POPE BENEDICT XVI: HOMILY ON THE PRESENTATION OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE.
2 February 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today’s Feast of Jesus’ Presentation at the temple 40 days after his birth places before our eyes a special moment in the life of the Holy Family: Mary and Joseph, in accordance with Mosaic law, took the tiny Jesus to the temple of Jerusalem to offer him to the Lord (cf. Lk 2: 22). Simeon and Anna, inspired by God, recognized that Child as the long-awaited Messiah and prophesied about him. We are in the presence of a mystery, both simple and solemn, in which Holy Church celebrates Christ, the Anointed One of the Father, the firstborn of the new humanity.
The evocative candlelight procession at the beginning of our celebration has made us relive the majestic entrance, as we sang in the Responsorial Psalm, of the One who is “the King of glory”, “the Lord, mighty in battle” (Ps 24: 7, 8). But who is the powerful God who enters the temple? It is a Child; it is the Infant Jesus in the arms of his Mother, the Virgin Mary. The Holy Family was complying with what the Law prescribed: the purification of the mother, the offering of the firstborn child to God and his redemption through a sacrifice.
In the First Reading the Liturgy speaks of the oracle of the Prophet Malachi: “The Lord… will suddenly come to his temple” (Mal 3: 1). These words communicated the full intensity of the desire that had given life to the expectation of the Jewish People down the centuries. “The angel of the Covenant” at last entered his house and submitted to the Law: he came to Jerusalem to enter God’s house in an attitude of obedience.
The meaning of this act acquires a broader perspective in the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, proclaimed as the Second Reading today. Christ, the mediator who unites God and man, abolishing distances, eliminating every division and tearing down every wall of separation, is presented to us here.
Christ comes as a new “merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2: 17). Thus, we note that mediation with God no longer takes place in the holiness-separation of the ancient priesthood, but in liberating solidarity with human beings.
While yet a Child, he sets out on the path of obedience that he was to follow to the very end.
The Letter to the Hebrews highlights this clearly when it says: “In the days of his earthly life Jesus offered up prayers and supplications… to him who was able to save him from death…. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (cf. Heb 5: 7-9).
The first person to be associated with Christ on the path of obedience, proven faith and shared suffering was his Mother, Mary. The Gospel text portrays her in the act of offering her Son: an unconditional offering that involves her in the first person.
Mary is the Mother of the One who is “the glory of [his] people Israel” and a “light for revelation to the Gentiles“, but also “a sign that is spoken against” (cf. Lk 2: 32, 34). And in her immaculate soul, she herself was to be pierced by the sword of sorrow, thus showing that her role in the history of salvation did not end in the mystery of the Incarnation but was completed in loving and sorrowful participation in the death and Resurrection of her Son.
Bringing her Son to Jerusalem, the Virgin Mother offered him to God as a true Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. She held him out to Simeon and Anna as the proclamation of redemption; she presented him to all as a light for a safe journey on the path of truth and love.
The words that came to the lips of the elderly Simeon: “My eyes have seen your salvation” (Lk 2: 30), are echoed in the heart of the prophetess Anna. These good and devout people, enveloped in Christ’s light, were able to see in the Child Jesus “the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2: 25). So it was that their expectation was transformed into a light that illuminates history.
Simeon was the bearer of an ancient hope and the Spirit of the Lord spoke to his heart: for this reason he could contemplate the One whom numerous prophets and kings had desired to see: Christ, light of revelation for the Gentiles.
He recognized that Child as the Saviour, but he foresaw in the Spirit that the destinies of humanity would be played out around him and that he would have to suffer deeply from those who rejected him; he proclaimed the identity and mission of the Messiah with words that form one of the hymns of the newborn Church, radiant with the full communitarian and eschatological exultation of the fulfilment of the expectation of salvation. The enthusiasm was so great that to live and to die were one and the same, and the “light” and “glory” became a universal revelation.
Anna is a “prophetess”, a wise and pious woman who interpreted the deep meaning of historical events and of God’s message concealed within them. Consequently, she could “give thanks to God“ and “[speak of the Child] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2: 38).
Her long widowhood devoted to worship in the temple, fidelity to weekly fasting and participation in the expectation of those who yearned for the redemption of Israel culminated in her meeting with the Child Jesus.
Dear brothers and sisters, on this Feast of the Presentation of the Lord the Church is celebrating the Day of Consecrated Life. This is an appropriate occasion to praise the Lord and thank him for the precious gift represented by the consecrated life in its different forms; at the same time it is an incentive to encourage in all the People of God knowledge and esteem for those who are totally consecrated to God.
Indeed, just as Jesus’ life in his obedience and dedication to the Father is a living parable of the “God-with-us”, so the concrete dedication of consecrated persons to God and to their brethren becomes an eloquent sign for today’s world of the presence of God’s Kingdom.
Your way of living and working can vividly express full belonging to the one Lord; placing yourselves without reserve in the hands of Christ and of the Church is a strong and clear proclamation of God’s presence in a language understandable to our contemporaries. This is the first service that the consecrated life offers to the Church and to the world. Consecrated persons are like watchmen among the People of God who perceive and proclaim the new life already present in our history.
I now address you in a special way, dear brothers and sisters who have embraced the vocation of special consecration, to greet you with affection and thank you warmly for your presence.
I extend a special greeting to Archbishop Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and to his collaborators who are concelebrating with me at this Holy Mass.
May the Lord renew in you and in all consecrated people each day the joyful response to his freely given and faithful love. Dear brothers and sisters, like lighted candles, always and everywhere shine with the love of Christ, Light of the world. May Mary Most Holy, the consecrated Woman, help you to live to the full your special vocation and mission in the Church for the world’s salvation.
© Copyright 2006 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
St. Peter’s Basilica
Saturday, 2 February 2013
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In his account of the infancy of Jesus St Luke emphasizes how faithful Mary and Joseph were to the Law of the Lord. They fulfilled with profound devotion all the prescriptions prescribed following the birth of a firstborn male. Two of them were very ancient prescriptions: one concerns the mother and the other the newborn child. The woman was required to abstain from ritual practices for forty days, after which she was to offer a double sacrifice: a lamb as a burnt offering and a turtle-dove as a sin offering; but if she were poor, she could offer a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons (cf. Lev 12:1-8).
St Luke explained that Mary and Joseph offer the sacrifice of the poor (cf. 2:24) in order to emphasize that Jesus was born into a family of simple people, lowly but of steadfast faith: a family that belonged to the poor of Israel who form the true People of God. For the first-born male who, according to Mosaic Law, was set apart for God, redemption was prescribed instead, established as an offering of five shekels to be paid to a priest in any place. This was in everlasting memory of the fact that in the time of Herod God saved the firstborn of the Jews (cf. Ex 13:11-16).
It is important to note that these two acts — the purification of the mother and the redemption of the son — did not require a visit to the Temple. However, Mary and Joseph wished to fulfil all the prescriptions in Jerusalem, and St Luke shows us how the entire scene converges on the Temple and thus focuses on Jesus who enters it. And it is here, precisely through the prescriptions of the Law, that the principal event is transformed, namely, it becomes the “presentation” of Jesus in the Temple of God, which means the act of offering the Son of the Most High to the Father who sent him (cf. Lk 1:32, 35).
The Evangelist’s account is confirmed by the words of the Prophet Malachi which we heard at the beginning of the First Reading: “Behold”, says the Lord, “I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming… he will purify the sons of Levi…. Then the offering… will be pleasing to the Lord” (3:1, 3, 4).
These words clearly make no mention of a child and yet they are fulfilled in Jesus because, thanks to the faith of his parents, he was taken to the Temple “immediately”; and in the act of his “presentation”, that is, the “offering” of him in person to God the Father, the themes of sacrifice and of the priesthood clearly transpire, as in the passage from the prophet. The Child Jesus, who is immediately presented in the Temple, is the same person who, as an adult, would purify the Temple (cf. Jn 2:13-22; Mk 11:15, 19ff). Above all he would make himself the sacrifice and the High Priest of the new Covenant.
This is also the perspective of the Letter to the Hebrews, a passage of which was proclaimed in the Second Reading, to strengthen the theme of the new priesthood: a priesthood — inaugurated by Jesus — which is existential: “For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Heb 2:18). So it is that we also discover the topic of suffering, very pronounced in the Gospel passage in which Simeon imparts his prophecy concerning both the Child and the Mother: “Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and, [to Mary], a sword will pierce through your own soul also)” (Lk 2:34-35).
The “salvation” that Jesus brought to his people, and which he embodies in himself, passed through the Cross, through the violent death that he was to vanquish and to transform with the sacrifice of his life through love. This sacrifice was already foretold in the act of the Presentation in the Temple, an act without any doubt motivated by the traditions of the old Covenant, but that was deeply enlivened by the fullness of faith and love, which correspond to the fullness of time, to the presence of God and of his Holy Spirit in Jesus. Indeed, the Spirit moved over the whole scene of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and in particular over Simeon, but also over Anna.
The Spirit “Paraclete” brings consolation to Israel and motivates the steps and moves the hearts of those who await him. He is the Spirit who prompted the prophetic words of Simeon and Anna, words of blessing and praise of God, of faith in his Annointed One, of thanksgiving, for at last our eyes could see and our arms embrace “your salvation” (cf. 2:30).
“A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (2:32). With these words Simeon describes the Messiah of the Lord, at the end of his hymn of blessing. The topic of light, that reechoes the first and second songs of the Servant of the Lord in the Deutero-Isaiah (cf. Is 42:6; 49:6), is vividly present in this liturgy. It was in fact opened by an evocative procession, in which the Superiors and General Superiors of the Institutes of consecrated life represented here took part and carried lit candles. This sign, specific to the liturgical tradition of this Feast, is deeply expressive. It shows the beauty and value of the consecrated life as a reflection of Christ’s light; a sign that recalls Mary’s entry into the Temple. The Virgin Mary, the Consecrated Woman par excellence, carried in her arms the Light himself, the Incarnate Word who came to dispel the darkness of the world with God’s love.
Dear consecrated brothers and sisters, you were all represented in that symbolic pilgrimage, which in the Year of Faith expresses even better your gathering together in the Church to be strengthened in faith and to renew the offering of yourselves to God. I address my most cordial greetings with affection to each one of you and to your Institutes and I thank you for coming. In the light of Christ, with the many charisms of contemplative and apostolic life, you cooperate in the Church’s life and mission in the world.
In this spirit of gratitude and communion I would like to address three invitations to you, so that you may fully enter through that “door of faith” which is always open to us (Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, n. 1).
I invite you in the first place to nourish a faith that can illuminate your vocation. For this I urge you to treasure, as on an inner pilgrimage, the memory of the “first love” with which the Lord Jesus Christ warmed your hearts, not out of nostalgia but in order to feed that flame. And for this it is necessary to be with him, in the silence of adoration; and thereby reawaken the wish to share — and the joy of sharing — in his life, his decisions, the obedience of faith, the blessedness of the poor and the radical nature of love. Starting ever anew from this encounter of love, you leave everything to be with him and like him, to put yourselves at the service of God and your brothers and sisters (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, n. 1).
In the second place I invite you to have a faith that can recognize the wisdom of weakness. In the joys and afflictions of the present time, when the harshness and weight of the cross make themselves felt, do not doubt that the kenosis of Christ is already a paschal victory. Precisely in our limitations and weaknesses as human beings we are called to live conformation with Christ in an all-encompassing commitment which anticipates the eschatological perfection, to the extent that this is possible in time (ibid., n. 16). In a society of efficiency and success, your life, marked by the “humility” and frailty of the lowly, of empathy with those who have no voice, becomes an evangelical sign of contradiction.
Lastly, I invite you to renew the faith that makes you pilgrims bound for the future. By its nature the consecrated life is a pilgrimage of the spirit in quest of a Face that is sometimes revealed and sometimes veiled: “Faciem tuam, Domine, requiram” (Ps 27:8). May this be the constant yearning of your heart, the fundamental criterion that guides you on your journey, both in small daily steps and in the most important decisions.
Do not join the ranks of the prophets of doom who proclaim the end or meaninglessness of the consecrated life in the Church in our day; rather, clothe yourselves in Jesus Christ and put on the armour of light — as St Paul urged (cf. Rom 13:11-14) — keeping awake and watchful. St Chromatius of Aquileia wrote: “Distance this peril from us so that we are never overcome by the heavy slumber of infidelity. Rather may he grant us his grace and his mercy, that we may watch, ever faithful to him. In fact our fidelity can watch in Christ (Sermon 32, 4).
Dear brothers and sisters, the joy of consecrated life necessarily passes through participation in the cross of Christ. This is how it ways for Mary Most Holy. Hers is the suffering of the heart that is one with the Heart of the Son of God, pierced by love. From this wound God’s light flows and also from the suffering, sacrifice and self-giving of consecrated people who live through their love for God and for others, that shines the very light that evangelizes nations. On this feast I express in a special way to you, consecrated people, the hope that your lives may always have the flavour of evangelical parresia, so that in you the Good News may be lived, witnessed to, and proclaimed and may shine out as a word of truth (cf. Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, n. 6). Amen.
© Copyright 2013 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
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