"A School of Trust in the Mercy of God"
Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple
14th Word Day of Consecrated Life
February 2, 2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
The feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is a celebration of a mystery of the life of Christ, linked to the precept of the Mosaic law that prescribed for parents, 40 days after the birth of their first-born, to go to the Temple of Jerusalem to offer their son to the Lord and for the ritual purification of the mother (cf Exodus 13:1-2.11-16; Leviticus 12:1-8).
Mary and Joseph also fulfilled this rite, offering -- according to the law -- a couple of turtle doves or pigeons. Reading things in greater depth, we understand that at that moment it was God himself who presented his Only-begotten Son to men, through the words of the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna. Simeon, in fact, proclaimed Jesus as "salvation" of humanity, as "light" of all nations and "sign of contradiction," because he would reveal the thoughts of hearts (cf Luke 2:29-35).
In the East this feast was called Hypapante, feast of meeting: In fact, Simeon and Anna, who met Jesus in the Temple and recognized in him the Messiah so awaited, represent humanity that meets its Lord in the Church. Subsequently, this feast spread also to the West, developing above all the symbol of light, and the procession with candles, which gave origin to the term "Candlemas." With this visible sign one wishes to signify that the Church meets in faith him who is "the light of men" and receives him with all the impulse of her faith to take this "light" to the world.
In concomitance with this liturgical feast, Venerable John Paul II, beginning in 1997, wished that the whole Church should celebrate a special Day of Consecrated Life. In fact, the oblation of the Son of God -- symbolized by his presentation in the Temple -- is the model for every man and woman that consecrates all his or her life to the Lord.
The purpose of this day is threefold: first of all to praise and thank the Lord for the gift of consecrated life; in the second place, to promote the knowledge and appreciation by all the People of God; finally, to invite all those who have fully dedicated their life to the cause of the Gospel to celebrate the marvels that the Lord has operated in them.
In thanking you for having gathered in such numbers, on this day dedicated particularly to you, I wish to greet each one of you with great affection: men and women religious and consecrated persons, expressing to you my cordial closeness and heartfelt appreciation for the good you do in the service of the People of God.
The brief reading, which was just proclaimed, treats of the Letter to the Hebrews, which brings together well the motives that were at the origin of this significant and beautiful event and offers us some ideas for reflection. This text -- which has two verses, but very charged with significance -- opens the second part of the Letter to the Hebrews, introducing the central theme of Christ the high priest.
One should really consider as well the immediately preceding verse, which says: "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession" (Hebrews 4:14). This verse shows Jesus who ascends to the Father; while the subsequent one presents him descending toward men. Christ is presented as the Mediator: He is true God and true man -- that is why he really belongs to the divine and to the human world.
In reality, it is properly and only from this faith, from this profession of faith in Jesus Christ, the only and definitive Mediator, that consecrated life has meaning in the Church, a life consecrated to God through Christ. It has meaning only if he is truly Mediator between God and us, otherwise it would only be a form of sublimation or evasion.
If Christ was not truly God, and was not, at the same time, fully man, the foundation of Christian life as such would come to naught, and in an altogether particular way, the foundation of every Christian consecration of man and woman would come to naught. Consecrated life, in fact, witnesses and expresses in a "powerful" way the reciprocal seeking of God and man, the love that attracts them to one another. The consecrated person, by the very fact of his or her being, represents something like a "bridge" to God for all those he or she meets -- a call, a return. And all this by virtue of the mediation of Jesus Christ, the Father's Consecrated One. He is the foundation! He who shared our frailty so that we could participate in his divine nature.
Our text insists on more than on faith, but rather on "trust" with which we can approach the "throne of grace," from the moment that our high priest was himself "put to the test in everything like us." We can approach to "receive mercy," "find grace," and "to be helped in the opportune moment." It seems to me that these words contain a great truth and also a great comfort for us who have received the gift and commitment of a special consecration in the Church.
I am thinking in particular of you, dear sisters and brothers. You approached with full trust the "throne of grace" that is Christ, his Cross, his Heart, to his divine presence in the Eucharist. Each one of you has approached him as the source of pure and faithful love, a love so great and beautiful as to merit all, in fact, more than our all, because a whole life is not enough to return what Christ is and what he has done for us. But you approached him, and every day you approach him, also to be helped in the opportune moment and in the hour of trial.
Consecrated persons are called in a particular way to be witnesses of this mercy of the Lord, in which man finds his salvation. They have the vivid experience of God's forgiveness, because they have the awareness of being saved persons, of being great when they recognize themselves to be small, of feeling renewed and enveloped by the holiness of God when they recognize their own sin. Because of this, also for the man of today, consecrated life remains a privileged school of "compunction of heart," of the humble recognition of one's misery but, likewise, it remains a school of trust in the mercy of God, in his love that never abandons. In reality, the closer we come to God, and the closer one is to him, the more useful one is to others. Consecrated persons experience the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God not only for themselves, but also for their brothers, being called to carry in their heart and prayer the anxieties and expectations of men, especially of those who are far from God.
In particular, communities that live in cloister, with their specific commitment of fidelity in "being with the Lord," in "being under the cross," often carry out this vicarious role, united to Christ of the Passion, taking on themselves the sufferings and trials of others and offering everything with joy for the salvation of the world.
Finally, dear friends, we wish to raise to the Lord a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for consecrated life itself. If it did not exist, how much poorer the world would be! Beyond the superficial valuations of functionality, consecrated life is important precisely for its being a sign of gratuitousness and of love, and this all the more so in a society that risks being suffocated in the vortex of the ephemeral and the useful (cf Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Consecrated Life, 105). Consecrated life, instead, witnesses to the superabundance of the Lord's love, who first "lost" his life for us. At this moment I am thinking of the consecrated persons who feel the weight of the daily effort lacking in human gratification, I am thinking of elderly men and women religious, the sick, of all those who feel difficulties in their apostolate. Not one of these is futile, because the Lord associates them to the "throne of grace." Instead, they are a precious gift for the Church and the world, thirsty for God and his Word.
Full of trust and gratitude, let us then also renew the gesture of the total offering of ourselves, presenting ourselves in the Temple. May the Year for Priests be a further occasion, for priests religious to intensify the journey of sanctification, and for all consecrated men and women, a stimulus to support and sustain their ministry with fervent prayer.
This year of grace will have a culminating moment in Rome, next June, in the international meeting of priests, to which I invite all those who exercise the Sacred Ministry. We approach the thrice Holy to offer our life and our mission, personal and community, of men and women consecrated to the Kingdom of God. Let us carry out this interior gesture in profound spiritual communion with the Virgin Mary: while contemplating her in the act of presenting the Child Jesus in the Temple, we venerate her as the first and perfect consecrated one, carried by that God she carries in her arms; Virgin, poor and obedient, totally dedicated to us because totally of God. In her school, and with her maternal help, we renew our "here I am" and our "fiat." Amen.
[Translation by ZENIT]