SERMON – The Solemnity of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple (Purification of St. Mary the Virgin)
February 5, 2012
+In the Name…
It’s certainly takes some brain work for us today to go back to the time of our Lord Jesus Christ being a baby about a month and half old, being taken by the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph to the Temple in Jerusalem, especially in light of the past few weeks when we have thinking about our Lord’s calling of the first four Apostles, and His ministry of exorcism.
Today, we go back in time to keep the Solemnity of a major Christian Feast – a Feast that tells us that forty days after the Birth of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Joseph fulfilled Jewish law in presenting the Holy Child to the Temple.
But beyond the keeping of the Law, was the symbolism of what lay behind the coming of Jesus to the Temple. On the fortieth day after the Birth of Son of God, the prophecy of Malachi was fulfilled: “…the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple” (3:1). As things unfold, the Baby presented to the Temple, “his temple,” would be established by God the Father in the vocation chosen for His Son – that of Him being both the Priest and the Victim, in the fullness of time for all times, as the very fulfillment of the priesthood and the sacrifices of the Temple.
We sang this truth in our opening hymn this morning:
“O Sion, open wide thy gates,
Let symbols disappear;
A priest and victim, both in one,
The Truth himself, is here.
No more the simple flock shall bleed;
Behold, the Father’s Son
Himself to his own altar comes
For sinners to atone.”
And herein is food for our souls today. This place and space in which we worship Jesus Christ is His temple – even though it hardly looks like a temple! This Newman Fellowship makeshift temple is His and symbolizes His living Presence in it because Jesus is the Temple of God in which “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” as St. Paul taught in his letter to the Colossians. This makeshift temple (as we gather in for the Eucharist) is a symbol of the One who is the Temple of God, who was and is God Incarnate of the Virgin Mary – who for nine months was the pure and holy temple of God in carrying the Eternal Word of God in her womb. And He is the Temple of God because in Himself He is both the Priest of the Temple who serves God, and the Victim that is offered to God in the Temple for the atonement of God and man.
As we think today about our Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, I call you to think the fact that God, in this event, prefigured what was going to happen at a time chosen by God by this Child in His adulthood for the salvation of the world.
In other words, what I ask you to consider and reflect upon is that God sets things in motion at a particular time, that in time (His time) are fulfilled. He gives us signs and signals of what He is doing, and hopes that we will notice them for our good and for our peace. He yearns for us to have the eyes of faith – eyes that can see things unfolding, so that we be not anxious, but be at peace.
Allow me to give you a very brief and personal example of what I mean and a testimony to it.
The Church of The Good Shepherd, Rosemont, was founded upon the principles of what is known as the “Oxford Movement.” In brief, as you have so often heard me say and preach, this “Movement” was a call for the Church of England to reclaim her Catholicity. The call came from Spirit-guided Church of England priests in their saying that what happened in the English Reformation should never be disconnected from the Catholic Church that went through the Reformation.
As time went on, a certain leader of the Oxford Movement, John Henry Newman, after long and arduous spiritual and theological ponderings, came to the point of saying that the Catholic Church founded by Jesus rested upon the See of Peter – that Jesus had given to the Church a leader and an authority for its Gospel integrity and for its future effectiveness that resided in the office of the successors of the Apostle Peter, who were the Popes after him.
The Newman Fellowship is founded upon the conclusion and conviction of a man who came to this point – a man whom the Catholic Church has beatified, and will canonize as a Saint when the evidence for his Sainthood has been verified.
The Newman Fellowship is about a community of Anglicans (largely composed of Anglo-Catholics and number of Roman Catholics from Good Shepherd, Rosemont) who understand that unity with the Catholic Church is right, for a multitude of theological reasons, but more so, because our Lord Jesus Christ prayed that we all be one.
I will not, at this time, rehearse what the concerns and hesitations are for Anglo-Catholics to move in this direction. I have done that many times before – as best as I can from my own perspective and from what others have shared with me. My desire is always be sensitive to this and assist all of you as best I can, and with the help of others, such as Dr. Burke.
We must always remember that God is the initiator of divine action for our benefit, and Redeemer of the painful circumstances that we face or have caused. Our life vocation is to be the response of love, trust, service, devotion, sacrifice, praise, and thanksgiving, and that requires the desire of our human wills. We should echo the words of Mary – “Be it unto me according to thy word,” and “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoiceth in God my Savior.” This desire and intention needs to be in our hearts and on our lips at our waking and at our sleeping, and in the time between both each and every day because God deserves this and because through this we open ourselves to know His blessings, and to possibly receive His chastisement which, as the Letter to the Hebrews teaches, is a sign of His love. Or if we are on the receiving end of hate, defamation, or revenge, we stay close to God and let Him love us. It is all about the new covenant of love established by God in and through the Death and Resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ with us. Covenants depend upon the faithfulness and fidelity of the two partners. As St. John wrote in his first epistle, “We love, because he first loved us.”
John Henry Newman in 1861 at the age of 60 said: “Everything seems to crumble under my hands, as if one were making ropes of sand.”* He was distraught and in a state of despair over the Church of England, and what he was to do. He was confused and unsettled, but his faith in God was unwavering.
In 1882 at the age of 81, he wrote to a friend who was grieving over personal setbacks: “It is the rule of God’s Providence that we should succeed by failure; and my moral is, as addressed to you – be brave – have faith in His love for you – His everlasting love – and love Him from the certainty that He loves you.”*
We have God’s love. We have our faith. We have our families. We have our friends, interests, and involvements; and we have each other’s prayers. We have the sacramental grace of the Eucharist. With all these things in our lives, in our hearts, and in our spiritual knapsacks, we (in obedience to the Lord’s teaching) are to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness [the kingdom and righteousness of God the Father, not our own kingdom and righteousness], and all these things [the blessings of God, rather than forms of darkness] shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33).
We do this seeking as we strive to order our lives according to the will of God, which requires daily prayer and reflection as we stay attentive to God in whom we live and move and have our being. We stay on the course on which God has placed us. In so doing, we learn more about God and more about ourselves, and we will find ourselves thinking more and more in terms of God rather than in terms of the world. We are to use changes and challenges, and hindrances and failures as part of God’s Providence for an ultimate greater good. How often it has been said, because it is absolutely true: we are to live in the world, but not of the world. We should never let what happens to us in the world take us away from trust in God. We are to develop spiritually discerning and critical eyes in order to see both the beauty and the bane of things of the world – knowing that in the world only God can satisfy our desire and hunger for peace and fulfillment.
It was Jesus who said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27), and who also said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
These great gifts of peace and abundance were wrought in what He who gives them did, which the Church re-presents in praise and thanksgiving at every Mass – the sacrifice of Calvary where and when Jesus was both priest and victim. On the Cross as priest and victim, the glory of humble obedience and sacrifice of Himself for others tabernacles for those long three hours. Because of which, his priests on earth in our own time can administer His Body and Blood for us to eat and drink His life into us, for Him to abide in us, so that we abide in Him.
As the psalmist asked the question, so do we. – “What reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?” (116:11). The answer can well be the words of that great hymn, “Take my life, and let it be.” Its words state that what we give is our desire to be taken. Do you remember such words?
“Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord to thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of thy love;
Take my feet, and let them be
Swift and beautiful for thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King;
Take my intellect, and use
Ev’ry power as thou shalt choose.
Take my will, and make it thine:
It shall be no longer mine.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for thee.”
+In the Name…
*Edward Short, Newman and His Contemporaries.