2 February 2014
Malachi 3: 1 – 4
Hebrews 2: 14 – 18
Luke 2: 22 – 40
It is natural that whenever we want to give someone special a gift we want it to be the best possible.
In today’s feast the best gift Mary and Joseph can give to God is their son Jesus, whom Simeon describes as the ‘salvation of God’ and ‘light of the Gentiles’ (i.e. everyone). Traditionally this feast is called Candlemas Day because we have a procession before Mass with everyone carrying candles which are blessed and then lit, signifying that Jesus is the Light of the world.
We are amazed at the gift Mary and Joseph are offering to God. Was this the long-awaited Messiah? Who could imagine that this helpless child could be the Messiah whom the Jews had been longing for through the centuries? So this gift, the best Mary and Joseph could offer, is telling us a great amount of what is pleasing to God and why.
This best gift is a helpless, needy child who is absolutely dependent on his parents. Could this be really God in human form, in swaddling clothes? This is an important lesson for us today. This helpless child gave Mary and Joseph the capacity to be all that they could be for this little baby. His helplessness drew from them love, concern, protection, caring, a going out of themsleves to take the best possible care of this infant. It was not the strength, control, independence of Jesus which caused this but the very opposite.
Is this not how it is for every parent?
Before the arrival of a child a married couple are simply husband and wife. But when a child arrives they are parents. Is it not the same with us and God? It is not our virtue and goodness which call forth God’s love for us but our going to God in our need of Him. The more aware we are of this and the more we do it, the more we draw forth or allow God to do all that He can for us.
The more aware we are of our need for God and go to him with this need, the more we allow God into our lives.
When we present ourselves to God, when we offer ourselves to others, we need not be stainless and sinless, almost the perfect person we dream or would like to be. The best of who we are includes all our weaknesses and sifulness. We are creatures with a good share of limitations.
The Feast of the Presentation teaches us to offer ourselves to God and others in spite of our imperfections and weaknesses. It is especially in our weaknesses and imperfections that God loves us.
This is the authentic giving and offering of oneself. Indeed, we may feel unworthy as a gift to others, but our sincerity and honesty in acknowledging and embracing the sinful person we are makes us special and precious. If we fail to embrace and love all that we are – good and bad – then we may well project it on to others and judge them harshly for the things we are unaware of or don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves. Therefore it is not perfection that counts, it is the love which we offer to others that matters most.
The offering of Mary and Joseph in the Temple of the “ordinary” helpless, needy, dependent infant Jesus wrapped in fragility. In like manner, the real gift of oneself should have no pretensions or reservations. This is the best!
This is Good News – God does not seek perfection, sinlessness or total goodness. He is content with the best we can offer, no matter how much that be. But our going to Him in our need, which includes our sinfulness and poverty, draws forth from Him all that He wants to be for us and give us.
As a young seminarian I was very taken by a quotation from some saint (I can’t recall who it was): Jesus did not say “succeed”, but “strive”.