Fr. Mikael Schink S.J.
Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (2024-02-04)
St. Eugenia Catholic Church
+ Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The feast of Candlemas or of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple is traditionally celebrated forty days after Christmas and reflects the Old Testament prescription to present the new-born children to God and to purify the mother. In our diocese, the feast has been moved to a Sunday. As we know, all the mysteries of Christ’s life, i.e. everything that Christ did and everything that happened to him, were for our salvation. Let us therefore meditate on the mystery of the presentation of the Lord so as to spiritually profit from it as much as possible.
We may first ask why it was necessary for the Lord to be presented in the temple, since he had no sin and was therefore in the Father’s presence from the first moment of his humanly existence. Athanasius of Alexandria answers that it was not for his sake that the Lord was presented in the temple but for our sake. For we are the ones who have been separated and estranged from God through sin. We are the ones who must turn back to God and present ourselves in the temple. We are the ones in need of reconciliation with the Lord. Hence, just as Christ did not become man ‘to bestow grace on himself, but to make us Gods trough grace’, so it was for our sake that ‘he was presented to the Lord, that we may learn to present ourselves to God’. (Catena in Lucam 2:22)
But in what way we should present ourselves to God? The grace of presentation is given to us in and by the very presentation of the Lord. We must therefore always approach God the Father in union with his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. For he is the only way to the Father, and it is in him that our salvation lies.
Moreover, the Biblical text says that ‘they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord’. ‘They’ refers to the parents of Jesus Christ, to saint Mary and Joseph. Hence, although their meditation in our spiritual life is on a completely different level than that of the Lord, we see that if we wish to present ourselves to the Father in Jesus Christ, we must stay especially close to his parents, saint Mary and Joseph.
The greatness of the graces conferred on us by the Lord’s presentation in the Temple is manifested by the saint Symeon, who was not only devout but also ‘just’, for it says that ’the Holy Spirit was upon him’. But this grace of the Holy Spirit was not enough – his salvation was incomplete, as it were – without Christ. He was therefore ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’. Hence, although the Holy Spirit may be at work in a secret way in people, as in saint Symeon, their salvation is incomplete until they embrace Jesus Christ. We must therefore, as saint Thomas Aquinas teaches, not only have faith in God but also in Christ and the mysteries of his life (In Heb. 10:20). Therefore, we do not only confess our faith in God and his providence but also in the incarnation, life, passion, resurrection, and assumption of Christ, as well as in his mystical body, the Holy Catholic Church.
In this way, we are not only presented to God the Father in union with the Lord, but the Lord is also presented to us, as he was to Symeon. We must therefore, together with saint Symeon, receive the child Jesus in our hands so that we may also be saved. As saint Ambrose writes: ‘But whoso would be cleansed … let him wait for the Lord’s Christ, let him receive in his hands the Word of God, and embrace it as it were with the arms of his faith’ (Catena in Lucam 2:29).
Symeon also gives us an example of how we should receive the Lord. The short passage in Luke’s Gospel just before Symeon takes the child Jesus into his arms mentions the Holy Spirit three times. First, it says that ‘the Holy Spirit was upon him’; then Luke continues that it had been revealed to him ‘by the Holy Spirit’ that he would see Christ; therefore, ‘he went to the temple ‘in the Spirit’. In this way, it is clear that if we want to have communion with Jesus Christ, we must also ‘walk in the Spirit’, as saint Paul writes (Gal 5:16,25), i.e. live a spiritual life, attentive to the promptings and impulses of the Holy Spirit, whom the Father has sent into our hearts.
A final point of meditation may be the effects of the Presentation of the Lord. These are expressed in the ‘Nunc dimittis’, which the Church still prays every evening. The text speaks of ‘peace’, ‘enlightenment’ and the ‘marvel’ or amazement of saint Mary and Joseph.
Peace is a well-known effect both of the Holy Spirit and of supernatural love. It is often the case that we have various desires and inclinations that we cannot fulfil all at the same time. Or that we do not exactly know what we desire. And so, we are uneasy and restless. The love of Christ however, gives us true peace, because as Symeon says ‘my eyes have seen the salvation, which you have prepared for all the nations’. If we dedicate ourselves to Christ as we see him through faith, we will experience true peace, because we will order all our desires and efforts to him.
Enlightenment or wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It may be that not only our desires are disordered but also our thoughts. We are confused regarding worldly or spiritual matters. Or we do not understand how to relate various events of our lives or in the world around us to God’s will. Especially the gift of wisdom can help us with this, as it allows us to see everything from a supernatural perspective and order all things to God. In God’s wisdom, we see everything ‘in God’, as it were.
Finally, Luke writes that the parents of Jesus ‘marvelled at the things spoken of him’. This can be understood as a spiritual experience in the sense that the contemplation of the mysteries of faith naturally leads us to marvel and amazement. As an unknown Greek writer comments on this passage: ‘The knowledge of supernatural things, as often as it is brought to the recollection, renews the miracle in the mind’. Hence, when we contemplate the Lord, a kind of miracle takes place in our mind, so that we are filled with awe and amazement as see God through faith.
Let us therefore turn to the Lord and ask him for true faith in the mystery of his presentation. Let us pray that we may present ourselves to God the Father in and through him, Jesus Christ the Lord, through the intercession of the blessed virgin Mary and her spouse, blessed Joseph. Let us ask for the grace to receive him in our arms in faith and charity, led by the Holy Spirit, as saint Symeon. And let us finally pray, that we may be liberated from all restlessness and confusion so as to obtain a foretaste of the marvels of heavenly glory. + Amen.