In today’s Gospel we read about the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple. The Holy Family faithfully carried out all the requirements of the law as they were a devout Jewish family. For the Jews the spilling of blood was a source of uncleanness and so, after giving birth, there had to be a ceremony of purification after a designated number of days. Sometimes the husband too went through a similar ceremony. According to the Mosaic law (Leviticus 12:2-8), a woman who gave birth to a boy was not allowed to touch anything sacred for 40 days (in the case of a baby girl, the period was even longer) nor could she enter the Temple precincts because of her impurity. At the end of this period, as mentioned by Luke, she was required to offer a year-old lamb as a burnt offering and a turtle dove or a young pigeon as an offering for sin. Those who could not afford the lamb could offer two birds instead. The parents also presented their first-born son as an offering to the Lord, again in accordance with Jewish law (Exodus 13:2,12).
Two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, are mentioned in the reading. Simeon had received a promise that he would not die until he had laid eyes on the Messiah. Simeon was one of those known as “The Quiet in the Land”, Jews who did not look for a military Messiah, and had no dreams of armies or power, but believed in a life of constant watchfulness and prayer until God should come. Simeon was righteous and devout and the Holy Spirit rested on him. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon arrives at the temple and receives the infant Jesus in his arms.
How lucky was Simeon to receive the Son of God in his arms. But aren’t we luckier than him? We receive the body and blood of Jesus each and every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Still, do we feel the same ecstatic joy when we receive Jesus within us? For some, receiving communion has become almost a mechanical act without bringing about any inner joy and transformation. We should praise God in gratefulness. Praise is actually a joyful form of prayer. Aren’t there many things in our lives for which we should thank and praise God? The answer is Yes! But sometimes we conveniently forget them. Myself included. There have been many times in my life where I have been pleased by the outcome of a particularly difficult situation and only later, sometimes much later, I remember to give God the glory and the thanks. But thanking Him should not be an after thought! We should remember to praise God at all times and in all places and to thank Him daily for the many blessings that he has bestowed upon us. Even when those blessings may be hard for us to see. As the song by Casting Crowns says, “I will praise you in this storm.” Even when beaten down by the hardships of life, always remember to praise God.
Simeon then blessed Mary and Joseph and said, “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.” Mary and Joseph are astounded at what was being said about their child. But this prophesy of Simeon is not so sweet for them. Jesus bringing about the fall of people is a difficult and dangerous idea to come to terms with. We know what happened in history. To Mary he says a more painful prophesy: A sword will pierce your own soul.
The hardships began at the annunciation of Mary by the angel of God were not yet over. They continued and would reach the climax as she would take part in the sufferings of her beloved son. The true greatness of Mary is not in the privileges God bestowed on her, but in her readiness to accept unconditionally everything God asked of her.
How do we respond when God asks certain things of us in our lives? Many times our preoccupations make us say “No” or some conditional “Yes” to God. A little over a year ago, my wife and I were dealing with something that I pray no one else ever has to go through. At a time when I should have been strong in my faith and trusted fully in God, with the full knowledge that He would see me through the toughest time in my life, I found myself questioning my faith. Now I never questioned the existence of God or the life-giving blood of Christ shed of Cavalry, but I did question whether or not He was there for me in my hour (or I should say my almost 5 years) of need. In the midst of this lowest point in my life, God’s call for me to serve Him in His Holy Church became increasingly louder. To the level of almost deafening! I can not lie….I became pretty agitated. No, I became down right mad! Why? Because there I was, begging God to take the pain away. Begging for Him to use His power to take this chalice from me. Begging Him to spare me the emotional suffering I had to endure by no fault of my own. Yet, there He was….seemingly ignoring my cries for help. Not only that, but having the nerve to ask something of me. Did I answer “Yes?” Sure, in the long run. 5 years later! Instead of responding to God with a resounding “Yes,” trusting that all is in accordance with His plan, I gave a “No” followed by many conditional “Yeses.” When I finally let go, when I finally did as our most blessed Mother did and said “Yes” to God, that is when His blessings rained down upon me.
When we see God’s great interventions in our lives our eyes should be open to them in thankful amazement and our hearts should be raised in gratitude to the Lord. Just as Simeon was able to die after seeing the greatness and the Glory of God in the infant Jesus, so too was I able to die to my old sin nature after I beheld the Glory of the Lord. Be as Simeon and praise the Lord for all He has done and will do in your lives. Be as Mary and say “Yes” to God no matter how hard it may be to do so. In the end we shall hear God say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”