Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary ...........................................................................Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer
Today we celebrate the Memorial of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple when she was a little girl. It is a Memorial - an optional celebration - rather than a Feast, I suspect, because this celebration is not based upon an event described in Scripture, but upon something described in several other first century writings. This memorial was on and off the liturgical calendar in the West and became strong in the East.
The story behind the celebration is that Mary was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem at an early age to live there for her growing up years, to be prepared for her eventual role as the mother of our Savior. It is perfectly understandable, given the respect we have for the mother of Jesus, and the deep sense that God would certainly want to prepare her for this important mission. In this sense, the celebration is full of theological meaning. Since we are given no historical information about Mary's life before the Annunciation, we can let our faith inform our imaginations and try to reflect today on what Mary's childhood and faith preparation might have been like. And, we can ask ourselves how we can turn to Mary and ask her to prepare us for our mission.
Last night, returning from a wonderful a talk on campus, I met a law student who deeply impressed me. She was preparing to go on a trip which our Law School annually takes to the Dominican Republic. She was really on fire with a desire to let this trip open her heart more deeply to God's love and to what God wanted to give her in this encounter with the poor she would meet in the Dominican Republic. She told me that she had previous experiences which helped her know that it is precisely in times of vulnerability that God's grace can work powerfully. She said that she looked forward to being stretched on this trip and to experiencing being "out of my area of strength and competence," in order to allow her to trust in God more deeply and to have the experience of learning from the poor about how to turn to God in need.
This is a very special young woman, but not unlike many students we have here who have been transformed by experiences of immersion among those who are on the margins of society - those who grieve, those deprived of dignity and opportunity, those who are abused or victims of unjust social structures. They are being formed - as we promise - to be women and men for and with others.
As I prayed with this memorial and the readings for this day in Ordinary Time, I saw the strong contrast. King Antiochus is in grief and sorrow because he had given his life over to greed and lust for riches. He had become horriby violent and unjust in the process. In the gospel, Jesus is being attacked by religious zealots who are convinced that this compassionate, loving, mercify, inclusive Teacher can not be from God. They'll use any manipulative theological trap to try to destroy Jesus.
I picture young Mary being like one of our students, whose heart has been lit on fire. Mary was unique among all creation because she had received the fruits of redemption, from the moment of her own conception. So, she was full of grace and very free. But, I imagine that her preparation to raise Jesus to become who he was, didn't happen by years of studying in the Temple. I picture her growing up in Nazareth under the care of loving parents who exposed her to the suffering of life and helped her to love and forgive, to have compassion and empathy, to be generous and to find grace in the midst of suffering. One day, this young Mary would respond to Gabriel:
One day, a young Mary, like the student I met last night, would help her Son come to love being with the poor. She would help him know the power of vulnerability. She would teach him to place his life in his Father's hands, for us and for our salvation. It's a beautiful day to pray:
"Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."
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