Dear brothers and sisters!
In his account of Jesus’ childhood, St. Luke stresses how faithful Mary and Joseph were to the Law of the Lord. With profound devotion they perform everything that is prescribed after the birth of a male child. There are 2 very ancient prescriptions: one regards the mother and the other the newborn baby. For the woman it is prescribed that she abstain for 40 days from ritual practices and afterward offer a twofold sacrifice: a lamb as a holocaust and a turtledove or pigeon for sin; but if the woman is poor, she can offer 2 turtledoves or 2 pigeons (cf. Leviticus 12:1-8). St. Luke notes that Mary and Joseph offer the sacrifice of the poor (cf. 2:24) to show that Jesus was born in a family of simple folk, humble but strong in faith: a family belonging to the poor ones of Israel who form the true people of God. For the first born son, who, according to the Law of Moses, belongs to God, a ransom was prescribed, consisting in an offering of 5 shekels to be paid to a priest in any place. This was done in perennial remembrance of the fact that at the time of the Exodus, God spared the firstborn of the Hebrews (cf. Exodus 13:11-16).
It is important to observe that it was not necessary that these 2 acts – the purification of the mother and the ransoming of the son – be performed in the Temple. But Mary and Joseph wish to do them in Jerusalem, and St. Luke makes us see how the whole scene converges on the Temple, and he thus focuses on Jesus, who enters the Temple. And precisely through the prescriptions of the Law, the principal event becomes something else, namely, the “presentation” of Jesus in the Temple of God, which signifies the act of offering the Son of the Most High to the Father who sent him (cf. Luke 1:32, 35).
The words of the prophet Malachi that we heard in the first reading is confirmed this narrative of the evangelist: “Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will send you a messenger to prepare the way before me and immediately the Lord whom you seek will enter his temple; the angel of the covenant, whom you seek, see he is coming … He will purify the sons of Levi … that they might offer a just sacrifice to the Lord’” (3:1, 3). Clearly here we are not talking about a child and nevertheless these words are fulfilled in Jesus, because, thanks to the faith of his parents, he was “immediately” brought to the Temple; and in the act of his “presentation,” or of his personal “offering” to God the Father, the theme of sacrifice and priesthood shines forth, as in the passage from Malachi. The child Jesus, who is immediately presented in the Temple, will be that adult who will purify the Temple (cf. John 2:13-22; Mark 11:15, 19) and above all will be the sacrifice and the high priest of the new covenant.
This is also the perspective of the Letter to the Hebrews, from which a passage was proclaimed in the second reading, so that the theme of the new priesthood is reinforced: the priesthood inaugurated by Jesus is an existential priesthood: “Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18). And here we also see the theme of suffering, which is very clear in the Gospel passage in which Simeon pronounces his prophecy about the Child and the Mother: “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” (Luke 2:34-35). The “salvation” that Jesus brings to his people, and which he incarnates in himself, passes through the cross, through the violent death that he will overcome and transform with his sacrifice of his life for love. This oblation is announced beforehand in the presentation in the Temple, a gesture that is, of course, motivated by the traditions of the old covenant, but that is intimately animated by the fullness of faith and love that corresponds to the fullness of time, to the presence of God and his Holy Spirit in Jesus. The Spirit, in effect, hovers above the whole scene of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, especially above the figures of Simeon and Anna. It is the Spirit, the “Paraclete,” that brings the “consolation” of Israel and guides the steps and hearts of those who await it. It is the Spirit that suggests the prophetic words to Simeon and Anna, words of benediction, of praise to God, of faith in the one he has consecrated, of thanksgiving because finally our eyes can see and our arms can hold “his salvation” (cf. 2:30).
“A light to reveal you to the gentiles and the glory of your people, Israel” (2:32): thus Simeon defines the Messiah of the Lord at the end of his song of blessing. The theme of light, which echoes the first and second songs of the Servant of the Lord in Deutero-Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 42:6, 49:6), is forcefully present in this liturgy. This liturgy, in fact, was opened with a suggestive procession, in which the superiors general of the institutes of consecrated life represented here participated, carrying lit candles. This sign, specific to the liturgical tradition of this feast, is very expressive. It manifests the beauty and the value of the consecrated life as a reflection of the light of Christ; a sign that recalls the entrance of Mary into the Temple: the Virgin Mary, the consecrated person par excellence, carried the Light Itself in her arms, the Incarnate Word, who had come to disperse the darkness of the world with God’s love.
Dear consecrated brothers and sisters, you are all represented in that symbolic pilgrimage, which in the Year of Faith expresses all the more your own entry into the Church to be confirmed in faith and renewed in the offering of yourselves to God. To each of you and your institutes I offer my most cordial greeting with affection and I thank you for your presence. In the light of Christ, with the many contemplative and apostolic charisms, you cooperate in the life and the mission of the Church in the world. In this spirit of gratitude and communion, I would like to make 3 proposals to you so that you might enter fully into that “door of faith” that is always open for us (cf. “Porta fidei,” 1).
I invite you first to nourish a faith that will be able to enlighten your vocation. I exhort you in this regard to recall to your mind, as in an interior pilgrimage, the “first love” with which the Lord Jesus Christ warmed your heart, not out of nostalgia but to nourish that flame. This is why it is necessary to be with him, in the silence of adoration, and in this way reawaken the will and the joy of sharing life, decisions, the obedience of faith, the blessedness of the poor, the radicality of love. Always beginning again from this meeting of love, you leave everything to be with him and, like him, place yourselves in the service of God and the brethren (cf. John Paul II, “Vita consecrata,” 1).
Second, I invite you to a faith that knows how to recognize the wisdom of weakness. In the joys and sufferings of the present time, when the difficulty and weight of the cross make themselves felt, do not doubt that the kenosis of Christ is already the paschal victory. Precisely in human limits and weakness we are called to live conformation to Christ, in a totalizing tension that anticipates, in the measure possible in time, eschatological perfection (ibid., 16). In the society of effectiveness and success, your life, marked by the humility and weakness of little ones, by empathy with those who do not have a voice, becomes an evangelical sign of contradiction.
Finally, I invite you to renew the faith that leads you as pilgrims toward the future. By its nature the consecrated life is a pilgrimage of the spirit in search of the Face that shows itself and hides itself: “Faciem tuam, Domine, requiram” (Psalm 26:8) (We seek your face, O Lord). This is the constant longing of your heart, the fundamental criterion that orients your journey, whether in the small steps of daily life or in the most important decisions. Do not join with the prophets of misadventure who proclaim the end of or the meaninglessness of the consecrated life of the Church in our time; rather, put on Jesus Christ and arm yourselves with the weapons of light, as St. Paul says (cf. Romans 13:11-14) – remaining awake and vigilant. St. Chromatius of Aquileia wrote: “May the Lord remove such a danger from us so that we are never lulled into the sleep of infidelity; but may he grant his grace and his mercy so that we can always be vigilant in fidelity to him” (Sermon 32, 4).
Dear brothers and sisters, the joy of consecrated life necessarily passes through participation in the cross of Christ. This is how it was for Mary Most Holy. Hers is the suffering of the heart that is wholly one with the Heart of the Son of God, pierced for love. From that wound poured forth God’s light and from the sufferings, sacrifices, gift of self of consecrated persons who live for the love of God and others there also shines the same light, the light that evangelizes the nations. On this feast I pray in a special way for you who live the consecrated life that your life always have the flavor of evangelical “parrhesia” (boldness) that in you the Good News is lived, witnessed to, announced and manifested as the Word of truth (cf. “Porta fidei,” 6).
Pope Benedict’s homily at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica commemorating the Feast of the Presentation as well as the 27th World Day for Consecrated Life. [Translation by Joseph Trabbic.] From zenit.org.