Our Lady of the Rosary – Marian Retreat
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our present reflections on the Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. The narrative as described by St. Luke is one of the longest, sustained stories about Jesus in the Gospels. In sequence: St. Luke gives us the account of the Annunciation, then of Mary’s Visitation, then of Christ’s Birth in Bethlehem, then of His Circumcision on the eighth day and finally at great length, Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple by Mary and Joseph. We might remind ourselves, and this will be the logic we’ll follow in this presentation. There are four events in sequence. There is first the fact that Mary’s days of purification were completed. Then the actual Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Third, Simeon, both his Nunc Dimittis and his prophecy to Our Lady; then several verses about Anna, the Prophetess, and then one verse that Jesus, Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem and returned to Nazareth in Galilee.
Obedience to the Laws of God
First then, Mary’s Purification: According to the Mosaic Law, in Leviticus, a mother was considered unclean for seven days after the birth of a son. And then she had to remain at home in seclusion for another thirty-three days, in other words, forty days altogether. My sources tell me – I’m just quoting – it was eighty days after the birth of a girl. No explanation. Again according to the Mosaic Law; a mother incurred legal uncleanness. Commentators differ in their explanation of why a Jewish woman was, and still is, considered unclean for forty and up to eighty days after having given birth to a child. Most likely and probably it was connected with carnal intercourse, as a result of which a child was conceived and then given birth. Whatever the legal reason, Mary was surely not objectively subject to this ritual; either of the forty days seclusion or then a formal ritual purification in the temple which, by the way, could be quite an ordeal. This is long before the automobile. The journey could be long and arduous. And children are born every month of the year; they don’t quite choose to be born, on warm, sunny days. Nevertheless, Our Lady submitted both to the forty days seclusion and then the ritual purification. One obvious lesson from Mary’s submitting herself to purification: Obedience to the laws of God. Here’s the hard part; as manifested by human authority. How many times – if you’ve never have the thought I have, or if only you could give me a direct person-to-person revelation – yes these human beings and how human, human beings can be. The Faith it takes; a lot of Faith to believe that behind the human authority – mysteriously and often embarrassingly and sometimes painfully – is the Will of God.
Now, The Presentation: Until recently, the Latin-rite of the Catholic Church celebrated the second of February as the Feast, remember, of Mary’s Purification. Well, we still commemorate the mystery but the feast is now and appropriately, of Christ’s Presentation. Whatever else the Presentation of the Child in the Temple meant – and it meant many things – it was especially gratitude, gratitude for the child being born and for the Jews; gratitude for their deliverance from Egypt. Part of the ritual was the presentation of the child to God and thereby so the law read, the child would become holy because the essence of holiness, among human beings, is dedication to God. We distinguish in our English vocabulary between the profane and the sacred. The profane we say is that which has to do, well, with the world of space and time. The sacred is that which pertains to God. The ritual of presentation, therefore, was the ritual of sanctification. On the one hand, the parents promising to rear their child in the knowledge and fear of God, and the child – though long before the age of reason – the promise made for that child that he or she would serve God. There was also an offering due and for the poor people, as Luke points out, either a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.
Christ Did Not Have to Be Redeemed
Now the facts. No more than Mary had to be purified did Christ have to be presented. If the essence of presentation was a promise by the parents to bring up the child in the knowledge and love of God and, hear it, the implicit promise that the child would be faithful in living up to the Will of God – on those terms Christ surely did not have to be thus presented. Why not? Because Christ did not have to be redeemed. Whatever else the ritual was meant to signify, it was a ritual symbolizing redemption. Surely Christ did not have to be redeemed: He, the Incarnate God, come into the world to redeem a fallen human race. Moreover, unlike the children who were presented in the temple and, thereby, through the ritual and the prayers were declared holy; none of that obtained for the person of Christ, no question of any kind of ritual or legal declaration that by being presented He was to be called holy. This was the All-Holy God.
He Allowed Himself to Be Considered a Sinner
Yet, and it’s that yet that should be so revealing. Christ allowed Himself to be treated like everyone else. He allowed Himself to be treated at the Presentation, like other children born to sinful parents and the child (the Jews without fully understanding why) the child was a sinner. Christ was no sinner, yet already from infancy, He allowed Himself to be considered a sinner. Again at the beginning of His public ministry, what did Jesus do? Same thing. Chose consciously to be treated as a sinner and allowed Himself, in fact He demanded that John the Baptist baptize Him, so that Jesus, in the eyes of the public, would be considered a sinner. Still not satisfied, three years of His public ministry; opposition, persecution, betrayal by Judas, a series of mock trials, condemned to death. Oh how aggressive we may say Jesus was to make sure that while on earth from infancy until His last hour on Calvary He would be considered a sinner. We need this lesson. We must allow ourselves to be considered less than we really are. Most human deceit, most sins of lying are what? Pretending to be, pretending to have, pretending to know what we really are not. It is not easy to live a life in which people will know us for what we really are. But in Christ’s case, what a lesson He is teaching us – so far from pretending to be more than He was – Christ could not possibly pretend to be more than He was because He was the Infinite God in human form. But aware as He was of our natural, spontaneous tendency to be considered better or holier or wiser than we really are – what did He do? He, the All-Holy God allowed Himself, chose to have Himself considered a sinner. All of this is locked up in the Mystery of Christ’s Presentation. As we go through life and God provides us with opportunities for people coming to know us – I don’t say totally- God forbid! But even a smidgen partially, it is a special grace. Thank God for the opportunity. And if on occasion we feel that we have been unjustly charged or inaccurately estimated or as we say, misunderstood, thank God for that too! Think of the many things that are not good about us. All the sins we’ve committed, the follies we have perpetrated. This is God’s way of purifying our souls; allowing others to at least in some small measure judge us – let’s be honest – for what we really are, sinners. Many lessons from Christ’s Presentation. I consider that fundamental. Christ chose to be considered a sinner, He the Infinitely Holy God. That we might be willing, dear Lord, give us the grace to be willing to be humiliated in the eyes of others as some small token of expiation for our sins. We go on.
He Is the Divine Mathematician
After the Presentation, not coincidentally, not even just casually, by Divine design, Simeon was in the temple. We’re told by Luke, he had received a special revelation from the Lord telling him, Simeon you be in the temple on such and such a day, at such and such an hour. He was there. After the Presentation, he took Jesus in his arms, blessed God and then pronounced the now classic, Nunc Dimittis. Let me first read it and then a brief explanation and application to our own lives. This is Simeon speaking to the Lord. “Now do you dismiss your servant O Lord according to Your Word in peace because my eyes have seen your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples: a Light of revelation to the Gentiles and the Glory of Your people Israel.” Simeon’s being there under divine inspiration should strengthen our Faith. The shepherds went to Bethlehem on time miraculously informed by the angels. Simeon, forty days later, was at the temple on time. God is the perfect planner. He is the Divine Mathematician and whatever else we should know about God’s Providence: He never makes a mistake. Have you ever looked back in your lives and been struck in amazement at one, two, three, things as we thoughtlessly say happened? No they didn’t. An hour before would have been too soon. Maybe five minutes later would have been too late. The timing of God is perfect in our lives. Watch for it. Expect it. And, of course, follow God’s schedule!
God Rewarded Simeon’s Faith
Now the mystery of Simeon and it’s a mystery. Simeon was in the temple waiting. Jesus came. He recognized Him immediately. Externally, surely Christ didn’t look any different than another baby forty days old. Faith can see where unbelief is blind. But notice, Simeon was only one out of tens of thousands of people in Jerusalem alone. Simeon believed and he believed before Jesus actually came into the world. Even as who believed before Christ was conceived? His Mother. And God rewarded Simeon’s Faith by revealing to him that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. So then he told the Lord, now I can die in peace because I’ve seen with my own bodily eyes.
And then he gave Christ three names: God’s Salvation, the Light of Revealed Truth to the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel. God chose to become Man that He might save the world as Man – unless he had assumed a human nature with a Body and Soul that could separate, He couldn’t have died. Unless in His human nature he had a real, free Human Will on the Cross He could not have voluntarily, freely offered His Life to the Heavenly Father for our salvation. The main reason we have a human will is to offer our lives to God. Period. Close the book. Simeon speaks of Jesus as the Light to the Gentiles. Before Christ’s coming we know God confined His revelation to the chosen people. With the coming of Christ, however, God’s revelation was spread out to the whole world. And he called Jesus the Glory of Israel. Let us pray: Pray for the Jewish people. It’s almost two-thousand years since the One who was to come, did come. And yet many and even the majority of the Jewish people in the world do not believe that Jesus is, indeed, the Messiah.
Our Faith Will Be Rewarded
One lesson from Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis. Like the aged Simeon we should be confident that our Faith will be rewarded. Pray and the Nunc Dimittis is the prayer for a happy death. Trust! You’ve got to keep telling, Lord I trust You, that the moment I close the eyes of my body on this world, I will open the eyes of my soul and see You, my Redeemer, rewarding me for my serving you faithfully throughout life.
Simeon’s Four-Piece Prophecy
Now Simeon’s prophecy: After his Nunc Dimittis, Simeon we’re told by St. Luke blessed, if you please, he blessed Mary and Joseph. He wouldn’t have dreamed of blessing Jesus. Then he made four-piece prophecy. Part one. “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel.” Second prophecy: “And for a sign that will be contradicted.” Third prophecy: Speaking directly to Mary. “And your own soul a sword shall pierce.” Fourth prophecy: “So that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Majority of Jewish People Never Accepted Jesus as the Messiah
Let’s briefly go over each one of those parts of the prophecy, ask ourselves what the Church, in interpreting Luke’s Gospel, tell us they mean. Behold, Simeon said, this Child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel. Ah, Simeon how truly you spoke! Since the coming of Christ, the Jewish nation has been split right down the middle. All the evidence we have from the New Testament, from their own Jewish historians and from the pagan historians of the first three centuries of the Christian era, the vast majority of the Jewish people never accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Never! Never! Those who did accept Him paid dearly for their belief. And the Church now for centuries, long centuries, has made sure that the day after Christmas would be the feast of the first martyr stoned to death by whom? By his own fellow Jews who refused to believe that Jesus was, what Stephen knew He was – the Messiah, the Savior of the world. For three-hundred years the Roman Empire was drenched in the blood of Christian martyrs, totally objective historians tell us. Most of those persecutions were organized and instigated by the Jews. That’s history.
Once more, remember what we read from the Acts of the Apostles on the feast of St. Stephen, remember? As he was being stoned to death, remember who was there watching and approving, remember? Saul. And the Church tells us it was Stephen’s blood that converted Saul. Are we clear? Pray. Pray first for the Jewish people. I have no doubt, one of the standing in fact the historian say, there’s no natural explanation for this small group of people compared with the billions in the world today, about fifteen million scattered throughout world but nevertheless remained somehow, somehow unified awaiting, as we may safely believe, the day of their total conversion by their acceptance of Jesus as indeed the Messiah. All I know from the dozen or so Jewish converts that I’ve helped bring into the Church – Oh the zeal! We need converts from Judaism of the caliber of Paul, remember? Afraid of nobody and nothing!
To Be Faithful in Following Jesus Will Be Costly
Second part of the prophecy: Simeon foretold that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction. How truly he spoke! Christ more than once remember, made some astounding statements like the one: I have not come to bring peace but the sword! Lord! Are You not the Prince of Peace? Yes, he says, I am. I repeat: I came to bring the sword. Again he said families would be divided; fathers against son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother. All Jesus said on account of me. Let’s keep our feet flat on the ground. To be faithful in following Jesus I want to say, maybe I should say, will be costly in our lives. I wish I did not have to say it but I wouldn’t be giving you the whole truth and nothing but the truth! Can there be division among priests in the Catholic Church? Can there be division among religious in the Catholic Church and not just division between, say those in Seattle and others in Newark. Oh no! The division can be, in case nobody told you, in the same community! You know the books of commentary are written and the sociologists have exhausted their wisdom. The bottom line is: if you want to be really and I mean really faithful to Jesus Christ, expect to pay for it. Hear me? You will pay for it! And it will not be at the hands and lips and eyes of strangers. It will be from those whom, perhaps, you most dearly love. I know. Period.
Suffering in Union with Christ Crucified
Third prophecy: Simeon speaking to Our Lady, He foretold that she would suffer – we know historically never was scourged or crowned with thorns, surely not crucified. Moreover, it might be well to remind ourselves, having been conceived without sin Our Lady could not contract any fatal disease. Did you know that? All the suffering she endured had to be inflicted from the outside. But the pain she endured was deeply, very deeply inside, as only a woman can suffer when as Mary surely did in seeing Her Son rejected, persecuted, condemned and then – some of the Fathers of the Church speak of Our Lady being splattered by Christ’s Blood on Calvary. She endured what we call the “Martyrdom of the Spirit.” As we go through these meditations on the fifteen decades of the Rosary, clearly one of the reasons is to come to know Our Lady better. So that knowing her better we might love her more. And loving her we might want to become more and more like her. Well! The Mother that we are to imitate is the Mother of Sorrows: A woman’s capacity for suffering is unique. The secret is not just to suffer but to make a sacrifice of that suffering by suffering – watch it – suffering willingly, suffering lovingly in union with Christ Crucified!
The Test of Authentic Christianity
Fourth and final prophecy of Simeon: He foretold as he spoke to Mary that Christ would be the sign of contradiction so that, as he said, the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed. Ah! For the last time, Simeon, you are right on target. There is no one, no one more than Christ that brings out the real, internal character of a person. No one. There’s only one final question that needs to be asked of any human being. Where do you stand with respect to Christ? What does Jesus mean to you? And then, you would draw a line. Millions of people long, depending on how, how deep is our Faith in the Son of Mary being our God; Depending on how deeply we love Him; Depending on how willing we are to become like him. Ah! That, that will reveal our character as nothing else can. He made sure that we would not have any mistakes. No one, He tells us, can compromise on Christ. We’re either for Christ or against Him. This is the test of authentic Christianity. And whatever else we do during these days: let us speak to Our Lord and beg Him; Dear Lord, open the eyes of my mind to understand You for what You are but especially open my heart to give myself completely to You because You are the test of my authenticity here on earth as You will be the test of my happiness in eternity.
Faith opens the eyes of the mind
One more reflection, Anna the Prophetess: Luke quotes nothing that Anna said but, as we know, people don’t have to open their lips to speak. She had been widowed for years. We are told she never left the temple. That’s quite a statement! She was in the temple, says Luke, day and night fasting and praying. She too recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Once she recognized, she began to praise the Lord and then to be remembered. Then she proceeded to speak about Jesus to all who were awaiting the redemption of Israel. Once more, Faith opens the eyes of the mind. She recognized that Child in Mary’s arms for the One who was to come and came. But then, the shepherds for all we know were men, here’s Anna and up in years. You know what she did? She proceeded to tell everybody about what had just happened. Did you know, she would stop them, did you know that the Messiah is born into the world? You don’t say! Yes! Yes! Indeed! Reminds me of another woman whom the Church has come to call, remember, the “Apostle of the Apostles”, Mary Magdalen, one woman. When Christ was just forty days old, another woman. Christ had just risen from the dead. What God wants is for us to use eyes of Faith to recognize Christ. And then having come to know and love Him ourselves, to share our love and knowledge with everyone whose lives we touch.
Anna Teaches Us about Prayer and Self-denial
Just one closing word. Anna has much to teach all of us about the importance of constant prayer and a life of self-denial. Nothing more surely opens the mind to recognize God’s revealed Truth, here the Person of Jesus Christ, than for Anna a lifetime of self-denial and prayer which, by the way, is the Church’s official definition, did you know that, of the consecrated, contemplative life? Did you know that? Two essential elements; prayer and self-denial. I trust I am speaking to the right audience
Lord Jesus, You allowed Yourself to be presented in the Temple to be considered a sinner. Help us, Dear Jesus, to offer ourselves everyday and all day as an oblation to the Heavenly Father so that, like You, accepting the trials of this life for You, we might enjoy a happy eternity in Your company. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica