02 February 2010

Profoundly Adoring Christ's Mystery

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Jesus certainly desired to grasp firmly His Humanity by taking our humanity upon Himself and willfully accepting all the joys and sorrows associated with being human with the exception of committing sin, but nevertheless would take our sins upon Himself. His most holy Mother, attuned to the will of God in an extraordinary way, in a sense makes this decision for Jesus, since He is but an Infant. Speaking in terms of His Divine Person and Nature, circumcision is completely unnecessary for Him.

The exegete, Nicholas of Lyra suggests that circumcision is how Jesus manifests the reality of His Humanity. He also explains that as God, Jesus instituted circumcision, and therefore undergoing this process Himself, demonstrates His approval of it; and for our Lady and Saint Joseph, this was necessary according to the law which they knew so well. There is a mysterious level of humility here as well: as an Infant, He is incapable of making decisions, but as God he accepts upon Himself a procedure that is unnecessary – in other words, He makes Himself subject to His own law.

Our Blessed Lady also accepts upon herself the ritual of Purification, which for her is unnecessary. Saint Lawrence Justinian in a homily on the Purification points out that Mary was raised above the law by extraordinary grace, but her humility subjected her to it.

The poverty of the Holy Family is intimated in the Gospel account of the Presentation because turtledoves and pigeons was the offering of the economically poorer classes.

Simeon, thought to be a Jewish priest, witnesses first hand the embodiment of the consolation of Israel, the long-awaited Messiah. Simeon holds Jesus, given to him by His holy Mother. At Mass, a priest holds Him at the altar, given to him by the power of ordination and the words of Consecration through holy Mother Church.

In Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis, which the Church prays during her Night Prayer, there is an air of “it doesn’t get any better than this” in that prayer, considering that Simeon was now prepared to die. But it did get better than that. Simeon was able to hold Jesus and see Him; but through the Eucharist we get to receive Him into our souls. Still, there is much we can learn from Simeon’s disposition: if he was prepared to die at the sight of Jesus, how much joy should we have in receiving Him? If Simeon had the opportunity to stand in line waiting to receive Holy Communion, the wait would probably have made him antsy with anticipation. Are we? Jesus offers us Himself, our salvation, the Light and the glory of the Church. Isn’t this our highlight of the day or week?

It is fitting on this day to read at least some of the words of Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem. He was a seventh-century Patriarch of Jerusalem, but before his hierarchal appointment, he was a monk of great simplicity and he was also a theologian. He was born in Damascus and thus was of Arabian descent, but was often referred to as a Sophist because of his skills with the Greek language. Here is a piece of his homily which perhaps starts out by suggesting an interior dispostion in that we “run to Christ.”

We all run to Christ, we who sincerely and profoundly adore His mystery; we set out towards Him full of joy, carrying lighted candles, as a symbol of His divine splendor.

Thanks to Him all creation is radiant; in truth it is inundated by an eternal light which dissipates the shadows of evil and makes the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of His eternal light. But let these lighted candles be especially the symbol of the eternal splendor with which we wish to prepare ourselves for our meeting with Christ. Indeed, just as His Mother, the most pure Virgin, carried Him in her arms, Who is the true light, and showed Him to all who find themselves in darkness, so may we also, who hold in our hands this light that is visible to all, and who are illuminated by its shining, hasten to go to meet Him, Who is the true light.

The Dayspring from on High has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through Him. The light that enlightens every man who comes into the world, has come. All together we come to Christ, to let ourselves be clothed with His splendor and, together with the old man Simeon, welcome Him, the eternal living light. With him we exult with joy and sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, Father of light, Who sent us the true light to lead us out of darkness and make us luminous.

Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which He prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Simeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness.

By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as He came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God Incarnate, and because we have seen Him present among us and have mentally received Him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in His honor.