Saturday, February 1, 2014

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Rather than being the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, this Sunday, being 2 February, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. By keeping this feast, we celebrate and commemorate that day when the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph presented the infant Jesus before the Father in the Temple. This act was prescribed by Jewish Law in both Exodus and Leviticus for every firstborn son among the Israelites. Of course, this event is the fourth of the Joyful Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary. The fruit of this mystery is obedience.

In modern standard English the word obedience means something like, "compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another's authority." Hence, to us now, it is a word that smacks of oppression and mindless, that is, unquestioning, submission to someone else's will. Many people think that to be religious in general and to be a Christian in particular consists exclusively in just doing what the Church, the Bible, your pastor tells you to do without question or delay. In other words, to be a Christian is just to carry out orders.

The Canticle of Simeon, by Aert de Gelder, ca. 1700-1710

Let's not forget that it was Jesus Himself who told His disciples, picking up the passage I cited in my Friday traditio post-
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another (John 15:11-17)
In his Apostolic Constitution on indulgences, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, promulgated in 1967, that is, after the Second Vatican Council, Venerable Pope Paul VI (whom Pope Francis referred to this week in one of his daily homilies as "the great Paul VI," a shout out that melted my heart) noted,
Christians throughout history have always regarded sin not only as a transgression of divine law but also—though not always in a direct and evident way—as contempt for or disregard of the friendship between God and man, just as they have regarded it as a real and unfathomable offense against God and indeed an ungrateful rejection of the love of God shown us through Jesus Christ, who called his disciples friends and not servants (par 2)
As the Online Etymology Dictionary shows, our English word "obedience" comes from the Latin word obedire, or oboedire, which, as an analysis of its roots demonstrates, is ob, meaning "to" + audire, which means "listen", thus literally meaning to "listen to," "pay attention to," "give ear to."

This relates to faith in that faith is not mere belief because faith elicits a response, a voluntary response, it's what the one who hears desires to do. To listen to Christ, to pay attention to Him, is to open yourself to who He is and what that means for you. This is expressed beautifully by Simeon in today's Gospel reading:
Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32)
This declaration, this profession of faith, this prayer, is traditionally called the Nunc Dimittis, which is Latin for "Now you dismiss." Just as Zechariah's canticle, known as the Benedictus, is recited as part of Lauds, or Morning Prayer, each day, and that of the Blessed Virgin, the Magnificat, is recited daily in Vespers, or Evening Prayer, the Nunc Dimittis is recited during the praying of the office called Compline, or Night Prayer.

To wit: Jesus did not come into the world to force you to do the will of the Father, but to invite you into a relationship that we call grace, a relationship brought about by Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, one that seeks to draw you into the life of the Most Holy Trinity. It is difficult to imagine our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph bringing the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem merely out of a sense of obligation, let alone out of fear. The Code of Canon Law stipulates that "Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it" (Canon 867 §1). But what believing parent would not want do so as soon as possible and eagerly?

In tradition, today is also known as Candlemas. It was on this feast, formerly known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, that people would bring the candles they were going to use in their homes to be blessed at Church. Thankfully, the blessing of candles remains a part of this glorious feast in many places today. After all, as Simeon noted of the Christ Child, He is "a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel" (Luke 2:32).

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