Summary: Like Simeon and Anna, let us be prophets of the salvation of all peoples.
Feast of the Purification-Presentation 2014
“Let the Lord enter His temple; He is the King of Glory.” These words from the Liturgy of the Hours accompanies in spirit the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as they come to fulfill the directions of the Mosaic Law. In obedience to God’s will, they bring a couple of little birds to sacrifice, and they are prepared to give thanks for the gift of their firstborn Son. The ritual had been played out for literally thousands of years, because their God had delivered them from the slavery of Egypt by destroying what Scripture calls “the best,” or firstborn of the Egyptians, but spared their own firstborn. So God asked that every firstborn male child be redeemed by a sacrifice, in commemoration of that great escape. So this day is called the Feast of the Presentation.
Moreover, in the Extraordinary Form, often known as the Latin form, this day has the name “Feast of the Purification.” Those of us who were baptized on February 2 hold that name especially treasured, for we were purified from Original Sin and given first sanctifying grace on this day. The purification spoken of in the feast is of the Blessed Virgin Mary. You may ask, “why would a woman freed by the grace of Jesus from sin from the first moment of her existence need to be purified?” The answer must be found in the OT. Blood was considered a sacred fluid, the source of life. Those who touched or issued blood were considered ritually unclean, whether there was any sin involved in the shedding of blood or not. Some days had to pass, and a ritual had to be observed, whenever one touched blood. So childbirth, which is undergone in water and blood, rendered a woman ineligible to participate in the formal worship of the Jews. Mary, then, who was sinless, had to undergo the rite of purification. One of the many ironies of her life of self-giving.
So the Holy Family is in the Temple. It is the first appearance in human form of the very Creator of the Universe in the Temple built to His glory. Could the Father have let this coming go uncelebrated? No, but we also know from St. Matthew that King Herod, and the Temple bigwigs all believed that the King sought by the Magi had been done away with. So they were blissfully doing their job, praying and offering sacrifice. There were two minor prophets, however, who were always hanging around the Temple, praying and helping out. The man was known as Simeon. He had been told by the Spirit of God that he would live until he looked on the Messiah. And there was the Messiah, a little baby, wrapped in the blanket of the poor, and Simeon recognized Him. Taking little Jesus into his arms, he blessed God, saying “Now may Thou dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, in peace, just as Thou promised. For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast set in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people, Israel.”
A hymn of praise to God for this wonderful gift, certainly. But a darkness then enveloped Simeon’s soul. Simeon knew the prophets–all of them–and especially Isaiah. He had read many times the prophecy about the Suffering Servant, whose stripes would save His people. His words, though, were to the mother, Mary, who would stand by her Son all the way to Calvary. As Simeon blessed the family, he added a message to her: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”
The Light of Revelation to everyone is the Word of God. Scripture says that the Word of God is like a sharp, two-edged sword. These days we’d probably say it’s like a double-bladed Exacto knife, or surgeon’s scalpel. Salvation and liberation from sin–which is what Jesus came to bring–cannot take place without pain. The greatest and singular pain was that suffered by Jesus, rejection by His own people, flogging and dragging through the streets of Jerusalem, nailed to the cross and pierced by a duller sword. But all of us know the little pain of salvation. The bad habits of our life, the lying, the little thefts, the pornography, the harsh words, the gossip–all of them give us pain when God reveals their evil to us and asks us to give them up.
But Mary’s pain was like that of her Son. It was totally undeserved. She had committed no sin. Her heart was totally given over to God’s will. “Be it done to me even as Thou hast spoken.” So as her heart was pierced–seven times, Church Tradition tells us–she could offer up her suffering with that of her Son, Jesus, for the salvation of souls. So the prophecy of Simeon was a prophecy of salvation and glory–with the opening of Christ’s heart, and her own, the hard, leathery covering around my heart could be also cut open, so that I might think only thoughts of faith, hope and charity, and do good for others.