Following is the prepared text from Bishop Olmsted’s homily for Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, February 2, 2020.
“…and suddenly, there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek” (Malachi 3:1).
Today, the Church celebrates the last liturgical feast of the Christmas season. The mystery of God becoming man to accomplish our salvation is so great that the Church provides more than just one day – December 25 – to celebrate it. Down through history, the length of the Christmas season has varied. Best known are the Twelve Days of Christmas, which begins on December 25th and ends on the Feast of the Epiphany. Then, there is the tradition that extends it another week to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today we are honoring the longest of the traditions, the 40th Day of Christmas, the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple.
Four persons help us to understand how the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple reveals the mystery of God becoming man: Mary and Joseph, who bring Jesus to the Temple; and Simeon and Anna, who receive Him in the Temple with joy.
The Temple represents the privileged place of encounter with God. There, Simeon and Anna had, for many years, been “awaiting the consolation of Israel.” They were waiting for God to fulfill His prophecy in Isaiah 40:1, “Console my people, console them, says the Lord.” The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before he had seen the promised Messiah. So, with expectant hope, he patiently awaited that wondrous moment of encounter with Jesus. 40 days after Christmas, it happened! And his hopes were not disappointed. “He took [the Child Jesus] into His arms and blessed God.” Imagine the sparkle in his eyes, the joy in his heart. Those of you who are mothers, remember the first time you held your baby in your arms and looked with joy and wonder at your child. Or you who are fathers, recall that moment when, after months of waiting, your newborn child was placed in your arms, how your heart swelled with amazement at your child, yet also a child of God. Perhaps you felt like Simeon whose heart overflowed with these joyous words: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” All of us who pray the Night Prayer of the Church recite this hymn every night before going to sleep: a perfect way to end the day with praise of God for fulfilling the deepest longings of our heart, that is our longing to encounter Jesus!
At the moment that Mary and Joseph presented the Child Jesus in the Temple, the prophecy of Malachi (Mal 3:1f) was fulfilled, “…suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you desire. Yes, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”
My dear sons and daughters in Christ, our hearts were made to encounter Jesus. Our bodies and souls long for the coming of the Lord. That is why St. Paul says (1 Cor 6:19f), “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…?” Our longing for God, our desire to see His face, our desire to hold Him in our arms—these feelings are not just figments of our imagination. No, God created us this way. “Our hearts are restless ‘til they rest in God,” wrote Augustine. Psalm 84 describes it this way: “My soul is longing and yearning, is yearning for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my soul ring out their joy to God, the living God…” Those words accurately describe Simeon, who trusted God’s promises and waited in hope for the day when suddenly He would come into the Temple and be held in Simeon’s arms. When Simeon looked in the Baby Jesus’ eyes, he was looking on the face of God. Therefore St. John can write in His first Epistle, “See what love the Lord has bestowed on us in letting us be called children of God. Yet that is who we are!”
My sons and daughters in Christ, you and I were made to encounter Jesus, made to hold Him in our arms and receive him in our hands or on our tongue.
On Christmas day, Mary and Joseph gazed with love and adoration at the Child Jesus lying in a manger, and observed with wonder how the shepherds and then the Magi came to see and adore Him. Today, here are Mary and Joseph with the Child Jesus again, not at a manger but in the Temple in Jerusalem. Today, you and I are one with Simeon and Anna, invited to taste and receive our Lord and Savior, present now in the Eucharist under the forms of bread and wine. Today, Psalm 24 urges us to open the gates of our souls to Jesus, “Lift up, O gates your lintels; reach up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may come in!”
If you feel unworthy of His coming, know that Jesus came for sinners, not the self-righteous. Join with all your brothers and sisters, saying, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” When we receive Holy Communion, let us realize with Simeon and Anna that we have just received “a light for revelation to the gentiles and the glory for [His] people Israel.” At the same time, let us not overlook a disturbing dimension of the mystery of the Christ child that Simeon reveals to Mary: “this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.” From the time He was born, Jesus was a sign of contradiction. He was feared by the powerful and scorned by the proud. But He was welcomed with joy by the poor and humble.
Jesus is no less a sign of contradiction today. The 20th century had more Christian martyrs than any previous one: from Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein in Nazi Germany, to Miguel Pro and the Cristeros martyrs in Mexico, not to mention all the courageous martyrs for the faith in Vietnam, Russia and the Middle East. It is impossible to ignore the coming of Jesus because, as St Paul says, “There is no other Name in the entire world by which we can be saved.” We either welcome and believe in Him, like Simeon and Anna; or we are at war with Him like Herod and the Pharisees.
His love is so great that He does not leave unchallenged our sinful habits. He confronts our pride and disturbs every troubled conscience so each person will be converted and live.
Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation “The Gospel of Joy,” writes about what should disturb you and me today. He says (#49), “If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ.” These words have special meaning for us who have the great honor of receiving Jesus today.
In everything we do, may we strive to see the face of Jesus in children, the poor and the stranger. And may we rejoice to encounter Him here in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Forgiveness, Confession. Let us rejoice that Jesus is the light of our lives and of the whole world.