The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Homily: 5th Day in the Octave of Christmas

Readings 1 Jn 2:3-11; Psalm 96; Lk 2:22-35

In today’s Gospel passage from Luke, we witness the Holy Family in Jerusalem to fulfill the demands of the Law of Moses: the purification of the mother and the presentation and redemption or buying back of the first-born.

According to Leviticus, the mother of a male child was unclean for forty days, when she underwent a rite of purification. Mary, though sinless and certainly not unclean, submitted to the Law.

You and I, though, should follow her example, for we all need purification and atonement. We also need God’s love, the fire of God’s love to cauterize our souls. We can learn so much from Mary and Joseph.

They were also there to offer sacrifice for their first-born son as the law required, for in Exodus God claims every first-born male for Himself. To show that Jesus, the first-born, belonged to God as His special property, a rite of redemption was performed. This involved a sacrifice – a lamb, or if they were poor, a pair of doves or pigeons. As St. Paul tells us, Our Lord, though He was richer than all of creation, became poor so that by his poverty we might become rich. And so He chose to have a poor man’s offering made on His behalf.

There in the Temple, Mary and Joseph encounter Simeon, whom Luke describes as a righteous and devout man, obedient to God's will. Filled with the Spirit, Simeon recognizes Our Lord, even as a Baby, and addresses Him as a servant would address his master. Simeon, who has waited his entire life in expectation of the Lord’s coming, is almost overwhelmed when he realizes this moment has arrived, this divine piercing of time, this moment that explains his entire life. When he takes the Child in his arms, he knows. He knows, not through study or intellect; no, he knows through a gift, a special grace from God, that this Child is the promised Messiah, the Consolation of Israel, the Light of the nations.

Simeon's canticle, which is prayed by the universal Church every night of the year in the Liturgy of the Hours, is more than praise and thanksgiving. It’s also a prophecy. The first part, an act of thanksgiving, expresses profound joy at having seen the Messiah. The second, prophetic part reveals the blessings the Messiah brings to Israel and to the world. And this is key: Simeon’s canticle highlights the fact that Christ brings redemption to all men without exception – something foretold in throughout the Old Testament.

Simeon is filled with joy, but he’s also humbled because he himself had seen what so many patriarchs, prophets and kings had yearned to see. And here Simeon was, holding the long hoped-for Messiah in his arms.

Mary and Joseph marveled too, not because they didn’t know who Jesus was – for Gabriel had already revealed that to them.  No they were in awe at how God was revealing Him to the word.  And once again this Holy Family teaches us to contemplate the many wondrous mysteries surrounding the birth of Christ.

But Simeon wasn’t finished, and neither was the Holy Spirit. After blessing them, Simeon added another prophecy about the Child’s future. Yes, Jesus came to bring salvation to all men, but He will also be a sign of contradiction because some people will obstinately reject Him – and for this reason He will be their ruin. But for those who accept Him with faith Jesus will be their salvation, freeing them from sin in this life and raising them up to eternal life.

And then he spoke the words that must have affected Mary deeply, that she will be intimately linked with her Son's redemptive work. The sword tells her that she will have a share in her Son's sufferings; that an unspeakable pain will pierce her soul. Yes, brothers and sisters, Our Lord suffered on the cross for our sins, and it is those sins which forge the sword of Mary's pain. And so, we have a duty to atone not only to God but also to His Mother, who is our Mother too.

The birth of Christ is revealed by three kinds of witnesses each in a different way: the shepherds, led by an angel; the Magi, guided by a star; and Simeon and Anna, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Do you see that no matter how insignificant some lives seem in the eyes of men, they can become instruments of the Holy Spirit to make Jesus Christ known to others?

In His plan of salvation, God chooses whomever He wishes to do great things. The Spirit is always working, always providing opportunities for you and me to take God’s love to others.

Don’t let those opportunities pass you by.

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