Sunday, January 30, 2011

On the Fortieth Day: The Presentation of the Lord III

It all started when one of the Magi gave to the new born Messiah frankincense. If the Magi came to Bethlehem for the Jesus’ baby shower, frankincense was not your typical gift for such an occasion. It was rather fitting for funerals. To be sure, death is not the first thing a mother wants to think about when her new born comes into the world. On the fortieth day, however, St. Simeon’s prophetic words to Mary would give the gift of frankincense context. After taking the child into his arms, St. Simeon blessed his parents and addressed the following words to the Blessed Virgin: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

This innocent, endearing little baby was “destined for the fall and the rise of many.” The saving work of Jesus Christ would not only affirm the righteous and lift up the lowly; it would also usher in God’s kingdom by exorcising evil and toppling the powerful. Not even a year earlier, Mary would proclaim in her canticle, “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.” Even the Mother of God knew that her Son’s saving work would involve conflict.

The Apostles and the early Church Fathers were also aware that the preaching of the Gospel and the participation of the Sacraments was a kind of exorcism in itself. Driving out the devil would be required before the Holy Spirit could make his dwelling in the soul. St. Paul reminded those who were committed to the work of evangelization that their ministry would effect people in two different ways; depending on who those people were. He said, “For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the latter an odor of death that leads to death, to the former an odor of life that leads to life.” (II Corinthians 2:15-16) Consciousness of this double-effect, that is, of bringing in the good and driving out evil, has faded among Christians. In a polite, liberal society, the confrontation of sin and evil is taboo. But yet it is an integral part of converting souls to Christ. Perhaps this forgetfulness is at least part of the reason why the Church has fewer conversions to account for.

As stated previously, Mary, as the Mother of the Lamb, did what father Abraham was preventing from doing. When his son Isaac came of age, Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah, where the Temple stood during the time of Christ. However, at the last minute, Abraham was prevented from doing so. His willingness to do it was merit enough for God. Because of his great faith in God, he was esteemed as the father of God’s chosen people. As for Mary, her faith and act of obedience in offering her Son to the Father would merit for her the right to be called the Mother of God's people. What is more, the presentation of the Lord on the fortieth day was not only the fulfillment of a rite according to the law of Moses, it marked the beginning Mary’s spiritual sacrifice; a spiritual sacrifice which would be consummated at the foot of the Cross some thirty three years later.

It took Adam and Eve, that is, a man and a woman to bring about the ruin of the human family. Likewise, God would use a man and a woman to save what was lost.

More on the next blog-