Saturday, January 29, 2011

On the Fortieth Day: The Presentation of the Lord I

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms…When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” (Luke 2:25-39)

On the fortieth day of our Lord’s life, the prayers and longings of St. Simeon’s soul were finally realized. In Psalm 40 seems to have reflected the thoughts of St. Simeon as he beheld the Messiah in the form of an infant for the first time: “I waited, waited for the LORD; who bent down and heard my cry… Though I am afflicted and poor, the Lord keeps me in mind.” People for centuries have wondered how he recognized the Lord. There seem to be no marks of distinction; nor any supernatural aura which illumined the little body of Jesus. However, the Gospel of Luke said he did not come to the temple alone. In fact, St. Simeon “came in the Spirit into the temple.” Under the Spirit’s inspiration and with His promptings, he recognized the Messiah. To be sure, with the Holy Spirit as our guide, we are able to see big things in small places and are able to recognize God in the ordinary circumstances of life.

Among the gifts of the Holy Spirit “are those secret warnings and invitations, which from time to time are excited in our minds and hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Without these there is no beginning of a good life, no progress, no arriving at eternal salvation. And since these words and admonitions are uttered in the soul in an exceedingly secret manner, they are sometimes aptly compared in Holy Writ to the breathing of a coming breeze…” (Pope Leo XIII, On the Holy Spirit) Without these secret warnings and invitations, we are apt to miss what God is doing in our life. Vigilance is required because his work may come in unexpected ways; sometimes amid failures, setbacks and what may seem uneventful. Quite often, the Lord will speak to us or reveal something important to us; sometimes when we are working or when we are still. In any case, we need to exercise a kind of monastic silence at certain times throughout the day in order to hear His voice more clearly. Silence is the language of God. Who can doubt that St. Simeon understood the importance of silence and prayer.

Again, God works through the ordinary. The first appearance of the Messiah in the temple was not flashy. His parents were doing what countless parents had done on the fortieth day of their child’s life, namely, presenting their child as a dedication to the Lord. Although it is certainly possible that St. Simeon may have received a private revelation so as to identify the Son of God, it may have been the case that he was tipped off by a few things.

First, according to apocryphal literature (books that were not included in the New Testament canon) in early Christianity, such as the Infancy Narratives of James, the Gospel of Pseudo- Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary was dedicated to the temple by her parents St. Joachim and St. Anne when she was only three years old. This is a tradition that the Catholic Church has treated with a great deal of credibility. Furthermore, according to this same tradition, when she was of age, she made known her vow of perpetual virginity to a priest or to the High Priest. Realizing how holy and special she was, the temple priest honored her wish and searched for a suitable husband for her; a man who would honor this vow of hers. Three candidates presented themselves; among them was St. Joseph. It just so happened that according to the apocryphal literature, that a dove descended on St. Joseph and at the same time, his staff miraculously bloomed. In many Catholic churches you will notice a statue of St. Joseph with a staff topped with flowers.

If this story has historical credence, which I believe it does, then upon Mary’s entrance into the temple with her infant Son in her arms, she would have been recognized by the temple priests. Remembering her holiness and her pledge of virginity, it could very well be that St. Simeon, being among the priests, recalled the passage from Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (7:14)

More on the next blog-