as members of Christ’s body mandate our response to be His faithful witnesses.
Let us explore this further. In our gospel, Simeon says to Mary, “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”. All of human history, for us personally and as a whole, hinges on Jesus. Jesus compels a choice, we are free to choose for or against him, but we must choose. And on this choice we must make, depends the rise or fall of us all. In Matthew, Chapter 12, Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
We hear frequently about the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Eastern church. Here is one example. A few years ago a group of Christians in Egypt were on buses heading to a monastery on a pilgrimage. They were stopped by Islamic militants and taken off the bus and told to kneel in the sand. They were asked two questions: 1) Are you Christian and 2) Will you renounce Christ and convert to Islam. Each person refused so you know what happened. Imagine confronting this yourself. Remember there are two questions you have to choose martyrdom twice. First question: Are you Christian? You could probably live by saying no and this is what is running through your mind, just say no. But then God reaches out His hand and steadies you and you find the courage the speak the truth. Yes, I am Christian. Then a second question: Will you renounce Christ? You probably did not think there would be a second question, another chance to save yourself. You start to think maybe this is a message from God. God knows I have plans in this life and maybe he wants me to live. But then the Holy Spirit enters you, you hear the voice of God in your heart telling you to speak the truth. You say no, I will not renounce Christ.
How many of us have faith like this? They were willing to give up everything for Christ. How much are we willing to give up? Just think what these martyrs were doing in the first place. They were going on a pilgrimage to pray despite the risks. How many of us today question the need for going to church claiming we can have Jesus without the church? So the fundamental question is “Who needs the church?” The answer, everyone does because the Church is the Body of Christ. There are those who reject the Church saying there is nothing special to be found in Church that I cannot find elsewhere. To this Jesus says: 1) Luke Chapter 10, Jesus said to his disciples: “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me.” And thus Jesus speaks and teaches in and through his Church in a personal manner that he does not do elsewhere, such that to hear his voice in the proclamation of the Church is to hear him in a more perfect way than you can from any other person or place outside of church. 2) Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you”. Thus the liturgy of the Church is an essential source of true life for us since apart from Holy Communion that Jesus offers in the Mass we “have no life” in us. There are those who say that the Church is outdated and does not reflect the modern age. It must be pointed out that the Church does not exist to reflect the views of its members but to articulate the views and truths of her head and founder, Jesus Christ. The Church’s mandate from Jesus is to make disciples of all nations teaching them to obey everything He has commanded. The Catholic Church is the enduring visible presence of Jesus Christ in the world. It is the Body of Christ who still walks this earth preaching, teaching, forgiving, being loved but also hated, being appreciated but also persecuted The Church is the Body of Christ and also Christ’s Beautiful Bride. You cannot have Christ without the Church. You cannot have the groom without his Bride.
In our gospel we read how Anna and Simeon through their prayer, worship and longing for the Messiah were prepared to see Him, to recognize Him when He was brought into the temple. Think about all those in the temple who did not recognize who Jesus was. Likewise for us, at every Mass, Jesus, God Himself, is present. Do we really see Him/experience His presence or are we like the many in the Temple who did not recognize Him. What is preventing us from truly experiencing Christ’s presence in our parishes or at Mass? In terms of our spiritual life, do we come to mass out of a sense of duty or out of an eagerness to love and praise God. Do we see the sacraments/the Mass as a tedious ritual or as a transformative reality where we can have the real expectation of an encounter with the living Jesus. We are called to be disciples which is more than just being a member of the Church. We need to learn our faith, to live our faith and share it with others. To help other people connect with Christ so that He can save them and transform their lives.
What did Anna do after meeting Jesus? She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Israel. Bishop Olmsted spoke at our recent Deacon meeting. He stated how he was reflecting on the 8th Commandment which says: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbors”. If we are not living out the truth than we are being false witnesses. Bishop Olmsted also spoke about the recent Focus Student Leadership Conference that occurred in Phoenix and was attended by over 8,000 Catholic University students. The students were asked to comment on ways that they help others experience Christ. Their response was: 1) They invite people to Eucharistic Adoration by telling them I would like you to meet someone who is the center of my life. The students have witnessed through this encounter with Jesus other students being transformed. 2) They invite students to confession. Through this invitation even if the student at the time does not go to confession, it at least gets them thinking about coming back to the Church. In fact, I saw a recent article that talked about the place kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs’ whose name is Harrison Butker. He mentioned how he was raised Catholic but in his high school years began to lose his faith. He would say how talking to a Catholic teammate at Georgia Tech led him back to the Sacrament of Confession where he experienced a powerful conversion of heart and returned to the Catholic faith.
Mary presented herself to the temple to be purified although she needed no purification. In a recent article entitled “Who will restore the Church?” The author stated how, “The Lord is purifying his Church. He asked the question, are we willing to let Him purify us?” Can we really expect the Church to undergo purification and at the same time expect that we, who are part of the Church, should be spared the pain and anguish of that purification? Who will restore the Church he asked? God will. And if we are willing, he will accomplish great things through us. All it will cost is everything - which in the end is nothing. For our longing, our joy is to reach that perfect purity that that will allow us to spend eternity with God our Father in Heaven
A parishioner gave a priest once the results of a survey that asked people what they most liked to hear said to them with sincerity. In first place: I love you. In second place: You are forgiven. In third place: Supper is ready. These are affirming words for everyone and a convincing case can be made that those words sum up the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Scriptures proclaimed at Mass, Jesus tells us how much He loves us. When we begin Mass calling to mind our sins Jesus says to us: You are forgiven. And during the Mass bread is blessed and broken and we receive Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity. Jesus says to us supper is ready. So at every Mass, we hear the words we are most longing to hear. Jesus says, I love you, You are forgiven and Supper is ready.
On the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord the Church also celebrates those called to consecrated life. All those who have offered their life to Christ for ever for the coming of the Kingdom of God are invited to renew their yes to the special vocation they have received. Today we hear a lot about priestly celibacy. Father Murray had this to say about what priestly celibacy means. Celibacy is a radical call to those who would represent Christ to his people, to embrace wholly Christ’s entire way of life. To discard this requirement would be to deprive God’s people of shepherds after the heart of Christ, the chief shepherd, who laid down His life for His sheep not simply at the crucifixion but at every moment. Celibate priests bring Christ to the world in a way that powerfully proclaims that He is worth the total gift of one’s life. Let us thank our priests and all religious for their total commitment to Christ and His Church.BACK TO LIST