Monday, February 4, 2013

Meditation on the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary: The Presentation At The Temple

Saturday, February 2, was the First Saturday of the Month. The First Saturday Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was first mentioned by Our Lady of Fatima on July 13, 1917. After showing the three children a vision of hell she said, "You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace... I shall come to ask for... the Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays..." The First Saturday devotion is as follows:
It consists in going to Confession, receiving Communion, reciting five decades of the Rosary and meditating for a quarter of an hour on the mysteries of the Rosary on the first Saturday of five consecutive months. The Confession may be made during the eight days preceding or following the first Saturday of each month, provided that Holy Communion be received in the state of grace. Should one forget to form the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it may be formed at the next Confession, occasion to go to confession being taken at the first opportunity.
It has become my practice to put my meditation online.  Saturday, February 2, besides being the first Saturday was also Candlemas, marking the official end of the liturgical Christmas season.  Candlemas is a wonderful feast day commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the temple.  This event is recalled in the fourth Joyful Mystery.   Like every other event in the life of Jesus and Mary, there are many different meanings to this day.  Candlemas refers to Jesus being the light of the world.  I attended a beautiful high  Mass on Saturday in which the traditional rubrics were followed.  Before Mass began, we all received candles while kneeling at the communion rail.  We kissed the candle, which represents Jesus the True Light of the world, as the priest handed it to us.  The candles were then lit at various times during the Mass:  during the prayers at the foot of the altar when we confess and ask for forgiveness of our sins; during the reading of the Gospel, and again from the Canon until the end of the Our Father.  The lighting of the candles is done in the same way as it is at Easter, with one candle lighting another, all from the same source, until the whole Church is filled with the light of the candles, a wonderful picture of Christ's grace spreading from one person to another and bringing light and truth to the world.

Congregation holding lit candles on Candlemas
The Presentation at the Temple involves Joseph and Mary taking Jesus to the temple as part of the Jewish tradition of presenting the firstborn to God, who says all firstborn males belong to him.  From Luke 2:22-24:
And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.”
Once the firstborn was presented to God, the parents redeemed, or bought back, the child.  Joseph and Mary were poor, so they paid the price of a pair of pigeons.  As the priest at the Mass I attended on Saturday explained, neither Jesus nor Mary were in need of any purification because they had no sin. So why would they follow this law?

Even though neither Jesus nor Mary needed purification, they submitted to the law to show obedience and humility, a lesson we all need to learn.  The very first sin, committed even before man was created, was a sin of pride when Satan rose up in pride and arrogance and said "Non serviam" or "I will not serve."  Pride is at the root of all sins, because when we sin we are rejecting God and saying we know better.  One of the first acts we see in the life of Jesus is when he and his Blessed Mother, both completely free from sin,  humbled themselves and submitted to the Law of God.  They could have said that this law does not apply to them.  But they did not pick and choose which laws to obey. They were not cafeteria believers.  They gave their total obedience to every commandment of God.

Simeon with the Christ Child
Mary and Joseph didn't know it, but there was someone waiting for them at the temple.  In fact, there were two people waiting for them.  There was an old man named Simeon, "who was righteous and devout" and who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Redeemer.  As soon as Mary entered with the baby Jesus, Simeon knew who Jesus was.
When the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he [Simeon] took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,
“Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”
Simeon refers to Christ as the light of revelation to the Gentiles.  Without Christ, we are in complete darkness.  Truth and light can be found only in God.  I have often thought that hell - which is the complete absence of God - must also be in complete darkness because God's light, which is the only light, is not there.  Satan's way is to cover up truth and cast us all into darkness and confusion.  God's way is to illumine our paths and show us the way of righteousness and truth.

While Simeon received the Child Jesus with great joy, he also foretold the sorrow that was to come.  Simeon prophesied that Christ, the Peacemaker sent to reconcile us to God, was "destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against".  Further, Simeon told Mary, the most humble and obedient of all humans, that "a sword will pierce your own soul too."  This embodies the schizophrenic nature of being a Christian.  Striving to live at peace and bring the love of God to the world ironically results in division and persecution.  And as seen in our Blessed Mother, living a life of obedience will often result in overwhelming sorrow.  Although Christians carry joy within themselves, their lives are filled with sorrow and pain.  Being in the Light makes us automatic targets of the Prince of Darkness, who attacks without mercy.  But it is our suffering, just as it was the suffering of Christ and his Mother, that will bring redemption to ourselves and to the world.

There was another person at the Temple who received our Lord with great joy, and that was Anna. "She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying."  Anna had lived a life of penance and hardship, having lost her husband after only 7 years of marriage.  Some commentaries say that she was not 84 years old but had been a widow for 84 years, which would mean she was most likely over 100 years old.  Anna, like Simeon, immediately recognized the Christ Child as the Redeemer, and "Coming up to [Joseph and Mary] at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem."  God rewarded Anna for giving her life to Him by allowing her to be in the Presence of the Redeemer and to announce His Coming.  If we, like Simeon and Anna, remain faithful and obedient to God despite all the hardships and sufferings we experience, we too will eventually be rewarded by entering into the Presence of God.

St. Luke also tells us in this narrative that "The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him."  Despite the miraculous conception of Jesus and the humble story of his birth in a manger, Joseph and Mary were still not totally aware of who this amazing child was and exactly what his purpose was.  The reaction he garnered from others stunned even Joseph and Mary.  We, too, even with the knowledge we have of our purpose as Christians, are not truly aware of all the mysterious ways in which God works in our lives and how He wishes to use us.  And unless we are as completely obedient to Him as Joseph and Mary were, He will not be able to use us as fully as He would like, or maybe even not at all.  Joseph and Mary were asked to do things that on the surface made no sense.  Why was Mary made pregnant before she and Joseph married, thus subjecting Mary to death if it had become known?  Why was the Christ Child born when they were so far away from home with no place to stay but a humble little manger?  And both Anna and Simeon had lived their entire lives waiting for the Redeemer with no knowledge as to how this was to come about.  They probably never thought for a moment that he would appear as a helpless baby of a poor couple coming to redeem Him at the temple.

God's ways often seem upside down and contradictory, but as He tells us in Isaiah 55:8 - "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways."  Ecclesiastes 12:13 boils it all down to this:  "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man."  We cannot be part of the True Light of the world unless we are one in mind and heart with Him, giving him all of our obedience and trust that He will never lead us astray.


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