February 2, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of the Presentation
Reading I (Malachi 3:1-4) Reading II (Hebrews 2:14-18)
Gospel (St. Luke 2:22-40)
As we have seen before, as we celebrate this feast, the Lord is presented in the temple in accordance with the law of God, as we are told several times by Saint Luke. Yet, at the same time, because the Lord did not need to be presented (because He did not need to be redeemed) and Our Lady did not need to be presented (because she did not need to be purified) and we see that it talks about their purification and that Anna is talking to all the people who looked forward to the redemption of Jerusalem, it is not about Our Lord and Our Lady – but rather it is about the people of Jerusalem. The Greek is very, very clear that prior to this passage the way that the word “Jerusalem” is spelled talks about the secular city of Jerusalem; and after this passage in Saint Luke’s Gospel, every time he mentions Jerusalem it is spelled according to the Greek form of the holy city of Jerusalem. So it is very clear that, prior to this presentation in the temple, Jerusalem was an impure city and after this it was a purified city, which meant that now the holy place was purified so that proper and due sacrifice would be able to be offered as the prophet Malachi had indeed prophesied: that in those days the sacrifices of Jerusalem and Israel would once again be acceptable as they had been in the days gone by. But it was the ultimate sacrifice that took place in Jerusalem that was most pleasing to God. That was, of course, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. But it is for us now to be able to see that it is in the purification, the presentation of Our Lord in the temple, that each one of us, members of the New Jerusalem, are also purified; that it is through the obedience of Mary and Joseph that we have our purification, that we are presented before the Lord, that we are the ones who are being purified in this feast.
Yet when we see what Simeon and Anna have to say about Our Blessed Lord and about what is going to happen to Our Lady, we see that God certainly blesses Jesus and Mary (and certainly Saint Joseph along with them) for their obedience in what it is that they are doing. They speak the prophecies about Who Jesus is and what He is to do, who Our Blessed Lady is, for all of the people to be able to hear although most of them did not understand. Imagine if an elderly woman, 84 years old, came up to you and started talking to you about some little baby and that this was the one who was going to fulfill everything that had been promised, that the redemption of Jerusalem is going to come through this child. People probably would have thought she was a little strange. But it did not matter to her because she knew that what she was speaking was truth. Simeon knew that what he was speaking was truth.
And all that matters to us is the exact same thing. It is truth. It is to have our hearts and our minds purified so that we will be able to accept the truth and hear it and live it. That is the challenge in our day because we certainly live in a pagan society. We live in a society that has rejected the truth and wants to live in ways that are in opposition to God. And each and every one of us, no matter how hard we have tried, has been affected by it. You cannot help but be affected by it. And so this feast, then, is an opportunity for us to pray, to pray that our minds will be purified so that we will be able to hear the truth, that we will be able to accept the truth, that we will be obedient to the Will of God in all things as was the Holy Family.
Today as the candles are blessed, it reminds us also that Jesus is the light in the darkness. And so, again, it is that whole notion of the purification, that the darkness of our own minds and hearts would be purified so the light of Jesus Christ will shine radiantly within us so that nothing but pure truth and pure love will be in our hearts and our minds so that we will be able to seek God with our whole heart and soul and strength, that we will be able to reject the darkness of this present age and walk in the light. That is what this feast can mean for us today if we are willing to come before the Lord and ask that He will purify us like the ancient city of Jerusalem, that He will make us a holy place, a purified place, the dwelling place of God, and that He will fill our hearts with love, that He will fill our minds with truth, that He will take away the darkness within and allow us to truly be children of the light so we will walk in the light – interiorly, especially – so that we can see clearly and choose the Lord. That is the meaning of this feast for us if we are willing, with the Holy Family, to go up to the temple to present ourselves before the Lord and ask that He will purify us, that He will redeem us in accordance with the law of the Lord, so that we will be able to serve Him all the days of our life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.