Friday, February 7, 2014

Homily for the Presentation of the Lord

Redde Altissimo Vota Tua[1]

Homily for the Solemn Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Parish of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (Union Street)
Rev. Michael Taylor

And I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me.
And though I live now in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God,
who loved me, and delivered himself for me.[2]

            The feast of the presentation of the Lord is a powerful feast. There are so many different things to contemplate in this feast. First, we need to talk about the temple and the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was the most sacred vessel to the people of Israel. The ark of the covenant held the ten commandments which the Lord God had carved into stone in the presence of Moses when Moses had gone up the mountain for forty days and forty nights.[3] These stone tablets were placed within a tabernacle, on which were carved two golden cherubim,[4] for just as the cherubim sat in the presence of God in heaven, so these would stand in the presence of God amidst his people.
            The tabernacle could only be held by the priests, men who were of the tribe of Levi. It was the Ark of the Covenant that split the waters of the river Jordan,[5] allowing the people of Israel to pass into the Promised Land after their forty years in the wilderness. It was the Ark of the Covenant that went before the people of Israel when they went to conquer the walls of Jericho.[6] There was no temple for the Ark originally, rather, it was a specially designed tent that served to shelter the Ark from the elements. It was in that tent where the young Samuel would hear the voice of God calling him.[7] It was so holy that to even touch the wooden beams used to carry it, would cause death. There is the story of King David trying to bring the ark of the covenant into the city of Jerusalem, when one of the soldiers, named Uz’zah, escorting it, when reaching out to steady it, was struck dead.[8] They figured God must be a bit touchy, so they left the Ark in the plains of Kiryat Ye’arim, about eleven to twelve miles from Jerusalem.
It would be left to King Solomon, son of David, to build an actual temple for the Ark of the Covenant around the year 957 BC. When the Babylonians captured Jerusalem around the year 597 BC they looted the temple, destroyed it, and the Ark of the Covenant was lost forever. A second temple would be built around 513 by Nehemiah but it lacked the Ark of the Covenant. So you have to understand that the people of Israel, when Herod built the third temple, felt this emptiness, this feeling that the sign of the covenant had been lost because of their idolatry. The prophets though foretold a time when a descendent of David would reestablish God’s presence, as the prophet Ezekiel foretold; I [the Lord] will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them; he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken. I will make with them a covenant of peace...[9]
So now imagine all the things that are unfolding. First, let us take a step back from today’s feast. Tradition held that the Mary was brought up in Jerusalem, which is how she would have first come to know Zechariah and Elizabeth who lived in the nearby town of Ein Kerem. The tradition holds that Mary’s parents, Anne and Ioachim had been so grateful to be given a child in their old age, that they dedicated Mary to service at the temple. As the tradition speculates, Zechariah, showed his cousin Mary around the temple. So now remember the Ark of the Covenant had been lost, but here is the new ark of the covenant, the one to whom the angel of the Lord will one day announce that she is to carry the Son of the Most High within her. The Ark of the Covenant has returned to the temple! And now today, the new Ark of the Covenant returns to the temple carrying within her arms the Word of God made flesh. Can you now see why Simeon cried out, Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, accordint to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen the salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel? [10]
Still, what does it mean that Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple? First, I bring to your attention this consideration; you know how some people will say “I can just talk to God at home, why do I have to go to Church?” Well, Mary and Joseph could literally and in every sense of the term, talk to God at home and they still went to the temple. Why? Because responsibility and community. First responsibility. What does it mean to be dedicated to God? Pope Francis the other day mentioned, “Christ needs disciples not admirers.” What a profound statement. It’s easy to admire Christ. There are many teachings that are easily admirable. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; [11] blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of God; [12] and The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach good news to the poor.[13] It’s easy to admire the miracles and healings that Jesus carried out. Yet admiring Christ is not what Jesus calls us to do. He calls us to be his disciples, and that means accepting the hard things too; be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect; [14] if you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven- and then come follow me; [15] if any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. [16] Indeed we are told that he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal [17] and if any man will follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.[18]
Now let’s talk about community. In Exodus, it tells that each child must be dedicated to the Lord,[19] and in Deuteronomy we read the great Shema Prayer, Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart; and thy shalt tell them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising.[20] So you see, being dedicated was not just an act of faith, it was a presenting of a child to the people of Israel. It’s one of the reasons that we baptize infants, because in addition to the forgiveness of sins,[21] the remission of punishment and the creation of the child of God,[22] a child is also being brought into the People of God,[23] which is the Church. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Baptism is the sacrament of faith.[24] But the faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop. The catechumen or the godparent is asked; ‘What do you ask of God’s Church?’ the response is ‘faith!’” [25]
So when we talk about the community of believers, we are talking about the Church. To quote Pope Francis again, because he’s awesome, just the other day in his homily he stated, “It is an absurd dichotomy to love Christ without the Church; to listen to Christ, but not the Church.” [26] Now this at first seems a startling statement. Yet when we think about it, it makes perfect sense. It was Holy Mother Church which gathered the scriptures into the Bible. It was Holy Mother Church who through the preaching of the Apostles and their successors, the Bishops, who preached the gospel of Christ from the first days. It is the Church who throughout the ages has administered the Sacraments of Christ; baptism, anointing of the sick, Eucharist, Confession. We would not know of Christ were it not for the community of believers, the Church. When we say “I’m Catholic, but I disagree with this” or “I’m Catholic but I think that this teaching needs to change” you are being an admirer of Christ, not a disciple. Pope Francis said, “A person who is not humble cannot hear along with the Church. They hear only what she likes, what he likes.” [27] Let us pray for humility so that we might be responsible to our community, and in so doing, can help bring the Light of Christ into the world.

[1] Psalm 49(50).14: Pay thy vows to the Most High
[2] Galatians 2.20
[3] cf. Deuteronomy 10.2: And I [the Lord] will write on the tables the words that were in them, which thou brokest [when Moses had discovered the people of Israel worshipping the golden calf], and thou shalt put them in the ark.
[4] cf. Exodus 25.18-22
[5] cf. Joshua 3.14-17
[6] cf. Joshua 6.4
[7] I Samuel 3.3ff
[8] II Samuel 6.6-7
[9] Ezekiel 34.23-25a
[10] Luke 2.29-32
[11] Matthew 7.12
[12] Matthew 5.9
[13] Luke 4.18
[14] Matthew 5.48
[15] Matthew 19.21
[16] Luke 14.26
[17] John 12.25
[18] Mark 8.34
[19] Exodus 13.1-2
[20] Deuteronomy 6.4-7
[21] Catechism of the Catholic Church §§1263-1264
[22] Catechism of the Catholic Church §§1265-1266
[23] Catechism of the Catholic Church §§1267-1270
[24] cf. Mark 16.16
[25] Catechism of the Catholic Church §1253
[26] Homily for 30JAN2014.
[27] Ibid.

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