30 January 2014

'They brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord . . .' Sunday Reflections, Presentation of the Lord

The Presentation of the Lord, as a Feast of the Lord, takes precedence over the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel: Luke 2:22-40 [or 2:22-32] (New Revised Standard Version, CatholicEdition, Canada) 

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,  Simeon took him 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.”

[And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, 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.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.]

The late Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-Hwan, Archbishop of Seoul, with a young friend. The cardinal's paternal grandparents were sentenced to death during the last persecution of Catholics in Korea, in 1869. His grandfather was killed but the persecutors spared his grandmother because she was pregnant. The child in her womb was the Cardinal's father.

[Cover of Misyon, November-December 2007]
After patiently waiting for some years Renante and Christine Uy, from Bacolod City, Philippines, were finally blessed with Kiefer Thomas, their first born. They have been active members of Couples for Christ for many years and have continued with the movement in Thailand where they now live.

Three or four years ago while celebrating Sunday Mass in St Brigid's Parish, Blanchardstown, just north-west of Dublin city, where my brother and his wife live, I saw a young couple coming in at the back of the church a few minutes after Mass had begun. I smiled inwardly when I realised they were Filipinos. But then they came right up to the front pew and I was really touched to see the husband/father carrying their little child.

In the video of the Presentation in the Temple, produced by 'Rosary Priest' Fr Patrick Peyton's Family Theater, it is St Joseph who carries Jesus. St Luke doesn't specify this. But he does tell us that Simeon took him in his arms. The photo of the late Cardinal Kim above evokes this scene for me. What fills me with awe is the fact that his grandmother was spared by the persecutors in 1869 because she was pregnant, while his grandfather wasn't.

In Jewish law the man who named a child was considered his legal father. When I was a child I always heard St Joseph spoken of as the foster-father of Jesus. But St Matthew tells us: Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins' (Matt1:19-21). 

You are to name him Jesus means that St Joseph is being called by God to be a true father to the Son of his wife Mary. And the Church honours St Joseph above all as the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And it is through Joseph, son of David being his legal father that Jesus is of the line of David as God had promised.

Pope Francis has spoken a number of times about the faith of one of his grandmothers and how she helped to form him. The God-fearing mother, facing all kinds of adversity as she brings up her children in the faith has become almost a cliché. I don't mean any disrespect whatever to such mothers or to any mothers. But the emphasis on the role of the mother and grandmother in the raising of children in the faith tends, I think, to take away from the equally important role of the father and of the grandfather.

When I was a small child it was my father who brought me to Sunday Mass while my mother would stay at home with my brother, three years younger, when he was an infant. She would go to another Mass. I saw my father, who spent his working life on building (construction) sites, where he was a highly respected general foreman, get up very early every morning, go to Mass, come home and prepare my mother's breakfast and bring it to her in bed. (For many breakfast in bed is a treat. I hate the idea!) I saw how deeply he respected my mother, even when they had disagreements, never raising his voice to her or to anyone else, including us his two sons. I saw the same when I worked with him on a building site the summer before I was ordained. He never raised his voice there either and he never swore. He led by example and the men had profound respect for him. Some of those told me how great a mentor he was when they were still young and learning their trade. He had been blessed in a similar way when he started as an apprentice carpenter at 15.

My father taught me how to swim and how to ride a bicycle, letting go when he judged that I could go solo. I can still recall the joy in each instance when I realised that I was indeed going solo.

As I said above, St Luke doesn't specify that it was St Joseph who carried Jesus into the Temple. But the director of the video of the Presentation gives us an insight into the role of St Joseph. He was, as her husband, to be the protector of Mary and of her Son and he was, as his legal father, to be the mentor/teacher of Jesus in how to grow into manhood and in how to be a carpenter.

There is one telling scene when Simeon reaches out to take Jesus in his arms. Joseph doesn't hand him over without looking at Mary and getting her approval. As I grew older I could see that my parents made important decisions together such as which school they should send us to.

Rembrandt, c.1627 [Web Gallery of Art]

Simeon and Anna show us the importance of older persons in the lives of young parents and of children. When we are children the most significant older persons are our grandparents. Each Sunday morning my father would bring us to meet our grandfather who was widowed a couple of days after my brother was born. And I saw my maternal grandmother, widowed when I was less than two, very often. When I was in secondary school I often dropped into our parish church on my way home in the afternoon. There were always old people, including my grandfather, praying silently in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I sometimes dropped into other churches and would find the same.

There are many things we can reflect on as we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord. But for me it stirs up once again immense gratitude to God for my late father and an appreciation of the great responsibility that the vocation to be a husband/father carries, something, I think, that we as Church need to emphasise more.

The young Filipino husband/father carrying his child right up to the front of the church in Dublin, even though he and his wife were a little late, reminded me of the wonder of that vocation. And when we were choosing a photo of the Uy Family for the cover of Misyon I simply had to go for the one above.

Nunc dimittis (Canticle of Simeon)
Setting by Palestrina, sung by The Tallis Scholars.

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace:
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel (Luke 2:29-32, Latin Vulgate).

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 (NRSVCE).


You will find music for the Feast of the Presentation on The God Who Sings on ABC Classic FM (Australia). The programme will be broadcast on Sunday night and will be available online for some weeks after that.

Happy Lunar New Year
I have friends from China, Korea and Vietnam all of whom, along with the people of Mongolia, where I have friends too, and of Tibet celebrate the Lunar New Year on 31 January. Happy New Year to all who are celebrating this festival, which continues for a number of days. 

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