Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Reading 1 RV 14:1-3, 4B-5
and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand
who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
I heard a sound from heaven
like the sound of rushing water or a loud peal of thunder.
The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.
They were singing what seemed to be a new hymn before the throne,
before the four living creatures and the elders.
No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand
who had been ransomed from the earth.
These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
They have been ransomed as the first fruits
of the human race for God and the Lamb.
On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished.
Responsorial Psalm PS 24:1BC-2, 3-4AB, 5-6
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks for him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Alleluia MT 24:42A, 44
For you do not know when the Son of Man will come.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Widow’s Mite by James C. Christensen
Gospel LK 21:1-4
When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, “I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
Commentary on Luke 21:1-4 From Living Space
Today we begin the last chapter of Luke’s gospel preceding his account of the Passion. Jesus is still in Jerusalem and spending time preaching in the Temple.
As he stood one day near the treasury where there were 13 trumpet-shaped boxes to receive the offerings, he saw among all the well-off people dropping in their (surplus) money a poor widow who put in two copper coins of very small value.
Jesus immediately comments on her generosity and faith. The others were putting in offerings which they could easily afford; it would have involved no diminution of their lifestyle, no hardship of any kind. But this woman was a poor widow and therefore belonging to the least advantaged of all people in that society. In fact, poverty and widowhood were, for many, almost synonymous.
And this woman put in everything she had. It has been observed that she had two coins and she put in both. In the circumstances, she need only have put in one and kept the other for her own needs.
Jesus sets her up as an example of someone who put her total trust in God’s providence. She gave everything to him.
No one is saying that one should literally follow her example – it could be seen as irresponsible. We are told to love our neighbours – but also ourselves. At the same time, how often when we do dip into our pockets do we really give to others money that we were thinking of spending on something we do not really need? Or are we like the people in today’s story who casually give money they will not miss in the slightest? There is a difference between ‘giving alms’ and sharing our goods and good fortune with those who have less, a lot less, than us.
St Paul, writing to the Christians of Corinth and appealing for help for poorer Christian communities, says in part:
For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has – not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written:
Whoever had much did not have more,
And whoever had little did not have less. (Exodus 16:18).
This is a nice description of what justice in our society means.
There have been Christians who closely followed the widow’s example. Mother Teresa absolutely refused to have any stable income for her work and she was not been alone in this. And it has often been remarked that it is people at the lower end of our society who are most generous in supporting needy causes.
The fact that this story comes just before the Passion has led many to see in this woman a symbol of Jesus himself, who will, in the words of the Letter to the Philippians, “empty himself” completely and surrender his whole life totally into the hands of his Father, holding nothing back. But even during Jesus’ life he seems to have had no private means of any kind. At the same time, he was not a beggar. He simply lived a life where he gave totally of himself and others gave him in return just what he needed at any particular time.
Clearly, most people cannot literally follow the example of Jesus but there are many examples of people who did. If only we, too, could have that kind of trust, that kind of generosity, that ability to share and that kind of freedom – freedom from material ‘wants’ and freedom for others.
The richest person is not the one who has accumulated much but the one who has the least needs. In this sense, this poor widow was rich indeed.
The Feast of the Presentation of our Lady is celebrated more by the Eastern Church than the Latin Church. It was celebrated as early as the 6th century in Jerusalem when a church was built to commemorate this mystery in the life of Mary. In fact, the Western Church began to celebrate this feast only in the 11th century, and it even disappeared after some time until it resurfaced to be celebrated with the rank of a “memoria” in the universal church. The most likely reason why this event is not celebrated as a Feast in the liturgical calendar is due to the fact that it is not recorded in scriptures except in the apocryphal literature, which is considered ‘unhistorical’. The Protoevangelium of James tells us that Anne and Joachim offered Mary to God in the Temple when she was three years old, fulfilling a promise made to God when Anne was still childless.
Why does the Church then celebrate this event when it is judged to be dubious? The truth is that regardless of the historicity of this event, the theological significance is of great importance to the Church. The verifiability of this event might not be established but it does underscore that God graced Mary from the beginning so that she could make an effective response to the invitation of God to be the mother of Jesus. By so doing, it reinforces the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Incarnation and the Assumption. What this mystery celebrates is that the grace of God was with Mary right from the start of her life, including her childhood, and continues right through to the last days of her life.
That Mary was graced and blessed by God is what the first reading from the prophet Zechariah wants to underscore. Mary, who is considered the mother of the Church, a member of the Anawim, the poor of Israel, the daughter of Zion, was given the promise of God that He would dwell in her. She would be the temple of God not made by human hands but by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. “Sing, rejoice, daughter of Zion; for I am coming to dwell in the middle of you.” Of course, the Church wants to underscore that holiness is not human effort alone but by the grace of God. This is in agreement with the Protestants’ fundamental doctrine of justification by grace alone.
This is what we also profess, that Mary was also graced by God unconditionally and justified at her conception. The prophet said, “But the Lord will hold Judah as his portion in the Holy Land, and again make Jerusalem his very own. Let all mankind be silent before the Lord! For he is awakening and is coming from his holy dwelling.” This, too, was what Mary proclaimed in the Magnificat when she said, “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour. The Almighty works marvels for me. Holy is his name! He looks on his servant in her nothingness; henceforth all ages will call me blessed. The Almighty works marvels for me. Holy his name!” Nowhere and never did Mary claim holiness because of her merits. It was all the grace of God. This truth must be reiterated. Mary was first and foremost holy because of the primacy of grace, not good works.
But how can we be so sure? We can see from the effects of the grace of God in her life. The gift of holiness, whilst totally dependent on the grace of God, also calls for our cooperation. We cannot just speak of God’s grace without human cooperation or at least a human response. God created us in freedom to accept or reject His love and His grace. God does not impose His love on us. It is true in any friendship. We can only offer our gift of friendship or assistance, but if the recipient does not respond, there is nothing we can do except to continue loving them till one day they can find the capacity to respond. In the case of Mary, she was always docile to the grace of God. That is why God’s grace worked marvelously in her life, producing in her a New Creation and for us, the mother of grace.
Indeed, we can certainly see how at every step of her life, Mary said “Yes” to God. She was always docile to the will of God. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” (LK 1:38) In today’s gospel, Jesus praised Mary to be the model of one who does the Word of God. She is most fit to be the mother of Jesus because she is one who hears the Word of God and does it. Jesus said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sisters and mother.” Anyone who is a true disciple of the Lord is a relative of Jesus. For Mary, because she conceived the Word of God in her heart, she could also conceive Jesus in the flesh. Without which, she would not have been able to give a positive response to the Angel’s invitation to accept God’s call for her to be the mother of Jesus.
The feast of the Presentation of Mary therefore declares that Mary, graced from her conception, lived out her entire life in cooperation with God’s grace by doing His will. Hence, she was consecrated to God and given to Him for His service. The Presentation of Mary at the Temple therefore is symbolic even if it might not be historical that Mary was always one with God in everything, seeking and endeavouring to do His holy will, even sharing in Christ’s sufferings in His ministry, passion and death on the cross.
What does it mean for us? We, too, whilst not graced at our conception like Mary, are also given the same grace of God at our baptism. Through the sacrament of baptism, we are configured in Christ, and the Holy Spirit also overshadows and dwells in us. We too have been given the grace of God to grow in holiness. We did not merit anything to be baptized. Baptism is a gift from Christ and His church. Baptism is also a call to holiness of life. Once baptized, we are consecrated to God, like Mary. But like Mary, what do we do with the grace of God received at baptism? Not only at baptism, but also at the Eucharist, confirmation, matrimony or ordination! Have we cooperated with the grace of God? Mary was not just a recipient of grace but she received the grace to be a good disciple of our Lord. Could what was said of Mary be said of us, that we hear the Word of God and act on it? Unless we cooperate with God’s grace given to us through the sacraments we receive, then we would have received the grace of God in vain.
Consequently, in celebrating this mystery of our Lady, we must re-consecrate ourselves to the Lord. We must seek to grow the grace of holiness given to us at baptism and allow this grace to flourish, deepen and strengthen over the years of our lives. We must dedicate ourselves to be a true disciple of the Lord by listening and contemplating on His word, imbibing in them like Mary, pondering it in our hearts so that His word could be given birth in life- giving actions in daily living. Only by living out the life of Mary at every stage of our life could we say that we have truly cooperated with the grace of God given to us at baptism and this gift continues through the rest of our lives.
Secondly, it behooves us to pay attention to the importance of formation of young people, especially children under our care. The grace of God works on them not when they have grown up and become adults. Rather, it was already at work in their lives from the moment they were conceived in the womb of their mothers. So it is important that right from the start, they must already feel the love of God in their being, through their mothers’ love and nurturing disposition. We must teach our children at a very tender age to learn how to talk to Jesus, how to bring Jesus into their lives. No one is too young to pray to Jesus. We must teach them how to love and how to serve God and do His will. If we plant these seeds in them, then we are actually helping them to grow the grace of God in them.
But what better way to help the grace of God to unfold in our children than the way Anne and Joachim helped Mary to develop the grace of God within her? We must walk the talk. We must set the example. We must first take holiness of life seriously. No one is converted by words alone but by example. Let us be mentors of those who have consecrated their lives to Jesus. Let us be examples of holiness in word and deed.
Tags: Christians, empty himself, generosity, HOLINESS A GIFT AND A TASK, Letter to the Philippians, Lk 21:1-4, Mother Teresa, MT 24:42A 44, November 21 2016, our yourself out, Prayer and Meditation, Presentation of our Lady, Presentation of the B.V. Mary, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Psalm 24, RV 14:1-3 4B-5, service to others