February 2 – Presentation of the Lord

OTHER HOMILY SOURCES:

Presentation of the Lord

By Fr Munachi Ezeogu, cssp

Malachi 3:1-4

Hebrews 2:10-11, 13-18

Luke 2:22-40

Like Parents, Like Children

 A scholar was conducting a study of an Amish village. The Amish are a branch of the Mennonite church who live in traditional rural villages far from industrialization and technology: no computers, televisions, refrigerators and telephones. In his study of the Amish village school, the researcher noticed that Amish children never screamed or yelled. That surprised him. So he decided to check it out with the schoolteacher. He told the teacher that he had not once heard an Amish child yell, and asked him why that was so. The teacher replied, “Well, have you ever heard an Amish parent yell?” The inference is clear: Like the parents, so the children!

We are all familiar with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day which we celebrate every year. Why is there not a Parents’ Day where we celebrate father and mother together as a couple? Today should be a good day to focus on both parents together, as we see both parents of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, together make the long journey to Jerusalem to present their firstborn child in the Temple as the law of God required. In the image of Joseph and Mary presenting Jesus in the Temple, we have a wonderful model of husband and wife united in practicing the faith and in raising their child in the faith.

We read that “When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (2:22) There is a confusion of detail here because, according to Jewish law, purification was for the mother alone while presentation was for the child. The story appears to be speaking of the two ceremonies as if they were one. Luke stresses the fact that they are doing it “as it is written in the law of the Lord” (verse 23). Joseph and Mary are presented as people who keep God’s laws. Moreover, they are presented as doing it together. It is easier to walk in the ways of God when husband and wife walk it together and encourage each other along the way. The author of Ecclesiastes had something like this in mind when he wrote: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Husband and wife are companions in the journey of life, especially in the journey to our ultimate destination. We see this as we contemplate Joseph and Mary together in the Temple in obedience to God’s law.

The aspect of today’s celebration that some people have a problem with is this: why would the baby Jesus, who is not in a position to say yes or no, be initiated into the Jewish religion without his consent? This is a problem especially for those of us who question the value of infant baptism. Some Christians today feel that baptism has no value until a child reaches the age of reason and then is able to decide for oneself. But this is not the example that Mary and Joseph are giving us today. The concern about the value of infant baptism is a concern that is born out of the exaggerated individualism of the modern society. In the biblical era, people saw the whole family as one entity. The question of husband, wife and child belonging to different religions was unthinkable because religion was supposed to play a role in cementing the family unity. Thus we hear in Acts of the Apostles that when certain men and women were converted, they were baptised together with all their household (Acts 16:15, 31; 18:18).

If parents are supposed to provide their children with the basic necessities of life, what is more basic than one’s faith in God. No parents would think of allowing their children to decide whether they want to go to school or not, whether they want to learn the common language or not, whether they want to be a citizen of their country or not. We make these decisions for them, knowing fully well that when they grow up, they may decide to continue with what we gave them or abandon it. But only a foolish parent would refuse to send a child to school or teach a child their language and tradition in the name of respecting the child’s freedom to choose. Similarly parents have a responsibility to initiate their children into their faith traditions. This is what we see today in the feast of presentation as Joseph and Mary present Baby Jesus in the Jewish Temple.

As parents, we have the duty and privilege of raising our children in such a way that they grow up to become good and responsible citizens as well as committed children of God. The example of Joseph and Mary, and the example of the Amish community, show us that the best way to achieve this is not just by talking and shouting at them but by leading the way and showing them by the example of our own lives.

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Presentation of the Lord

 Homily # 1

(The author of his homily suggests that it be delivered at a Saturday evening or a Sunday Mass attended by teenagers and young adults.  Homilists seldom address a homily directly to this group but they need more direction than anyone.)

When I study the readings as I plan a homily, I often run across a phrase or a few sentences spoken or written 2000 years ago which seems to speak directly to those of us who live today.   In today’s readings, Paul’s letter to the Hebrews struck me as very significant.  He speaks of why Jesus came to this earth and suffered persecution and death.  While these events occurred some 2000 years ago, the lesson is as true, today, as it was then.  Listen again to what Paul writes,

Surely He (Jesus) did not help angels but, rather the descendants of Abraham; therefore He had to become like His brothers and sisters in every way that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people.

Those words bring the feast of the Presentation into a wonderful perspective. He was “presented” to the whole world for all time.  We are Jesus’ brothers and sisters and He was born and suffered for us to show us how we should live our lives. Listen to the next few lines of the reading.

Because He Himself was tested through what He suffered, He is able to help those who are being tested.

Who is being tested today?  Well, as one considers our modern society, we are all being sorely tested.  However, the thought occurred to me that the group that is being tested more than any other is those of us here who are between the ages of 13 and 25, the teenagers and the young adults.  Homilists very seldom direct their words to this group but isn’t it true they face greater challenges than ever before in our history?

Therefore, I direct my words to that group, today.  Think of the challenges you young people face.  Our modern, American society is inviting you to get involved in every type of behavior that Jesus warned us to avoid.  The television shows, the movies, the books, the music and every form of modern communication seems to invite our young people to get involved in activities which Jesus condemned. The invitations are deafening.  Alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex and other lifestyles which Jesus warned against are presented as the “Only way to go” by the modern media and by the “beautiful people” of television, movies and the current culture.

I would think that those in this young age group would often feel it’s impossible to resist the temptations being presented as “normal behavior” and by the admonition that “everybody is doing it”.  But it’s not impossible! Because He Himself was tested through what He suffered, He is able to help those who are being tested.

As a young person, do you feel it’s almost impossible to ignore these temptations?   Is getting involved in drugs and alcohol something that can promise you a better life?  Of course not!  You each know of someone who is ruining their life right now by becoming addicted.  Everybody is “not doing it.”  This is the message Jesus brought to the world:  “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”   Your parents echo Jesus message because they, too, know it is difficult to ignore the the influence of our modern society.  Why?  Because they want to control you or keep you from enjoying your youthful years?  No, not at all. They, like Jesus, know the real satisfaction in life is practicing control over your body and your mind.  How?  Right now you are here, in Church, listening to His promises.  I realize you sometimes wonder why you have to come here but it’s for the same reason Jesus came to this earth.  You need the strength to resist the false promises  of this modern society.  Is it easy?  No. but Paul is telling us that “because Jesus was tested through what he suffered He is able to help all of us  resist the temptations we face.”

Here’s an important question to ask yourself.  Would you want your parents involved in the activities of many of today’s “beautiful people”, the movies stars and the rock singers and musicians?  Of course not.  The young people here would be the first ones to warn their own parents to stay away from activities being suggested in the sit comes, the movies and the music of today.  “Hey Mom, hey Dad, don’t get involved in drugs, they’ll ruin your life and, by the way, they’ll ruin our family.”

The same is true of the other vices being “sold” as “normal” behavior.   Why would you warn your parents against being involved?  Because you love them and you know such activity could harm them.  That’s the same reason they warn you against making the mistakes of many other young people … they warn you because they love you.  How can Jesus help you?

Because He Himself was tested through what He suffered, He is able to help those who are being tested.

He was born into dangerous situations.  His family had to flee to save His life. He lived in a foreign land until the threat to His life passed.  In the prime of His life he was crucified, suffered horribly and died.  Why?  To save each of us here today and give us the opportunity for real happiness.

Each of us can tap into the strength that He exhibited by merely asking. Maybe it’s not a formal prayer, but when the weekend comes around and you know you are going to be encouraged by your peers to become involved in activities you wouldn’t want your parents or your brothers and sisters to follow, just ask Him. “Lord, I need help!”  He suffered more than we can imagine so that each of us can go to Him when we need Him.  His promises are REAL promises.  His promises lead to happiness, peace of mind and the strength to build a good life rather than wasting one’s life on the empty promises of the modern society.

How do we ask for help?  We do it by using prayer.  As you anticipate being in circumstances that might be tempting, say a “Hail Mary’ as you are leaving home.  Lay it on the line.  Ask Jesus and his mother for help.  They have promised they would be there for everyone who asks.

Today, as the adults come to communion say a prayer for the young people of our parish.  Continue to pray for them every day.  And finally, each those of you who are sorely tested by so called “friends” or by your peers, make a request for help from Jesus and Mary as you receive communion today.  Don’t be afraid to ask for their help at any time by remembering Paul’s words:

“He is able to help anyone who is being tested.”

(The author also indicates you may hear comments like these after Mass: “Thank you.  We often feel we are fighting this battle all alone but your words, today, are of great help to all parents.” Some of the young people might even say, “Thanks, Father!”)


Homily # 2

Isn’t it curious that the Church places the celebration of our Lord’s presentation in the temple after we have celebrated several weeks of Ordinary Time?  Especially since in those weeks we have heard the announcement of the coming of the kingdom and the call of his first disciples.  It almost seems like a flashback in time.

Well indeed it is, and the Church is deliberate in its placement of this feast. It is forty days since the birth of Jesus, the time when in Jewish custom the first born child and mother were to come to the temple for ritual purification. Like Abraham of old, each Jewish couple were to offer their first born son to the Lord God of Israel and to be ritually purified.  Of course, Jesus didn’t need purification but he and Mary show their obedience to the Law and willingness to offer themselves to God.  Jesus will many times demonstrate his willingness to be subject to the law so as “to fulfill the law” and thereby include us in the benefits of his redemptive life-death-resurrection.  How willing are we to place ourselves “under the law” and fulfill the ritual demonstrations of offering ourselves to God. Or do we look for exemptions and waivers and dispensations from the difficult, or the humbling acts we are expected to manifest?  Things like “turn the other cheek” or “if you have two cloaks, give one to the person who has none” are just two teachings of Jesus that come to mind that call us to fulfill the law of Jesus by offering ourselves to God.

If we proclaim that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” like John did in the Gospel two weeks ago; if like Simon, Andrew, James and John we agree to follow Jesus like we heard in the gospel last week; then we would do well to remember who this Jesus is that we have committed ourselves, our lives, our future to.

Simeon proclaims this child is the “salvation which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel…behold this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel.”  Do we really believe that?  Is Jesus the light of our lives?  Do we look to him for guidance and direction in a darkened world.  Haven’t we stumbled enough to say “enough is enough” and turn our lives over to Jesus and follow him unreservedly?

Now is the time to reflect on just how deep our faith is.  It reminds me of shoppers in the mall.  The sales clerks ask, “can I help you?”  Some say yes because they are truly interested in making a purchase.  Others say “NO, I’m just looking” because they don’t want to make a commitment to buy.  When Jesus invites us to follow him, he is basically asking, “Can I help you?”  What has been our answer up to this point?  Just doing the minimum to be a Catholic and not a full follower of Jesus is like the person who is just window-shopping and not really interested in making a serious purchase.  If Jesus is to be the light guiding us, we can’t follow part time or go down a path we choose.  If Jesus is to be the light shining in the darkness of our lives, we must open our eyes and admit to what his light exposes that is harmful, rotten or weak in us.

Being a disciple of Jesus, i.e. a follower in community with other believers, we must face the harsh reality of what it takes to make the kingdom come.  The prophet Malachi is direct and explicit in the manner and purpose of the messenger of God.  “Who will endure…who can stand…he will purify…that they may offer due sacrifice.”  To be a follower of Jesus we must expect to endure trial and hardship.  We must expect to be purified like silver and gold in fire.

As we continue in Ordinary time we will hear the call and teachings of Jesus.  We will be invited to accept purification, to be subject to the law, to embrace a new life lived in the light of Christ. This is not easy.  It will be the fall and rise of many in the world.  If we are to succeed, let us remember who Jesus is – the Word of God made flesh – the light of the world.

He comes to us now, in this Eucharist. Once again he invites us to leave all behind and come follow him.  He will dispel the darkness in our lives.  He will purify us like gold tested in fire.  He will help us so we may offer acceptable sacrifice to the Lord.  He is Jesus – the Christ – the anointed of the Lord who comes to save us.  Will our response today be  “Yes Lord, help me find what I’m looking for”?

PRAISE GOD! – PRAISE GOD! – PRAISE GOD!


Homily # 3

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.  And we also celebrate Candlemas Day.  These are two of the many days on which we celebrate every year the events of Our Lord’s life.  They are days that remind us of the divinity of the Son of God and the humanity of the Son of Mary.

In our Gospel Reading, Saint Luke tells us that the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph went to the Temple in Jerusalem in accordance with the Jewish law that said that each first-born male child had to be offered to God forty days after being born.  Jesus, the Son of God, did not have to be offered to God the Father.  Nevertheless, he allowed this to occur because he wanted to be like us in everything, except sin.  Forty days ago today we joyfully celebrated Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Even though the feast we celebrate today is not exactly Marian in nature, we should remember that Jesus arrived at the Temple, for the first time in his earthly life, in the arms of his mother, Mary.  It could be said that by taking Jesus to the Temple Mary was the instrument through which humanity would first hear of the mission that was given to her Son, Jesus, the enlightenment of all the nations on earth with the light of his life and his grace.  The role of the Virgin is to show us the road to her Son, Jesus.  The greatness of the Mother of God is based on her Divine Maternity.

We Christians used to have a very holy custom.  Soon after birth, a child was taken to the Church to be presented to God and to the Most Holy Virgin Mary.  This was one of those venerable and laudable customs that, unfortunately, is being lost.  The families who continue this tradition are fewer every year.  But it is precisely the Biblical event that we celebrate today that is the basis for this tradition.  When we present our children in the Church we recall how Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the Temple.  The feast today is an invitation that the Church makes to us to return to the traditions of our ancestors.  And it is not, as some say, a custom that seeks to eclipse the importance of the Sacrament of Baptism.  When our sons and daughters are born and we offer them up to God we simply state that we are leaving their lives in God’s hands.  We reaffirm our total belief that, if they live their lives in accordance with God’s commands, the Lord will protect them.  The feast today should show us that the life of a Christian is a continual offering and a continuous following of Christ.

You will have noted that at the beginning of this Holy Mass we entered in procession with our candles lit as a sign of our belief in Jesus, light of the world.  This feast that we celebrate today shows our belief in Jesus as the first-born who belongs entirely to God.  As I said before, Jewish Law said that the first-born son of each marriage should be symbolically presented to God.  By the way, we should remember that while the phrase, “first-born,” means the first child born of a woman, in Jesus’ case it also means, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, the only child born of the Virgin Mary.  Let us not be fooled by those who say that the biblical event we celebrate today is proof that Mary had various children.  When, just before he died and from the Cross, Jesus himself told the Beloved Disciple, “Behold your mother,” he did so because Mary had no other children who could take care of her after Jesus’ death.  Her only child, her first born, was Jesus.

At the entrance to the Temple, Joseph and Mary encountered two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, were the first ones to publicly recognize that the small child who was about to be presented to God was the Messiah.  In Simeon and Anna the hopes of Israel encountered the Savior.  They had the great privilege of recognizing the Savior even before He could talk.  Both of them recognized Jesus as the Messiah who the Jewish people had awaited for so long.

Simeon, a wise man who feared God, received in his hands the Baby Jesus and he elevated the child as in an offering to God.  He predicted that the little one he held in his arms would be, “light of the nations and glory of Israel.”  But he also said that the child would be, “a sign of contradiction,” for those who obstinately refuse to believe in him or who have turned their backs on him after knowing him.  In reality, what Simeon was offering up to God was his own life, which was about to end.  The hopes of his long life had come to pass.  His eyes had seen the Savior of all nations

Anna, an elderly and holy woman, received the great news of the birth of the Messiah with joy.  And, giving thanks to God, she became the Lord’s first missionary.  She announced to all who would listen that Jesus Christ had been born for the redemption of Jerusalem.

My sisters and brothers, today we commemorate two great events, the Presentation of the Lord and Candlemas Day.  Let us be more like Simeon and Anna.  Let us be joyful and announce to the world that Jesus Christ is the light that enlightens our lives.

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Feast of the Presentation of our Lord

FORTY days after we joyfully celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, we observe today the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord. This solemn feast recalls the event narrated in the Holy Scriptures.

In obedience to the Mosaic Law that every firstborn male be consecrated to the Lord, Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after His birth to complete Mary’s purification after childbirth, and to perform the redemption of the firstborn (cf. Luke 2:22-40).

At the temple, they encountered the old man named Simeon, who, according to the Gospel of Luke, had been promised by the Lord that he would not die until he had seen the promised Messiah. Upon seeing the child Jesus at the temple, he immediately acclaimed, “Lord, let your servant go in peace, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32).

Today, the universal Church uses this canticle, now popularly known as the Nunc Dimmittis, as the gospel canticle for the night prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. The liturgy begins with the ancient rite of blessing of the candles – a practice that can be traced back to the middle of the fifth century. This is done near the entrance of the Church. Then the procession to the Church begins.

The lighted candle symbolizes Jesus Christ who is the “light of revelation to all nations.” But it also calls to mind Jesus’ challenge to us in the Gospels that we too are meant to be the light of the world. The procession to the Church signifies that we, too, are called to meet the Lord and follow Him.

All of us can be a light of Christ if only we will remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus. By choosing to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ not only through words but by our own witnessing to love, truth, justice, and peace, we can make known to all the magnitude of God’s love for humanity.

In a world faced with fear and hopelessness because of the crises we are experiencing, may we radiate the light of hope that comes from Jesus. May our lives serve as a candle that shares the light of hope that comes from Jesus Christ to others.

And as we put our hope in him, may we all experience his consoling presence in our midst. We are sure that like Simeon who finally saw the fulfillment of God’s promise, we, too, will experience the warmth of the love of Jesus, our only hope.

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See: Today’s Readings: Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Back to: February 2 – Presentation of the Lord

Back to: Saints and Solemnities

 

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