Today's feast celebrates Mary and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the temple, offering him to God. It feels poignant as I write this because very early this morning we took our son to the airport as he left for four months to study in another part of the world. When I read the gospel, I see how much less freedom I have than Mary and Joseph as they offered this gift of their son to the Lord so freely. My instinct in these past few days has been to cling to my son and keep him with me, rather than to let him go as I know I am called to do.
I think that often we forget that family members are not possessions or things we own but gifts we have been given from God. The hardest part for any parent is the lifetime process of "letting go" of our children so that they can discover the world and their part in it, even through their own mistakes. Part of cherishing them is loving them enough to release them from our constant care so they can grow. Mary and Joseph show us the way, surrendering their child to the Lord, in a way releasing him to do what he has been created to do.
Our spouses, too, are not people we own or control, but are gifts in our lives, although we may not always see them that way. Our husbands/wives are a gift from God, a path to our own salvation, even though in our weaker moments we may see them as an obstacle, an adversary or even a threat. In the sacrament of marriage, we are called to offer that spouse up to God with a blessing and ask that we might use that gift and share in that relationship reverently and gratefully.
In our everyday lives, the invitation for us is to present our gifts to God. What gifts have I been given and how have I offered them back to the Lord? It might be easier to say I have no particular gifts but to do that may be nothing more than a self-focused lack of gratitude for what we have been given. It is easy to look around the world and see myself as privileged in so many ways, with an education, freedom and financial resources. Beyond that, I can name as gifts my family, my friends, colleagues and my community.
If I take just a minute and open my hands in prayer, I can pause and reflect on my gifts. It is in the quiet that I begin to name them and quickly the list grows very long. Today I can open my hands to God in gratitude and as I name the many gifts I have been given, I can picture them in my open hands, being offered up to God.
Then, like Anna and Simeon in today's gospel, we can fill our hearts with gratitude for being aware of the many gifts we have been given and the presence of Jesus in our lives.
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