Preached at St. Kilian Parish on February 2, 2020 at 8:00am and 10:00am Masses
February 2 is the midpoint of winter, 40 days after Christmas, and over a month into the new year. So, it’s a good time to reflect on the resolutions that we may have made this year for ourselves. Many of you decided to exercise this year and you have kept your resolution because I am still waiting in line for a treadmill at the gym. Some of you might have decided to exercise, diet, quit smoking (or vaping), become more organized, clean out your garage, spend more time with your family, or even work on your spiritual life by attending Mass more or praying the Rosary more. But whatever resolutions we make, they usually involve making something more present in our life (like exercise and other good habits) or making something less present in our life (like cigarettes and other bad habits). We make resolutions to present a better version of ourselves (to be fitter, healthier, more organized) or to be more present to God and to others. So, today’s feast of The Presentation of the Lord is a good time to reflect on our resolutions and the other ways we try to improve ourselves.
The Presentation of the Lord is one of the oldest feasts of the Church and involves one of the longer gospel readings that we have. The gospel story commemorates two different events. First, forty days after a firstborn son was born, he was to be presented at the temple and given to God. If you recall the story about Hannah from the Old Testament, she gave her son Samuel back to God and he spent his days in the temple with the priests. While not mentioned in the gospel, the law of Moses allowed the parents to keep their son, to redeem him, by paying the priests an amount of money that equaled about a month’s wages. In today’s gospel Mary and Joseph redeemed (with a small ‘r’) Jesus our Redeemer (with a capital ‘R’).
Second, the Presentation of the Lord is also known as the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary because for forty days after the birth of a son, a woman was considered ceremonially defiled and unable to participate in religious festivals or events. So, forty days after the birth the mother would go to the temple to be purified in a religious ceremony, which involved sacrificing a lamb, or if the family was poor, two turtledoves. This is how we know that the Holy Family was poor, because in the gospel they sacrificed two turtledoves rather than a lamb. This probably means the purification at the temple occurred before the magi had visited Jesus and gave his family gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The gospel does not tell us whether Mary and Joseph bought the birds from the merchants within the temple complex or not, or if Jesus was upset about it like he would be about the same practice some thirty years later.
At the presentation and purification, Simeon prophesizes about the Holy Family and everything he prophesizes about them would eventually happen to them, in fact in a very short amount of time they would have to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. But by presenting Jesus in the temple, Mary and Joseph showed that they would trust in God’s will for their son whatever might happen, good and bad. From that moment, even though they redeemed him, he belonged to God.
Our spiritual lives begin by being presented to God as well – at our baptism. From that moment we enter the family of God. Our baptism should remind us that we belong to God, that our lives are no longer our own. That everything in our life should begin with God: to have our week begin with Mass, to have our day and our meals begin with prayer, to have God involved in all parts of our lives, the big and the small – even our resolutions. Did we involve God in our resolutions? Did we ask him what we needed to improve? Some resolutions, like quitting smoking, are incredibly difficult. Have we asked God for assistance with our resolutions?
The gospels show us that Jesus went to the Father in prayer before doing just about everything. To him, his presentation to God at the temple was not just a one-time event, but his life was one of constantly re-presenting himself to the Father. Through this constant interaction with the Father, involving him in his life, Jesus was able to have the resolve to face all the good and the bad things that Simeon prophesized about him as they occurred in his life.
We must remember that even when we do not make ourselves present to God, God is still present with us. We belong to God. Whatever we are doing, God is there. On the one hand that means he’s surfing the web with us, he’s over our shoulder reading that post we make on social media, he’s watching whatever movie we are streaming, he’s with us as we wait impatiently in line, and he’s in the passenger seat as we are driving. I have a Jesus bobblehead on the dashboard of my car to remind me of this very important fact. The fact that God is always present with us should kind of scare us and make us change what we think and do. But the fact that God is always present with us should also help us keep faith when we are faced with adversity, the loss of a job, a serious illness, or the death of a loved one. It should also change how we feel about ourselves when we have trouble keeping our resolutions or when we commit a sin. We don’t always get it right the first time. Doing good and improving ourselves takes time and often involves a long period of very slow growth. We belong to God, we are part of his family, we are his children, he knows that we are a messed up work in progress, and despite it all, the Heavenly Father loves us and is always with us and ready for us when we turn to him, just as he was for his son Jesus.
In the movie Groundhog Day Bill Murray’s character ends up reliving the same day again and again. Each morning he wakes up on February 2 at 6am to the same Sonny and Cher “I’ve Got You Babe” song. He remembers everything of what happened on prior February 2 days, and that gives him a chance to fix what mistakes he made on previous February 2s and try again to get the day just right. It would be nice if we had a chance to repeat a day or a year or our entire life until we get everything just right, but we don’t need the opportunity, because we belong to God and we have Jesus.
In today’s gospel Mary not only presents Jesus to God, she presents Jesus to Simeon and Anna, which symbolizes her presenting Jesus to each one of us. On this feast of the Presentation of the Lord we celebrate the gift of Jesus that the Blessed Mother gave to us on that day in the temple. So, just as Simeon and Anna did on that day, we can open our arms and our lives to receive the gift of our savior! This is the most important resolution we can make.
Rejoice and be glad!