6. Lumen ad revelationem gentium!
May Mary, who was prompt in obedience, courageous in poverty and receptive in fruitful virginity as she fulfilled the Father’s will, obtain from Jesus that “all who have received the gift of following him in the consecrated life may be enabled to bear witness to that gift by their transfigured lives, as they joyfully make their way with all their brothers and sisters towards our heavenly homeland and the light that will never grow dim” (Vita consecrata, n. 112).
Praised be Jesus Christ!
FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE
HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL II
Tuesday, 2 February 1999
1. "A light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32).
The Gospel passage we have just heard, taken from St Luke's account, recalls the event that took place in Jerusalem on the 40th day after the birth of Jesus: his presentation in the temple. This is one of the occasions when the liturgical season reflects historical time: today, in fact, 40 days have passed since 25 December, the Solemnity of the Lord's Birth.
This fact is not without significance. It means that the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple creates a sort of "hinge" which separates and joins the initial phase of his life on earth, his birth, and its fulfilment, which is his death and resurrection. Today we leave the Christmas season behind and move towards the season of Lent, which begins in 15 days with Ash Wednesday.
The prophetic words spoken by the aged Simeon shed light on the mission of the Child brought to the temple by his parents: "Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against ... that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35). To Mary Simeon said: "And a sword will pierce through your own soul also" (Luke 2:35). The hymns of Bethlehem have now faded and the cross of Golgotha can already be glimpsed; this happens in the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered. The event we are commemorating today is thus a bridge as it were, linking the two most important seasons of the Church's year.
2. The second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, offers an interesting commentary on this event. The author makes an observation which leads us to reflect: commenting on Christ's priesthood, he points out how the Son of God "is concerned ... with the descendants of Abraham" (2:16). Abraham is the father of believers, so all believers are in someway included in this phrase "descendants of Abraham" for whom the Child, in Mary's arms, is presented in the temple. The event that occurs before the eyes of those few privileged witnesses is an early prediction of the sacrifice of the Cross.
The biblical text states that the Son of God, in solidarity with mankind, shares their condition of weakness and frailty to the end, that is, until his death, in order to bring about a radical liberation of humanity by once and for all defeating the adversary, the devil, whose power over human beings and every creature lies in death itself (cf. Hebrews 2:14-15).
With this wonderful synthesis, the inspired author expresses the whole truth about the world's redemption. He highlights the importance of the priestly sacrifice of Christ, who "had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17).
Precisely because it shows the profound link uniting the mystery of the Incarnation with that of the Redemption, the Letter to the Hebrews is an appropriate commentary on the liturgical event we are celebrating today. It highlights Christ's redemptive mission, in which the whole People of the New Covenant take part.
Dear consecrated persons who fill the Vatican Basilica and whom I greet with great affection, you share in this mission in a particular way. This Feast of the Presentation is in a special way your feast: in fact, we are celebrating the Third Day for Consecrated Life.
3. I am grateful to Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, who is presiding at this Eucharist. Through him, I greet and thank those who in Rome and throughout the world are working at the service of consecrated life.
At this time my thoughts turn with special affection to all consecrated persons in every part of the world: they are the men and women who have chosen to follow Christ in a radical way, in poverty, chastity and obedience. I am thinking of the hospitals, the schools, the recreation centres where they work with total dedication to the service of their brethren for the sake of God's kingdom. I am thinking of the thousands of monasteries in which communion with God is lived in an intense rhythm of prayer and work. I am thinking of the consecrated lay persons, discreet witnesses in the world, and of so many who are in the front lines among the poor and the marginalized.
How can we not remember here the men and women religious who, even recently, have shed their blood while performing an apostolic service that was often difficult and uncomfortable? Faithful to their spiritual and charitable mission, they offered their lives in union with Christ's sacrifice for the salvation of humanity. Today, the Church's prayer is dedicated to every consecrated person, but especially to them. She gives thanks for the gift of this vocation and ardently invokes it: indeed, consecrated persons make a crucial contribution to the work of evangelization, bringing to it the prophetic power which comes from the radicalness of their evangelical choice.
4. The Church lives on event and mystery. Today she draws life from the event of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, seeking to understand the mystery it holds. In a way, though, the Church draws each day from this event in Christ's life, meditating on its spiritual meaning. In fact, every evening the elderly Simeon's words which have just been proclaimed echo in churches and monasteries, chapels and homes throughout the world:
"Lord, now let your servant depart 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" (Luke 2:29-32).
So prayed Simeon, who in his old age had been granted to see the promises of the Old Covenant fulfilled. So prays the Church, which, sparing no effort, does all she can to bring the gift of the New Covenant to all peoples.
In the mysterious encounter between Simeon and Mary, the Old and New Testaments are joined. Together the ageing prophet and the young mother give thanks for this Light which has kept the darkness from prevailing. It is the Light which shines in the heart of human life: Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the world, "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of his people Israel".
HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER
JUBILEE OF CONSECRATED LIFE
Wednesday, 2 February 2000
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
1. "There was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.... And there was a prophetess Anna" (Luke 2: 25-26, 36).
These two figures, Simeon and Anna, witnessed the presentation of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem. The Evangelist stresses that each of them, in his or her way, is a precursor of the event. Both express the longing for the Messiah's coming. Both in some way bear within them the mystery of the temple in Jerusalem. Thus they are both present there - in a way that can be called providential - when Jesus' parents take him to the temple, 40 days after his birth, to offer him to the Lord.
Simeon and Anna represent the expectation of all Israel. It is granted to them to meet the One whom the prophets had foretold for centuries. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the two elderly people see the long-awaited Messiah in the Child that Mary and Joseph have brought to the temple as prescribed by the law of the Lord.
Simeon's words have a prophetic tone: the old man looks at the past and foretells the future.
He says: "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for mine 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" (Luke 2: 29-32). Simeon expresses the fulfilment of the expectation that was his reason for living. The same thing occurs with the prophetess Anna, who rejoices at the sight of the Child and speaks of him "to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2: 38).
2. Every year a vast throng of consecrated persons assembles at the Tomb of Peter for today's liturgical feast. Today, this throng has become a multitude, because consecrated persons have come here from every part of the world. Dear brothers and sisters, today you are celebrating your Jubilee, the Jubilee of Consecrated Life. I welcome you with the Gospel embrace of peace!
I greet the men and women Superiors of the various congregations and institutes, and I greet all of you, dear brothers and sisters, who have wished to experience the Jubilee by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door in the Patriarchal Vatican Basilica. In you I see all your brothers and sisters throughout the world: my affectionate greeting also goes to them.
Assembled at the Tomb of the Prince of the Apostles in this Jubilee Year, you wish to express with special emphasis the deep bond that links consecrated life to the Successor of Peter. You are here to place upon the altar of the Lord the hopes and problems of your respective institutes. In the spirit of the Jubilee, you give thanks to God for the good he has wrought and, at the same time, you ask his forgiveness for the failings that may have marked the life of your religious families. You are asking yourselves at the beginning of a new millennium about the most effective ways to contribute, while respecting your foundational charism, to the new evangelization by reaching out to the many people who still do not know Christ. With this in mind, your fervent prayer rises to the Lord of the harvest that he will awaken in the hearts of many young men and women the desire to give themselves totally to the cause of Christ and the Gospel.
I gladly join in your prayer. Having been a pilgrim in so many parts of the world, I have been able to appreciate the prophetic value of your presence for all Christian people. Men and women of this generation have a great need to meet the Lord and his liberating message of salvation. On this occasion I am also pleased to note the example of generous Gospel dedication offered by your countless brothers and sisters, who often work in difficult situations. In Christ's name they devote themselves unreservedly to serving the poor, the outcast and the lowly.
Many of them, even in recent years, have paid with the supreme witness of blood for their choice of fidelity to Christ and to man, without surrender or compromise. They deserve the tribute of our admiration and gratitude!
3. Jesus' presentation in the temple sheds particular light on the choice you have made, dear brothers and sisters. Do you too not live the mystery of the expectation of Christ's coming, expressed and as it were personified by Simeon and Anna? Do not your vows express with particular intensity that expectation of meeting the Messiah which these elderly Israelites cherished in their hearts? Old Testament figures standing on the threshold of the New, they reveal an inner attitude that is never out-of-date. You have made it your own, as you look with expectation for the second coming of the Bridegroom.
Eschatological witness is part of your vocation. The vows of poverty, obedience and chastity for the kingdom of God are a message that you proclaim to the world about man's ultimate destiny. It is a valuable message: "Those who vigilantly await the fulfilment of Christ's promises are able to bring hope to their brothers and sisters who are often discouraged and pessimistic about the future" (Vita consecrata, n. 27).
4. "It had been revealed to him by the Spirit" (Luke 2: 26). What the Evangelist said of Simeon can easily be applied to you whom the Spirit leads towards a special experience of Christ. By the renewing power of his love, he wants to make you effective witnesses to conversion, penance and new life.
To have your heart, affections, interests and feelings centred on Jesus is the most important aspect of the gift that the Spirit works within you. He conforms you to the chaste, poor and obedient Jesus. And the evangelical counsels, far from being an impoverishing renunciation, are a choice that frees a person for a fuller realization of his potential.
Dear brothers and sisters, make your praise resound in the Church with humility and constancy, and the hymn of your life will echo deeply in the heart of the world.
5. The joyful experience of meeting Jesus, the exultation and praise which flow from the heart, cannot remain hidden. The service given to the Gospel by institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, in the variety of forms which the Holy Spirit has stirred up in the Church, is always born of an experience of love and a living encounter with Christ. It arises from sharing his efforts and his ceaseless offering to the Father.
Invited to leave everything to follow Christ, you, consecrated men and women, no longer define your life by family, by profession or by earthly interests, and you choose the Lord as your only identifying mark. Thus you acquire a new family identity. The divine Teacher's words apply particularly to you: "Here are my mother and my brethren" (cf. Mark 3: 35). The invitation to renunciation, as you know well, is not meant to leave you "without a family" but to make you the first and distinctive members of the "new family", a witness and prophetic example for all whom God wishes to call and bring into his house.
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9 February 2014