The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Rembrandt
Reading 1 1 JN 2:3-11
The way we may be sure that we know Jesus
is to keep his commandments.
Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.
but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.
The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
And yet I do write a new commandment to you,
which holds true in him and among you,
for the darkness is passing away,
and the true light is already shining.
Whoever says he is in the light,
yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light,
and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness;
he walks in darkness
and does not know where he is going
because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Responsorial Psalm PS 96:1-2A, 2B-3, 5B-6
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
The LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty go before him;
praise and grandeur are in his sanctuary.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Alleluia LK 2:32
A light of revelation to the Gentiles
and glory for your people Israel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 2:22-35
When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Lord, now let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you prepared in the sight of every people,
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
(and you yourself a sword will pierce)
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Commentary on Luke 2:22-35 From Living Space
The Holy Family was a Jewish family and both Jesus and his parents are shown as faithfully carrying out the requirements of the Law. In today’s Gospel there is a double ceremony described: one is the purification of the mother and second is the offering of the first-born child to the Lord. In the past, we used to refer to the feast on February 2 as the Purification but now we prefer to speak of the Presentation.
Clearly, the notion of the need for a mother to be purified after giving birth is not something we feel comfortable with now. For the Jews the spilling of blood was a source of uncleanness and so, after giving birth, there had to be, after a designated number of days, a ceremony of purification. Sometimes the husband too went through a similar ceremony. Given the special circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, the idea of purification seems even less desirable although Luke does not seem to have any problem with it.
According to the Mosaic law (Lev 12:2-8), a woman who gave birth to a boy was not allowed to touch anything sacred for 40 days (in the case of a baby girl, the period was even longer) nor could she enter the Temple precincts because of her ritual “impurity”. At the end of this period, as mentioned by Luke, she was required to offer a year-old lamb as a burnt offering and a turtle dove or a young pigeon as expiation for sin. Those who could not afford the lamb could offer two birds instead.
The parents also presented their first-born son as an offering to the Lord, again in accordance with Jewish law (Exod 13:2,12) but this did not have to be done in the Temple. Presenting the child in the Temple seems to re-echo the scene in the First Book of Samuel where Hannah offers her son Samuel for services in the sanctuary. There is no mention in Luke’s account of the five shekels that was supposed to be paid to a member of the priestly family to ‘buy back’ the child.
The account now goes on to mention two elderly people – Simeon and Anna. (Anna will not appear until tomorrow.) They represented all those devout Jews who were looking forward to the expected coming of the Messiah and the restoration of God’s rule, God’s kingship, in Israel.
Simeon had received a promise that he would not die until he had laid eyes on the Messiah. Under the promptings of the Spirit he enters the Temple just as Mary and Joseph are there with their child. He recognises who the Child is and then says a prayer of thanksgiving and surrender to his God. We call this prayer the Nunc dimittis (‘Now you may send away…’), a hymn which is now used during the Night Prayer of the Church. In harmony with Luke’s vision of Jesus, he describes Jesus as a Light for the Gentiles and the Glory of the people of Israel. And so, Feast of the Presentation is a feast of light which we sometimes call ‘Candlemas’. It is a time when candles are blessed and lit to reflect Christ as our Light.
Meanwhile Mary and Joseph are astounded at what is being said about their child. Even they have not yet come to a full realisation of just who he is.
But all is not sweetness and light. Simeon goes on to say some hard-sounding words. The Child, he says, “is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that is contradicted”. To say that Jesus brings about the fall of people is a difficult idea to come to terms with. It seems to fly in the face of the loving, forgiving and compassionate Jesus of the Gospel. And yet the paradox is that many, for reasons of their own, can totally reject the way of life that Jesus proposes. In doing so they also turn away from the direction where their fulfilment as persons lies. Jesus’ life is a sign, a sign which points us in the direction of God but there are many who contradict that sign and go in other directions.
But Simeon has more to say. To Jesus’ Mother he says: “You yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Mary will not know the meaning of these words for many years to come, although a small foretaste will come when Jesus is lost as a boy in Jerusalem. Mary may be full of grace but, no more than her Son, will she spared from sharing some of the pain which he will endure. It is all part of that unconditional ‘Yes’ which Mary made to the angel in Nazareth. It is contained, too, in the offering of her Son that she has just made to God his Father.
There is a scene in the gospel of Luke where a woman, having been impressed by the teaching of Jesus, cries out: “Blessed is the womb that carried you and blessed is the breast that you sucked!” A great tribute to Mary for having produced such a magnificent Son. But Jesus replies: “Blessed, rather, are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Mary’s true greatness is not in the privileges bestowed on her by God but in her unconditional acceptance of everything God asked of her.
For each one of us it is the same. Today, let us say a big ‘Yes’ to God no matter what he sends us.
Christ is born. But do we know Him? I presume most Catholics would say that they know Jesus. Knowing someone of course has different meanings. Most Catholics know Jesus intellectually. They have some factual information about Jesus that they studied in their catechism classes or through personal reading. Some know Jesus more intimately through prayer, worship, and meditation on the Word of God. Others encountered Jesus in the sacraments or had the privilege of a radical Christ-experience. Even then, such Christ experiences have different depths. The Seven Mansions, as described by St Teresa of Avila, shows the different levels of entering into the mystery of Christ and His love.
Nevertheless, in the final analysis, to know means to share in the life and love of someone. When we know someone, we imbibe in the person’s values and perspectives of life. We are identified with those whom we love. This is particularly true of married couples. Intimacy is more than just physical union but a union of heart and mind in all that we do and think. Otherwise, such physical intimacy is superficial and have not much benefit than just an act of pleasure. But if there is mutual willing and thinking, such intimacy crowns the union and becomes a real celebration.
This is what St John means when he wrote, “We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments. Anyone who says, ‘I know him’, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, refusing to admit the truth.” Keeping the commandments of God is easy only if we love Him deeply and could identify with Him completely. Otherwise, the commandments become a burden, a restriction, and an imposition. It is never difficult to obey someone whom we love, not just affectively, but when we are able to see the truth from the person’s perspective. Christ had no issues with obeying the Father because He knew the Father and the Father knew Him. (cf Mt 11:27) He freely gave up His life out of obedience not reluctantly but willingly for the love of His Father. (cf Jn 10:18)
Secondly, St John says, “We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in him is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.” The litmus test of whether God or Christ is in us is whether we live the life that Jesus has taught us to live. To be in Christ means to say with St Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) So the best way to gauge our knowledge of God is not in doctrinal knowledge or even our God-experiences, but by the fruits of the Spirit that are manifested in our lives. These fruits of the Spirit are common to all, but the gifts of the Spirit differ. Regardless of the gifts we receive, it does not matter so long as we produce the fruits of the Spirit, as St Paul wrote to the Galatians. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Gal 5:22f)
Thirdly, we know that we are in Christ only when we love our brothers and sisters. St John wrote, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the dark. But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light and need not be afraid of stumbling; unlike the man who hates his brother and is in the darkness, not knowing where he is going, because it is too dark to see.” Anyone who has the heart of God will love everyone intensely the way God loves each one of us, regardless of our race, language or religion. Everyone is precious to God, even those who do not know Him, or are His enemies. God wants to save us all because He loves us all. If God is in us, then we will recognize that our common love for the Father and our sonship in Christ makes us brothers and sisters of all, regardless.
In the gospel, we have someone who knew Jesus intimately. We read the prophecy of Simeon. When he saw the child, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he said, “‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.” Such confession of faith in Christ goes beyond logic and understanding. Through the grace of God alone, Simeon, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, could immediately recognize Jesus, that little baby, as the Promised Messiah, the one who will be the light of the nations, enlightening all in the truth about God and about themselves. Most of all, by His life, His works, teachings, His death and resurrection, He will glorify God. The little child in the arms of His blessed mother was foretold to bring great and revolutionary changes in the lives of humanity. Simeon said to Mary, “You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.”
If we come to this truth and this knowledge of Christ, it is almost as if we have entered the sixth or seventh castle of the doctrine of St Teresa of Avila because at this point, there is no turning back. We just want to be with God and bask in His love and mercy forever. This experience of Simeon of wanting to go back to God is the consequence of encountering the glory of God in the humanity of Christ. Like the psalmist, we would want to sing for joy. “Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad. O sing a new song to the Lord, sing to the Lord all the earth. O sing to the Lord, bless his name. Proclaim his help day by day, tell among the nations his glory and his wonders among all the peoples.” Within this context, we can appreciate the sharing of St Paul when he spoke of his dilemma. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” (Phil 1:21-24) More importantly, he also said, “with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Phil 1:20)
In the light of our reflection, we must therefore consider how much we know the Lord. What is the depth of our relationship with Him? Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that we love the Lord and know Him so much when we are not ready to die with Him or follow His way of life. We can say all about Jesus, talk about Him, serve Him in ministry, but if we are not ready to live as He lived, love as He loved, suffer as He suffered, forgive as He forgave, then we are still far from knowing Him. Our knowledge is only a cerebral knowledge; it has not yet reached our hearts nor touched the depths of our spirit.
Realizing how superficial our knowledge and love for the Lord as seen in our sinful way of life, in giving in to sin and selfishness and living in darkness, we must follow Mary in contemplating on Him more and more. “The child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him.” Unless we are willing to make time to contemplate on the Lord, we will never get to know Him from our being. Intimacy with the Lord is a gift. We must nurture this gift by entering into the mind and heart of Christ more and more each day through silence, prayer and reading of the Word of God. So we too must pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead us to Jesus.
Simeon tells us how we can prepare for the Holy Spirit by living a devout and holy life. Simeon “was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord.” Let us, with the grace of God, be the glory of God for others by living the radical life that the Lord is inviting us to live. This life of Christ, St John says, is “what is being carried out in your lives as it was in his, is a new commandment; because the night is over and the real light is already shining.” Christ gives newness in the way we should fulfill the commandments which are as old as Moses.
We Can Also Be Like Christ
SCRIPTURE READINGS: 1 JOHN 2:3-11; LUKE 2:22-35
How can we be sure that we know God? This is the question that St John is asking us. St John in his days was facing the same challenges we are confronted with today. This is particularly true for those who are priests, religious and those active and pious Catholics in Church. Quite often, we deceive ourselves into thinking that we know God when we do not.
Like the Greeks, we measure our knowledge of God in terms of insight, an intellectual knowledge of God. There is always the tendency to substitute personal knowledge of God with intellectual knowledge. This is the greatest temptation of priests, students of theology and scripture, teachers of the faith, catechists and those giving talks and conducting retreats. We can talk, teach and preach eloquently, because we have acquired some intellectual knowledge of the faith. But deep in our hearts, we know that we do not know Him because we do not have any real interpersonal relationship with Him. We use only our head but we have no contact with Him in our hearts.
For others, they think they know God because they have had a mystical knowledge of Him. Some have had beautiful religious experiences. They are taken up by the graces of God and the consolations of visions, healing, joy and peace they received. Those who receive such personal encounters with God often feel very high and elated. Sometimes, they think that they are already living in the seventh castle of St Teresa of Avila. For this reason, they keep on hanging to the consolations of God and would go for those services that provide such emotional “highs” and mystical experiences. Such believers probably have a heart contact with God but their minds have no knowledge of the Lord.
Above: Centuries old book, “The Imitation of Christ”
Then, there is the third category of people who are very active in Church. They use their hands in encountering God. It is the incarnational way. They are very much involved in organizing activities, doing this and that for the Church or for the poor. They are unlike the first two groups; not the thinking or the feeling types, but the doers. They need to be always in activity so that they can feel charged and high all the time, especially when they experience success and appreciation. Such emotional and psychological fulfilment serve more the ego, the ambition and a defence mechanism to boost a low self-esteem character than really a work borne out of the love of God. Necessarily, when things are not doing well, they get discouraged and give up easily; or when they are challenged by others, they feel hurt and wounded because they think they are rejected.
Whilst all the above ways are not excluded in coming to know God, the only sure criterion that we can attest to truly knowing God is as St John wrote, “We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in him is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.” Indeed, this is the only criterion that is needed to ascertain how much we know God. It is not based on whether we have a theological degree, how many books we have read, or the mystical experiences we have had, or how involved we are in church or in the service of the poor, but whether the life of Christ is in us.
If our life reflects the life of Christ, then we can be confident that we are growing in knowledge of Christ. The others are means but not the end. Indeed, this is what Christmas is all about. That is why immediately after the feast of Christmas, the Church celebrates the Feast of St Stephen, the first martyr who not only served Christ, or died for Him but with Christ and in Christ, reenacting His passion and death, by forgiving his enemies, praying for them and commending his soul to God.
This was followed by the Feast of St John, whose whole life was a martyrdom of bearing witness to Christ in a life of love and devotion to the Lord and His Church. Yesterday was the feast of the Holy Innocents who witnessed to Christ by dying an innocent and unjust death. They too gave witness to Christ through unjust suffering, like Christ who died for us. Today, we also celebrate another great saint, Thomas Becket who gave his life for the Church because he was not ready to collaborate with the evil doings of the king by being his Chancellor. Indeed, with courage he said, “I served our Theobald (former archbishop of Canterbury) well when I was with him: I served King Henry well as Chancellor: I am his no more, and I must serve the Church.” All of them could truly be said to be witnesses of Christ by their lives and by their deaths.
But what would such a life of Christ entail? It means living out the commandments of Christ. This is what St John wrote, “We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments. Anyone who says, ‘I know him’, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, refusing to admit the truth. But when anyone does obey what he has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him.” The obedience rendered to God is not just an external observance of the commandments like the scribes, Pharisees and some legal-based Christians. Rather, the obedience asked of us must come from an inner conviction of the commandments as a real expression of the mind and heart of God. Only those who know the Lord will understand the intention, the purpose, the goodness and the values of the commandments. So it is not so much simply obeying the commandments; rather, it is our sharing of Christ’s mind and heart. For this reason too, when we obey, that is, practice the commandments given by the Lord, we enter deeper into His being, and share in His love. Perfection of Christian life therefore is measured by how much the mind and heart of God is in us, in the way we live our lives. “But when anyone does obey what he has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him.”
In the final analysis, there is only one commandment that sums up the entire list of commandments. St John makes it clear thatthe commandment is old and yet new. It is old in the sense that the commandment to love God and our neighbour has already been spelt out in the Old Testament. But there is newness as well because Christ not only asked us to observe the commandments but to love each other as He has loved us. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34f) We are called to love as Jesus loved, to forgive as Jesus forgave, to be merciful and compassionate as He was. So we are to love each other to the same extent that He has loved us. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta says, “God pays attention to our love. Not one of us is indispensable. God has the means to do all things and to do away with the work of the most capable human being. We can work until we drop. We can work excessively. If what we do is not connected to love, however, our work is useless in God’s eyes.” In the same vain, St Paul wrote, “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:3)
Consequently, one clear sign that we have not arrived at the knowledge of God is when we cannot forgive our brothers and sisters or when we continue to hate them. The lack of forgiveness indicates that we have not yet received His love and mercy for ourselves and the heart and mind of the Lord is not ours. A man who cannot love his brother, that is, the one nearest to him, his loved ones, his relatives, his colleagues, his superiors and his workers, then he has not yet known the Lord. The greatest challenge in loving our brothers and sisters is not loving those far away but those who are near, in our backyard, our elderly at home, the difficult spouse, the disobedient children and the incorrigible sibling who is irresponsible with his or her life, not contributing to the family.
St John wrote, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the dark. But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light and need not be afraid of stumbling; unlike the man who hates his brother and is in the darkness, not knowing where he is going, because it is too dark to see.” A man full of hatred cannot see the goodness in another. He lives in the dark because of his vindictiveness. He cannot see any good or truth that comes from the person he hates, even when objectively he is doing good. Hatred blinds us to many things in life. We see the other as our enemy, competitor and a nuisance. But when we love, then we begin to see them in a different light. Only the light of Christ, the light of love, can help us to see our brothers and sisters, especially those who are weak and difficult, with compassion and forgiveness because we know that they are deeply wounded and hurt.
How then can we love like Christ? Clearly, we need to allow Christ to love us first. Today, we need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who came down upon Simeon and enabled him to recognize Christ. We too need to pray so that we can behold what he did and said, “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel.” Once loved by the Lord, we must follow up by contemplating on His love and His life, especially through the scriptures. Without meditation and contemplation on His face, the life of Christ cannot be imprinted in our minds and hearts. The truth remains that a true knowledge of God cannot be ours without intimacy with the Lord in prayer. Theological studies, spiritual experiences, doing good works can help us to encounter God but all these cannot be replaced by making the mind and heart of Christ our own. Imitation of Christ can only come after contemplation of Christ. Once imprinted on our hearts, we can also be like Christ, the light for the Gentiles, radiating the love and glory of God in and through our lives.
Man’s Spiritual Dimension Governs All Human Rights
We seem to live today in a world of upheaval.
The Islamic State proclaims a caliphate, and promises heavenly rewards for the killing of those who reject Islam.
Christians are being slaughtered in great numbers.
All around the globe, people argue over human rights.
But where do our “human rights” come from?
China’s Communist government says only the Communist Party can bestow human rights. In the Muslim world, there seems to be a belief that only adherent to the Quran merit human rights. Apparently, murder and beheading of non-Muslims is acceptable to the Profit.
Yet Christians believe that human rights are bestowed by God. Christianity is rooted in the belief that man has an undeniable spiritual dimension. Many Christians believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within each and every human being — and this spirituality can be increased or minimized by the way each of us lives the Gospel.
As we prepare to welcome in a new year, it is time for us to prepare the way, to evaluate our own spiritual growth and to make resolutions that will bring us closer to God, and the spiritual person God wanted each and every one of us to become.
John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
2. They read and study;
4. They evangelize. AAs call this “Twelve Stepping.” They use their story of recovery and sobriety to assist others in their journey to do the same.