Presentation of the Lord and Consecrated Life
We rejoice today on this Solemnity of the Presentation of the Lord. As you know, today is also the World Day for Consecrated Life, an annual celebration instituted by Pope Saint John Paul II back in 1997. Today is the 19th anniversary of this Day of Consecrated Life. What an appropriate day for this first group of young women to enter the novitiate of a religious Order! We gather today to celebrate this Vespers with them as they begin the spiritual journey of the novitiate, a time of grace-filled discernment of the call to the consecrated life. They do not profess vows today. Instead, they enter an intense period of discernment of whether the Lord is giving them the gift of consecrated life. It is a time of preparation to make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. But we must remember that prior to one’s own efforts to live a consecrated life, to live the vows, one must first receive the call and gift of the Lord. We should never forget that, before being a commitment on your part, the consecrated life is a gift from on high, an initiative of God the Father. So the most important question to ponder as novices is this: is the Father calling you to place yourselves in the footsteps of Christ in this particular way of following Him, by means of assuming the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience? If the answer is yes, then there is a second question: is He calling you to the charism of this specific Order or to another charism in the Church’s rich variety of charisms within the state of consecrated life? I thank you for being open to the possibility that the Lord is calling you to the consecrated life and to this particular Order. I am grateful you are open to the Holy Spirit. May God’s will become clear to you in this coming year!
Pope Saint John Paul II chose February 2nd as the annual Day for Consecrated Life because it is the Solemnity of the Presentation of the Lord. Why this connection? There are four connections that come to my mind when I think about consecrated life and its relationship to the mystery of the Presentation. Others may have other reflections, but here are your poor bishop’s 4 reflections:
The act itself of presenting Jesus in the temple. What was this action? Mary and Joseph were following the Law. Saint Luke explains that they did what is written in the Law of the Lord: “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord.” In the book of Exodus, we read God saying: “Consecrate to me every firstborn that opens the womb among the Israelites, both of man and beast, for it belongs to me.” That’s what consecration means: to belong to the Lord! Later, the prophet Nehemiah would speak of the firstborn sons and animals being brought to the temple. So at the Presentation, Jesus is presented to the Father and consecrated to Him. The word “consecrated” means made holy. It means set apart as belonging to God and dedicated to His service. I think this is probably why Saint John Paul II chose this feast to be the Day of consecrated Life. Our consecration to God happened at our Baptism, to be sure. The consecration that the Church is celebrating throughout the world today is what John Paul called “a special and fruitful deepening of the consecration received in Baptism.” Those called to the consecrated life are called to life a life of celibacy or virginity, the renunciation of possessions, and obedience to a superior. These are special gifts from God that are not given to everybody. So there is a special gift of the Holy Spirit given to one who is called to the consecrated life so that he or she can respond to this vocation and mission. Consecrated men and women make their own the way of life practiced personally by Jesus. There is a special conformity to the chaste, poor, and obedient Christ. There is a special belonging to God, a special form of consecration to live fully for the Lord with an undivided heart. And it is a special path to holiness through a regular regimen of prayer. And it involves a fidelity to the charism of the community. The charism is to lead the consecrated person to belong totally to God.
The second connection I wish to point out between the mystery of the Presentation and the consecrated life is the theme of light. Today is Candlemas Day, the day candles are blessed. This tradition arose from the words of Simeon at the Presentation. He described the Child Jesus who he held in his arms as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.” Jesus is the Incarnate Word who came to dispel the darkness of the world with the light of God’s love. What is the consecrated life meant to be but a reflection of the light of Christ! Recall the analogy of the Fathers of the Church when they speak of the Church as the moon, the mysterium lunae (the mystery of the moon) which doesn’t reflect its own light. It reflects the light of the sun. Pope Francis uses this image a lot. The Church doesn’t reflect its own light. It reflects the light of Christ. This applies in a very special way to men and women in the consecrated life who are called to burn with the light of Christ and to make it radiant with their lives, so that the brightness of Jesus may shine everywhere. Yours is to be a radical witness to Christ. Your life to be a radiant reflection of God’s goodness and beauty.
A third connection I see between the mystery of the Presentation and the consecrated life also pertains to some other words of Simon. He said to Mary: “Behold this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.” Professing and living the evangelical counsels makes you a sign of contradiction in this world. A life devoted to following Christ in his poverty, chastity and obedience is to be a prophetic witness in the world to the primacy of God, to the radicalness of the Gospel. The Church needs your counter-cultural witness. Jesus is the sign of contradiction. You are to reflect that sign, to reflect Jesus, by your poverty lived in a culture of materialism and consumerism. You are to reflect that sign, Jesus, by your chastity lived in a culture of hedonism and sexual license and promiscuity. You are to reflect that sign, Jesus, by your obedience in a culture that exalts individualism, self-determination, and unfettered freedom lived as doing what one pleases. The consecrated life, faithfully lived out, is a sign of contradiction in the world today.
The fourth connection I see between the mystery of the Presentation and the consecrated life has to do with Mary, the perfect model of consecration, who, with Joseph, presented the Child Jesus in the Temple-- specifically, the words addressed to her by Simeon: “you yourself a sword will pierce.” Mary would suffer with her Son, pained to the very core of her being. A sword would pierce her heart when she stood at the foot of the cross. Her sorrow was deeper than we can imagine. Simeon foretold it. The Blessed Virgin Mary said fiat at the annunciation and she said fiat at the crucifixion. She said yes to the Incarnation and to the Redemption. She cooperated fully in her Son’s mission. Her heart was one with the heart of her Son and, like His, was pierced by love. She suffered with Jesus. It’s important not to have any illusions about the consecrated life. If one’s consecration is lived with fidelity, it will include suffering, participation like Mary in the cross of Christ. The good news is that that cross is victorious. Jesus rose from the dead, the victory of the resurrection, and the triumph of light over darkness, of grace over sin, of life over death. That is the joy of the Gospel and the joy of the consecrated life, but it is a joy that necessarily passes through participation in the cross of Christ. This is what happened to Mary. She was Our lady of Sorrows who later was filled with the joy of the resurrection. Your special consecration to Mary Immaculate is a call to entrust to her your sorrows and your joys. She is at your side in all the sorrows and joys of life with her motherly love and care.
This homily has been long. Sorry about that! I’ll conclude now with a word to our sisters about to become novices. It’s a word from our reading this evening from the letter to the Hebrews. I repeat to you the words of counsel that we heard. After affirming that we have a merciful and compassionate high priest, Jesus who is in heaven, the author says: “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and to find help in time of need.” I can’t think of better advice for you, sisters. May you have this confidence! What a great comfort for you as you begin your novitiate. You are approaching with great trust the throne of grace, Jesus, His Cross, His Heart, His presence in the Eucharist. His love is so great and beautiful that it deserves everything, all our sacrifices and more. So come close to Him every day. Approach His throne of grace for your every need and in any time of trouble or temptation. Allow yourselves to experience deeply God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness so that you can carry His love to others. The novitiate is a special time to be with the Lord. May Our Lady of the Presentation intercede for you!
Bishop Kevin Rhoades, February 25, 2015