Sunday, February 2, 2014

Homily for Today

"For my eyes have seen Your salvation." [Lk. 2:30] These are the words that echo the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord that we are celebrating today. The events surrounding this special Feast are found in Chapter 2, verses 22 to 40 of the Gospel of Luke.

As some of you may be aware, the Feast of the "Presentation of the Lord" in the Temple, always observed on February the second in the Roman Rite, is also known as "Candlemas Day" and the "Purification of the Blessed Virgin."

Some may ask, what does "Candlemas Day" means? During the eleventh century, the liturgical calendar required that the First Reading be the Book of Zephaniah versus today's reading from the Book of Malachi. In the Book of Zephaniah, it states, "At that time, I will search Jerusalem with lamps..." [Zeph. 1:12] In harmony with the words of this biblical verse, the faithful of those days participated in a candle light procession. Nowadays, the Catholic liturgy still permits a procession. Using the rite in the sacramentary, the candles are blessed at the beginning of the Mass. For the procession, the priest wears a chasuble or cope.

Now you may wonder why today's Feast is also called, the "Purification of the Blessed Virgin?" In the days of the birth of Jesus, the Jewish custom commanded that a woman who gave birth to a son remain in semi-seclusion for 40 days. Counting from December 25 th as the first day, the fortieth day fell on February 2 nd, which is today's date.

The Book of Leviticus tells us, "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the people of Israel, saying: If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean seven (7) days: as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three (33) days; she shall not touch any holy things, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed." [Lev. 12:1-4]

When the days of her purification are completed, (7 + 33 = 40) whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. He shall offer it before the Lord, and make atonement on her behalf; then she shall be clean from her flow of blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, male or female. If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean." [Lev. 12:6-8 and Exo. 13:11-13; 22:29; Numb. 18:15-16; Deut. 15:19]

Therefore, the Blessed Virgin Mary's Presentation of the Lord to the Temple was executed in obedience with the precept of the Law. She redeemed her first-born from the Temple and she was purified by the prayer of Simeon the righteous in the presence of the prophetess Anna. [Lk. 2:22-36]

While today's readings echo both, the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, in its wisdom, the Catholic Church deemed it more praiseworthy to place emphasis on the Feast of the Lord Jesus.

As previously stated, today's First Reading was taken from the Book of Malachi. [Mal. 3:1-4] This reading was prophetic in nature. While speaking to the prophet Malachi, God said that He was sending His messenger to prepare His way. And the Lord that the people were seeking would suddenly come to His Temple. [Mal. 31; Mt. 11:10; Mk. 1:2; Lk. 1:76, 7:27]

Continuing with the same reading, it states, "But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?" [Mal. 3:2; Joel 2:11; Rev. 6:17] "For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap;" [Mal. 3:2] "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness." [Mal. 3:3; Tit. 3:14]

These words echo the words of Jesus Who Himself stated that He would be the cause of division. Jesus said, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." [Lk. 12:49-53]

On the same matter, John the Baptist stated, "I baptise you with water for repentance but One who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and will gather His wheat into the granary; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire." [Mt. 3:11-2]

Jesus "gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for Himself a people of His own who are zealous for good deeds." [Tit. 3:14] "For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctified those who had been defiled so that their flesh was purified, how much more will the Blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God." [Heb. 9:13-4]

Our sanctification was constantly on the mind of Jesus. It was on His mind during His ministry. And it was on His mind when He prayed after the Last Supper. In His words, while praying to the Father, Jesus said, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." [Jn. 17:17] "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself so that they also may be sanctified in truth." [Jn. 17:19]

Our purification, our sanctification, had its beginning when we received the Sacrament of Baptism. First came baptism by water; then followed our baptism by fire, our sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit. "For indeed our God is a consuming fire." [Heb. 12:29] Those who believe and submit themselves to the guidance and teachings of the Holy Spirit, they will be saved. Those who reject the grace of God, they will be lost forever. Naturally, having a free will, as Jesus foretold, some family members will welcome the grace of God while others will reject it.

Today's Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews [Heb. 2:10- 11, 13b-18] teaches us that Jesus had to become like His brothers and sisters in every respect. To bring us to glory, Jesus was made our source of perfect salvation through sufferings. [Heb. 2:10] As we suffer in life, He suffered for our sake. Jesus was rejected by most of His own people. And He was even accused of being possessed by evil spirit. All of this He wholeheartedly endured for us.

"The one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, saying, 'Here am I, and the children whom God has given me.'" [Heb. 2:12-3]

As our Saviour, so that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, Jesus emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. [Heb. 2:14; Phil. 2:6] Through this tremendous act of love, He freed all of us who were held in slavery by the fear of death. [Heb. 2:15]

When Jesus came into this world, He did not come to save the angels. He came to save the spiritual children of Abraham, all of us who believe in Him. [Heb. 2:16; Rom. 4:12]

For the sins of the people, Jesus made the perfect sacrifice of atonement to God, the self-sacrifice of every spark of life that was within Himself. As a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God who has been tested by what He has suffered, He is now able to help us who are being tested. [Heb. 417-8]

Today's Gospel Reading [Lk. 2:22-40] is summarized by the words of Simeon. "For my eyes have seen your salvation." [Lk. 2:30] When the time had come for the purification of the Virgin Mary in accordance to the Law, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord God. For it was written, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord." As required by the Law, Mary and Joseph offered the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. [Lk. 2:22-4; Lev. 12:6- 8]

At the Temple, they met Simeon, a righteous and devout man who longed for the consolation of Israel. [Lk. 2:25] Filled with the Holy Spirit, it had been revealed to Simeon that he would not die until such time as he had seen the Lord's Messiah. [Lk. 2:26]

As we heard earlier, guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the Temple; and when Joseph and Mary brought in the Child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying, 'Master, now You are dismissing Your servant in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a Light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.'" [Lk. 2:27-32]

These words acknowledged the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecies of the prophet Isaiah. "Through You I will make a Covenant with all peoples; through You I will bring Light to the nations." [Is. 42:6, 49:6, 52:10]

"Then Simeon blessed the Holy Family, saying to Mary, 'This Child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed - and a sword will pierce your own soul too.'" [Lk. 2:34-5] In other words, Jesus would be the cause of division within families, some accepting Him, others rejecting Him.

Also present at the Temple was the prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel. When she saw Jesus, she began to praise God and to speak about the Child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. [Lk. 2:36-8]

These events confirm to us that Simeon and Anna, both being filled with the Holy Spirit, were chosen by God to meet Jesus and to affirm that He was the promised Messiah. Now both, having met the Lord of their salvation, could go in peace.

Equally, we as members of the Catholic Church that is led by the Spirit of Christ, have also met in our lives the Lord Jesus, our Redeemer. Therefore, when we depart after the celebration of the Holy Mass, it can be said that we too go in peace.

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