Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Purification of Our Lady

1. Today the church commemorates the presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple and the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These ceremonies were carried out in order to comply with a twofold Mosaic law. One part of this law referred to women who had become mothers; the other part was concerned with first-born male children. According to the first law a mother was officially regarded as impure for forty days after she had given birth to a child. When this period was over she had to present herself in the temple and make an offering of a lamb and a turtledove. If she were poor, she could substitute a second young pigeon for the lamb (Cf. Lev. 12). The second law (Cf. Es. 13:2; 34:19; Num. 8:16; Lev. 27:26) commanded the mother to offer and consecrate to God her first-born son. She was to do this in memory of the miracle in Egypt when the Angel of God destroyed all the first born sons of the people of the country and spared those of the Israelites. In later times when the ritual worship of God became the special obligation of the tribe of Levi, the first-born sons of the other tribes had to be presented in the temple and bought back by an offering.

It is quite clear that Jesus and Mary were not bound by this twofold law. But they voluntarily subjected themselves to it in order to give an example of humility and obedience.

2. When we meditate on the subject of this feast, we find two outstanding examples to be imitated. The first is given by Mary. She was perfectly pure and holy, conceived without original sin and full of grace. She knew well that she had conceived her Divine Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. So she was not obliged to observe the humiliating law of purification. Nevertheless, she fulfilled it and gave God the offering of the poor as a lesson for us in humility and poverty. It is so easy for us to excuse ourselves from obeying the law and to make a display of our special privileges before others. Let us learn from Mary to love silent submission and detachment from worldly wealth and honours.

The other example is given us by Jesus. Being God, there was no need for Him to be bought back in the same way as the first-born sons of the Israelites. He was the Saviour Who had come to redeem the human race from sin and make them heirs to the kingdom of Heaven. But He said of Himself: I have not come to destroy, but to fulfil (Mt. 5:17). A few days earlier He had submitted to the painful and humiliating rite of circumcision. Now He allows Himself to be offered in the temple as a victim of expiation for all mankind. These are glorious examples, before which our pride should bow in shame. We should be moved to offer ourselves to God lovingly and without reserve.

3. In the Gospel narrative of St. Luke (Cf. Luke 2:22-31) another character also appears. He intrudes upon the scene without any apparent right to be there, but he had been inspired by God. This is the old and saintly Simeon. He was not a priest. He was an upright man, careful in his observance of the law, who was waiting longingly for the coming of the promised Redeemer. The Holy Spirit dwelt in him and had revealed that he would not die until he had seen the Saviour. He was inspired to go to the Temple, where he saw Jesus. He took Him in his arms and was overcome by joy. Then he blessed God and declared that he was prepared to accept death now that he had been able to see and embrace the Saviour as God had promised. Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word, in peace (Luke 2:29). It was a beautiful way to meet death, to be able to hold Jesus close to his heart and see his long life of hope and expectation rewarded by the loving embrace of his Lord. Let us try and live like Simeon, with our minds and hearts turned towards Jesus. Let us think chiefly of Him, love Him above everything else, and work only for Him. Then our death will be as beautiful as His. In fact we shall have been even more fortunate, for we can go further than receiving Jesus in our arms. We shall be able to receive Him into our hearts. He will be at hand to give us the supernatural strength which we shall need on our great journey into eternity.

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