Homily for the Feast of the Presentation, Year A 2014

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, ethics, inspirational, religion, scripture, Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on January 26, 2014

Homily for the Feast of the Presentation, Year A  2014

In Jewish practices around the time of Christ, it was one of the laws of the time that Jewish women be purified forty days after the birth of their children. We have to remember that there may have been medical reasons for these laws originally, though they didn’t understand at the time what we know about medicine today, but in Jesus’ time these rites were more ritualistic than practical. A women went to the temple with her first born male child and the child was prayed over and his life bought back or redeemed from God by a monetary sacrifice, while the woman presented offerings for her purification. A man was not allowed to have intercourse with her, for example, until this time period ended and the ritual was enacted.

This event which we remember today, and which is important enough in our liturgy to replace a Sunday when it falls on a Sunday, has long been held to be an important feast in the church and a major event in the life of Jesus. In the Old Testament the rite of redemption was described this way: “Every firstborn of man among your sons, you shall redeem. And it will come to pass that if your son asks you in the future, saying, “What is this?” you shall say to him, “With a mighty hand did God take us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. And it came to pass when Pharaoh was too stubborn to let us out, God slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt.” (Ex 13:13-16) So the “buying back” was a thanks to God for saving the lives of the firstborn Jewish males in Egypt. The parents would make a monetary offering to redeem the child, that is to take possession of the child from God. That monetary offering was set in the book of Numbers at 5 shekels.

As we saw with the baptism of Jesus, Jesus and his parents were fully Jewish and did all the the things expected of a Jewish family. The rituals that we have as Catholics today differ in many ways from the Hebrew traditions – we don’t buy back our firstborn from God or ritually cleanse women from childbirth, but we do have ritualistic ceremonies such as the baptism of a child which has its own order and practices (as we saw just last week). So the holy family carried out what was expected of them. They were good Jewish parents – righteous, the Bible would call them.

When they were at the Temple, however, an old man named Simeon and an old woman, Anna, who was seen to be a Prophet, encounter the holy family and both make proclamations concerning the child. Simeon’s prayer is one of the most beautiful in the Bible, basically saying that he is ready to die now because he has been fortunate enough to witness the Savior. Similarly Anna speaks about this child who is to redeem Israel, although we are never given her exact words as we are with Simeon.

The first part of Simeon’s prayer contains prophecy and it is his mentioning that Jesus, this child,  will “be a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” that gives us one of the secondary names of this feast “Candlemas”. It is why we bless candles today, because they give off light, as will Jesus.  Light imagery as we saw during the Christmas celebration is one of the major symbols of Christ’s coming into the world.  It is appropriate then that the Church has chosen this day to bless candles, given Simeon’s prophesy of light.

It is the second part of Simeon’s proclamation, however, that presents the theme of all of today’s readings.  After he praises the child, Simeon goes to Mary, blesses her and says: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.

The first reading today deals predominately with suffering. The image used is jewelry and soap making.  In order to get silver and gold and soap, there has to be refining, the removal of the impure elements, so that the final product is perfect.  To do that the gold, silver or soap has to go through a heating process where the impurities are burnt off.  In human life, we call this suffering, the reading implies. The Messiah, according to the prophet Malachi, will be like the refiner’s fire – but in Christian terms, not only will he refine us, but he does this by suffering in our place, being himself thrown into the refining fires.

This same theme is picked up by Paul in the letter to the Hebrews when he says that God “should make the source of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” And he adds: “For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one.” Paul goes on to talk about how Jesus was sent by God to destroy the devil, to destroy the fear of death. To do this he became one of us, and suffered as we do, and is put to the test as we are.

Simeon’s prophecy about Mary tells her that she too will suffer – that a sword will pierce her soul – but that in the end, like the refiner’s fire, something perfect will emerge.

I know that one of the questions I am most often asked is why do we suffer. Why does God allow suffering? The answer in these readings seems to be that to suffer is part of the human condition – our minds and bodies have not reached any type of perfection – but that suffering can be a good thing if it seen as something which refines us, strengthens us, redeems us. I do not believe that God punishes us with suffering. Bad things just happen because we are in an imperfect world.  But our attitude to suffering, what we do with that suffering is what Christ came to us as an example and role model of. We can better ourselves through our sufferings. And yes, some people suffer more than others simply though the laws of chance. But if we realize that suffering can make us better people, can refine us, can be a lesson for others as they strive to survive, then we have chosen to use a bad thing and make it something better. We, too, can become light for others.

I want you think this week about your attitude toward suffering, and if there is anger, resentment, “why me?” attitudes, look back on other things you have endured and see if it did not make you a stronger, better person. We don’t have to like suffering, we can even get angry with God about it, but in the end, if we can let ourselves be refined by it, our lives will have changed for the better, and probably those around us as well.

Just something to think about this week as we remember this small baby, presented in the temple, bought back from God by Mary and Joseph, and who is destined to change the whole world through his suffering.

May suffering become Good news in your life as well.


Bishop Ron Stephens

Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese

Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

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