Earlier today (Sunday February 1st) the Religious based in our diocese joined with Bishop Brendan and a number of our Diocesan Priests to celebrate Evening Prayer for the Vigil of The Presentation in the Temple. It was a very pleasant gathering and was intended to highlight the ministry of the Religious in our diocese. Sisters of the Mercy Order, St Louis Community, Ursulines, Marists, St John of God and one priest of the Holy Cross order were in attendance. Each Community brought forward a symbol associated with the Religous Community and spoke about the particular charism of the order. Each spoke too about what gives joy in the living of the Religious Vocation. Bishop Brendan read and spoke around the Gospel Passage of the Presentation in the Temple
HOMILY: [Gospel: The Presentation in the Temple (Lk 2:22-40)]
Simeon was ‘righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him…’
Anna ‘was of great age…a widow…84 years of age; she never left the Temple, but worshipped there with prayer and fasting night and day…’
When Mary and Joseph brought their infant to present him to the Lord in the Temple, they met an elderly man and an elderly woman, Simeon and Anna. She was a widow of 84 years of age, and about Simeon, we know ‘it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death till he had seen the Lord’s Messiah’, and when he had seen the child Jesus, he exclaimed ‘Now Master you may dismiss your servant in peace…’ so we presume he too was well on in years, preparing for death.
They clearly were very ordinary people, truly belonging to God’s Anawim: simple living, poor and utterly trusting in God, their lives centred on the Temple, the house of God. Anna ‘never left the Temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day’. Two people, utterly open to God, therefore wise and prophetic. What a climax to a life, what a maturity! Wilfrid Harrington says of Simeon: ‘There are still Simeons (and we can say also Annas) in our midst – many more, indeed, than we might think. They are not demonstrative people and do not get involved in controversy; they form no pressure group. Their piety is unobtrusive, but it is very real. They can live with sloppy liturgy and gimmickry because they can see beyond it. They can bear patiently and charitably with the foibles and failings of clergy. They can adapt to change. Though largely unnoticed, they form the backbone of a community. And the Holy Spirit works in them and through them’. (The Drama of Christ’s Coming’. 1988. Dominican Publications). Simeon foresaw what the infant, and his mother Mary, would go through: Anna we are told ‘told of the Infant to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem’. Having met the Word of God incarnate, she spoke of him to others, shared what she had seen and recognised (her heart, in other words). A missionary without going beyond those she met – or came to see her.
These two old people had come to know the truth: they found it incarnate in the tiny child and we can taste most of all in this story their profound joy. Simeon – ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, according to your promise…my eyes have seen your salvation…for all nations…the light to enlighten all people…the glory of the people who believe’…
And Anna…praising God and speaking about the child to all who had ears and hopes…!
Two old people left in a state of absolute joy… what a gift they must have been to their community, and to the whole world since then down to ourselves today…
There are great temptations as we grow old and are not able to keep up with things, to give in to the critical, our questions are more persistent, our hopes bruised by what we see or can’t see… the seeming non-future of the consecrated life we chose with such youthful enthusiasm and ideals.
That’s why this Year from Pope Francis for Consecrated Life is such a surprise…Powerful affirmation that Consecrated Life is as central to the Church of the 21st Century as in any other, as foundational for the future of the Body of Christ as are Simeon and Anna to the story of Jesus from the beginning.
The Holy Father asks us to celebrate this year of Consecrated Life by looking at the past with gratitude, by living the present with passion, and by embracing the future with hope. It’s all about attitude, a way of looking at things, the constant and ever new call of Jesus to conversion. What is clear from his message for this year, but also from so many of his utterances, is that Pope Francis wants us most of all to check ourselves honestly against these standards. If I look on the past with gratitude, then I will be free to live the present with passion (happy now with all I can’t, as much as in the seeming little I can, do. – ‘for when I am weak, then I am strong’, as St Paul said. And finally I will then look to the future with hope…
What the Holy Father gives us is a recipe for joy. ‘Where there are Religious’, the Holy Father says ‘there is joy’. And its true. There was joy in preparing this little evening with you, and there is joy in your presence here today. That joy is sourced on choices made in youth, in the fidelity and repentance that you have practiced in lives of total service.
‘It is not by proselytising that the church grows, but by attraction’ the Pope says in Evangelium Gaudii, and ‘our effectiveness lies in the eloquence of our lives’
Let me end with a witness to the truth of that statement, and to the power for the Gospel we acquire in old age and when weakness takes pride of place in our lives:
David Neuhaus is a Jesuit priest in Israel. Last year he spoke at the Knock Novena. This week last year he was with the Bishops for our Retreat in Knock. He’s a wonderful scholar of the Old and New Testaments, and priest for the Hebrew speaking Catholic Community in Israel. He is also a Jew, whose family fled the Holocaust and was brought up in S Africa. At the age of 15 he was sent to Jerusalem to receive the best possible Jewish education. I’ll let him speak for himself
Father Neuhaus: I arrived in Israel at the age of 15 with a passion for history, and went off in search of a Russian princess who I knew had moved to Jerusalem. I was a Jewish adolescent and the scion of the Russian Empire I met, Mother Barbara, was almost 90, a Russian Orthodox nun for more than 50 years.
We spent hours together, talking about the last days of the Russian Empire, the revolution and its aftermath. In the course of our conversations, I noticed that this very old and frail lady shone with joy. I found that very strange as she was almost completely bedridden, confined to a small room in a convent and the only prospect she was facing was death.
One day, I plucked up the courage and asked her: Why are you so joyful? She knew I was a Jew and she was hesitant at first, but then as she began to speak of the great love in her life, the words came tumbling out and she became ever more radiant. She told me about Jesus Christ, about God’s love expressed in him, about her life of joy with him in the convent.
I was struck and know today that in her radiant joy I saw the face of Jesus for the first time.
The rest is history, we might say.
But what a history. And what a history we have here today. And the power of the Consecrated life you have chosen and lived is more powerful now potentially for the Church and the people of God in Achonry and the world than at any time before.
More than that, on this first day of Spring, Lá Fhéile Bríde, your continuing faithful living of the call of this moment of your existence as Consecrated people is planting tiny mustard seeds in the soil of God’s good earth that will bear fruit we know not in times when we are long forgotten.