Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Presentation of the Lord

Earlier this week, I attended a celebration of Catholic Schools Week here in Santa Barbara at Bishop Diego Garcia High School. There were about 1,000 people present.  Most of them were the students from the four Catholic schools in the area:  Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Notre Dame, St. Raphael’s and Bishop High School. It was a wonderful day and a true celebration. 

At the Mass, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles told the children:  “I am going to speak to you about three things:  about Pope Francis; about how much God loves us; and about how much we need to love each other.”  Well, I’m not going to speak about Pope Francis, except to quote the Archbishop, who, noting that the Holy Father was on the cover not only of Time  magazine, but also of Rolling Stone, acknowledged the Pope’s popularity and concluded:   “ I guess that means we have a cool Pope.”

Well, we certainly know that about the Pope, so I’m going to talk about the other two things the Archbishop mentioned:  about how much God loves us.  And about how much we need to love each other.  It’s really the subliminal message of every single Gospel proclamation, isn’t it.  But today, we are asked to consider it through the words of today’s Gospel from Luke.

Today is a day that goes by a number of names and titles, depending upon history, tradition and geography.  We Christians in the Western world call it the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  But previously, we have called it the Feast of the Purification, or Candelmas, the day on which all the candles are blessed in church for the year.  Our brothers and sisters in the Eastern churches call it the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord—a wonderful title.  And our brothers and sisters glued to their television sets this afternoon call it Superbowl Sunday.  No matter what we call or how we celebrate this day, though, we recognize that it is special.  A break in our daily routine.

In our very busy world, we not only accept, but we expect and even anticipate such interruptions.  Practically no commute is complete without a crash or a breakdown.  It is not uncommon for our tv programs to be interrupted by ‘special announcements’ or subtitled updates of everything from riots to elections to stock market announcements.  And the banners on our Google or Yahoo! Homepages make pseudo-announcements about celebrity shenanigans and shopping tips on an hourly basis.  It happens so often that it’s difficult to separate what is important from what is hype; from what is really just  momentary and trivial.

What is happening in SS today is really important, not momentary and trivial. The normal rhythm of Ordinary Sundays, one falling rhythmically after the other, has been interrupted for a special announcement.  Instead of following the sequence of the public ministry of Jesus, we are suddenly jolted into another awareness and reality. We interrupt this Gospel for a special announcement.  Today is the Feast of the Purification of the Lord. It is 40 days after Christmas. Can you believe it? The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness to be tempted by the Evil One. In little more than a month, we will be entering into the 40 days of Lenten preparation for Lent.

So what is happening here?  Jesus, 40 days after His birth,  is being presented to the Lord.  In compliance with Law and tradition.  And in fulfillment of the Scriptures  In the prophets Simeon and Anna, the Old Dispensation meets the New.  And Jesus, for the first time in the city of Jerusalem and in the Temple precincts, is recognized as Messiah by people officially recognized as representatives and servants of the Lord and His People.

Simeon literally lifts up the infant Jesus to the Lord.  Jesus, Himself the Redeemer, is symbolically “redeemed”—bought back—in a ritual which acknowledges that all of Life is from God and belongs to God.  (See Exodus 13:2). In a ceremony prescribed by Scripture and tradition, this firstborn male child is “presented’ to the Lord in recognition of the reality that He belongs to God in the first place.  And then, He is “redeemed” or “purchased”—bought back by his parents with the ritual offering of turtledoves/ pigeons.

Simeon lifts up the Lord. And then announces that his work is done and he is ready to die.  In like manner, Anna, the 84 yo prophetess appears on the scene to corroborate the testimony of Simeon. Her work and vocation have been fulfilled as well.

But what about  us?  Every story about Jesus is addressed to, involves, and implicates us as well . We never  remember or commemorate an event in the life of Jesus just for its own sake. We always celebrate as well.  And a celebration is always right here and right now.  The Presentation is present.  Simeon lifts Jesus up to the Lord and leaves the scene.  Now, Jesus lifts us  up to the Lord but will never leave the scene.  In this story, Luke reminds us.   That we, too,  have come into this world not by accident by through the Love and  loving design of God. That we belong to God first most and always. That Jesus lifts us up to the Lord and “redeems” us by the sacrificial offering of His Life and His Love.

When we gather around the table of the Lord as a Eucharistic community. The priest says:  Lift up your hearts. And we answer:  We have lifted them up to the Lord. By saying this we simultaneously acknowledge that it is Jesus who lifts up not only our hearts but our entire being to the Lord.

He lifts us up out of soul-wearying repetition and deadening routine.  He lifts us up out of frustration and despair.  He lifts us up out of boredom and fatigue.  Lifts us up from our pain, suffering, and grief.  Our confusion, doubt, and fear. And He presents us- in His embrace and in His love—to our Creator—a loving and gracious God!

In all of this, we are called to recognize that the Lord lifts up all of His people, not just ourselves alone. So, we need to respect and reverence them every bit as much as we do ourselves.

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program to announce, to remember and to celebrate what we  must never forget:  That God is always present to us.  That God really does love us.  And that we must love and reverence each other as well. And strive to be truly “present” to God, to ourselves, and to each other as well. 

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