Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (February 2)
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

The words of Simeon in today’s Gospel bring us to the heart of the feast that we are celebrating today. This is a feast which is very old; it comes to us from the antiquity of Christian tradition. From historical sources we may know that this feast was already being celebrated in the Church as early as the first half of the fourth century, and possibly even earlier. Celebrated forty days after the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, we are actually celebrating two events according to tradition: we celebrate the Purification of the Blessed Virgin (which originally how this feast was called), as well as the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. This makes us recall the prescription of the Law of Moses which orders that forty days after giving birth, the woman should be purified, since the shedding of blood during childbirth renders a woman unclean. On the other hand, according to Jewish law, the firstborn male child belonged to God, and the parents had to "buy him back" on the 40th day after his birth, by offering a sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons" (Luke 2:24) in the temple (thus the "presentation" of the child).

At this primary instance, we could appreciate once again how far God wanted to be identified with us in our sinfulness. We all know by faith and by the witness of the Gospels that Mary our Mother had  no need of this purification, for what need of it does Mary Immaculate have of it, considering that the birth had been miraculous, since it has left her virginally intact, without the shedding of blood? Our Lord had no need of being presented to the Lord, for He himself was the Lord, who comes and enters into His Temple, the King of glory who approaches, the Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle, as the Responsorial Psalm would suggest. And yet, just like any man, He submits himself to the laws which bind any other.

Once again, as at the Incarnation, as at his humble birth, as at his baptism later on when he grows and begins his ministry, he willingly joins our human condition, even submitting himself under the laws and customs by which human life is regulated in any society. This feast shows us once again the humility of the Incarnation, and its realism: that the Eternal Word of God, in order to bring us back to God, because truly like us in all things but sin. This is what the letter to the Hebrews states in the Second Reading:

Since the children share in blood and flesh,
Jesus likewise shared in them,
that through death he might destroy the one
who has the power of death, that is, the Devil,
and free those who through fear of death
had been subject to slavery all their life.

Jesus had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way. He allowed himself to be tested through what he suffered, and in that way, he could be able to help us who are being tested in the same way.

At the entrance earlier, we blessed the candles that we held in our hands; with them lighted, we processed through this chapel in order to begin the celebration of the Mass. The traditional name of this feast—Candlemas—takes its name from this blessing with belongs uniquely to this feast. Tomorrow these candles would be used to bless the throat as we commemorate the witness of St. Blasé, bishop and martyr, patron of those who have illnesses of the throat (ideal during these days that we are having cold and rainy weather). The use of lighted candles brings us to the heart of the Gospel episode which is narrated to us by Luke. We see two venerable figures, both wizened and withered by age and long years of waiting for the fulfillment of the promised messiah, and yet kept young by the hope that the promises would be fulfilled. In the figures of Simeon and Anna we see the People of Israel who rejoice at seeing the fulfillment of their highest hopes, that at last the Lord their God has come to visit His people, that the Lord has finally entered His Temple to remain present among them forever. To Simeon, the coming of the Savior was that which gave light to his dimming eyes, the Savior who is the Light of the World.

We too could reflect on the message which this episode has for us. Only Jesus could shed light on the truth of our own human experience; only he could bring sense into what may otherwise be plain existence, making it life, a Life truly and abundantly lived. It is only when we let ourselves be touched by the Light of Christ that everything is freed from the darkness of death and futility, and even this life—which is fittingly described as a valley of tears—is transformed into something that points to the bright promise of eternal life with God. Furthermore, when we allow ourselves to be bathed in the gentle light of Christ we ourselves become points of light for others; we join the constellation composed by the saints who throughout the ages, have pointed out Christ to others, and have shown by their witnessing that the only life worth living is one that is lived in friendship with God, in friendship with Jesus, who shows us the human and lovable face of the Father whom we cannot see.

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,

In this Mass, we remember in a special way Fr. Nicolas Valeriano III, who has left us to answer the call of the Lord. Like the prophets and holy men and women before us, he had also waited for the time when his own face, marred by years of pastoral service, suffering and human weakness, would at last be illumined by the light of the Lord’s face. Now with his eyes closed in death, he addresses the Lord with those same words of Simeon, who has become the model of all those who have waited patiently for the Lord, have hoped in him, and have finally triumphed through their patience. We pray that the angels may take him from the darkness of this world into the brightness of the Lord’s glory, the Lord whom he has loved and served all throughout his life.

May Mary our Immaculate Mother, she who was conceived without stain of sin, intercede for us before her Son. Amen.

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