Wednesday February 2, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Presentation of the Lord
Reading I (Malachi 3:1-4) Reading II (Hebrews 2:14-18)
Gospel (St. Luke 2:22-40)
As we celebrate today this feast of the Presentation of Our Blessed Lord in the Temple, we reflect upon just exactly why this was to take place. We recall that the firstborn son had to be presented in order to be redeemed because of the death of the firstborn back in Egypt; because the firstborn of the Israelites we spared, God said that from that point forward all of the Israelite children who would be firstborn sons would have to be presented to the Lord and redeemed because their lives had been spared. The redemption of the child was through either the sacrifice of a lamb or the two turtledoves or pigeons (if the people were poor).
And so we see Our Lady and Saint Joseph going up to the temple to fulfill the law of the Lord, even though Jesus did not need to be redeemed. He is God and there was no sin, but the fact of the matter is that we see Mary and Joseph taking the Child up to Jerusalem in obedience to the law. We see also that it is not so much for the Child’s sake that this is happening, but, as we heard in the second reading, because the Child did indeed have human flesh and blood (even though His was not corrupted in any way) He was going to be redeemed because it was our humanity that needed to be redeemed, it is us who needed to be purified. As they go up to Jerusalem, we recognize that it is really for the sake of others, not for themselves – so that Simeon would be able to see this Child, bless the parents, and give his prophecy regarding what would happen with Our Lady and Our Lord; also that Anna would be able to know that this child had been born and she would speak to all of the people who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. We see that it is really the beginning, publicly, of the proclamation of the Gospel, not the full proclamation that Our Lord Himself would preach later on, but nonetheless, the truth that God had been born into the world was now being told to the people of Jerusalem so that those who truly had faith and were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem would be able to know that their prayers had been fulfilled and all of their hopes had now come to fruition.
But we also know that there were many who did not accept Him. Maybe they believed in what God had promised, but they did not want to accept the reality of Who this Child was. That is the part we need to look at for ourselves because Our Lord, each and every day when we receive Holy Communion, is presented in the temple of our soul. The question is: Do we accept Him? It is not that we are rejecting Him, but many of the people that Anna would have spoken to did not out-and-out reject Him either; they just did not really accept Him in the fullness of Who He was. As we hear in the first reading from Malachi, Suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord Whom you seek, are we seeking Him? Do we desire Him? We can look at it and say, “Well, certainly. I wouldn’t be here right now if I didn’t.” But I am not talking about the objective element of it. Obviously, we want the Lord in our lives. I am asking: Do we really want Christ? Do we really want to change our lives? Do we really want to be purified? That is what this was all about, not the purification of the physical person of Jesus, but the purification of the Mystical Person of Christ – all those who would be His members. That is us. Do we want to be purified?
Too many of us just want mortal sin gone, but we do not want to get rid of the rest. Too many of us want to be Christian, but we do not really want to live it out in its fullness because it becomes uncomfortable and we do not really want to make the changes that are necessary. Do we want to be purified? Do we want our temple to be pure and perfect? Do we want it to be a beautiful place for the Lord, Who came to purify so that we would be able to offer acceptable sacrifice to God? Because we share in the spiritual priesthood, we are all called to offer pure and acceptable sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus on the altar is perfect. There is nothing wrong in that. The question has to do with the sacrifice that is present in our hearts. What are we giving to the Lord? What is going on inside this temple, that is, each one of us? Is it really the place where the Lord is? How many people were in that temple the day Our Lord was presented, and out of all of them two recognized Who He was because there were only two that were really praying that desperately for the Messiah. There were only two who really wanted to see Him that badly. How badly do we want to see Him? How much do we want our temple to be purified? How much do we want our share in the priesthood to be purified so that we can offer acceptable sacrifice to the Lord?
Are we willing to have that purification happen, that purification that will be a sign that will be contradicted, which is a sword of sorrow that is going to pierce our own hearts? These are the things we are told of Jesus and Mary, who were without sin. For the rest of us, similar things are going to take place. Again, the question is: Do we want it and how much? Of all the people in the temple, there were only two. Of all of these temples of the Lord that are consecrated to Him in Baptism, how many really are looking forward to the coming of the Lord? How many really desire the Lord to enter into their own temple? How many seek there to offer perfect sacrifice to Christ? That is what Our Lord is looking for – a temple that is purified, a priesthood that is purified, so that what takes place in our hearts will truly be fitting worship of our Almighty God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.