On February 2nd, the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, we celebrated the Presentation of Our Lord. This narrative is found only in the Gospel of Luke and since neither Luke, nor any of the apostles or evangelists, were present at this event, the likely source of the account is the Virgin Mary herself. While there can be no greater witness than the Mother of God, it may be inspiring to contemplate the perspective of a shepherd or magi at the Nativity, or that of a young girl at the Temple in Jerusalem forty days later…
Shalom! My name is Paloma. My family sells birds in the Courtyard of the Gentiles and this time, it is my turn to help father. Birds are mostly the offering of the poor. Often families arrive in Jerusalem with so very little.
One such family approaches. The mother bearing in her arms her little one-month-old son. The father buys two turtle doves for only pennies. The sound of the cooing birds accompanies them as they walk to the gate to wait for the priest.
Join me! Let’s attend them…we can ask the father to allow us to carry the little cage containing the birds. Oh no! The door is barred. But the family is not concerned. Perhaps this has happened before. They patiently wait; the mother’s gaze never leaving that of the son she holds.
Suddenly, an old man rushes across the Temple courtyard- as if all that he has desired and searched for his entire life now lies before him. He stops several paces from where the little family waits and watches in joy and awe. His hand reaches to his heart, knowing that fulfillment is near. So slowly he approaches the mother and child. No longer is there a need to run: He’s here!
Knowingly, the mother looks away from the face of her beautiful son to that of the wise man. She slowly extends her arms, offering her child to him, without reserve or hesitation- her eyes fixed on his. We wonder how she can do this. Does she know this man enough to trust him with her tiny treasure? He takes the child from her so tenderly- truly it must be the greatest gift he will ever be given- and looking upward to heaven proclaims to all who will listen about God’s graciousness. The mother and father look from the old man, to their son, then finally to each other in amazement.
We are little and confused. What is the meaning of the words he speaks? We realize there is great rejoicing- the father almost drops the tiny cage
holding the turtle doves. But no one else in the busy courtyard pays the least attention. We shout, “He is here, come and see”, but our little voices don’t rise above the sounds of the animals and pilgrims and coins.
The old man has stopped talking…he knows more. The child’s mother has noticed that the prophet has now fixed his eyes on her. “What is it?” her eyes plead. There is something he does not want to tell her, but as a prophet, he knows men’s hearts. Still holding the infant, he tells her that her son –the Messiah- was sent by God into the world to be a servant- a servant who will suffer greatly. And the mother cannot be separated from the mission of her son. In acceptance of God’s will, she kneels and places her hands across her heart. Remaining silent, she gently draws her child to herself…as if it is the last time.
Wait…maybe someone did hear us! A very old woman slowly approaches. We have seen her here often. Come to think of it, we cannot remember a time when she was not here in the Temple. Her head -as always- is bowed as she makes her way with perseverance across the courtyard. So lost in her prayer is she, that one time she was almost knocked over by a runaway lamb.
Now she, who has lived in quiet contemplation, overflows in praise and thanksgiving to God who sent the world this child in fulfillment of His promise. People are starting to listen! They gather around to hear the testimonials of these two new prophets, Simeon and Anna.
No one notices that the priest has come out to receive the offerings of the parents which seem to be so much more than the two doves. The mother purified, the son consecrated, the prescriptions of the Law fulfilled.
The family quietly leaves the Temple- unnoticed- to return home.
We don’t understand all that was said. So much joy mixed with so much sorrow. Maybe the old man and woman can tell us more tomorrow. Maybe we can meet the mother and her son again. Our Law prescribes sacrifice. Perhaps the Law will once again bring them to the Temple.
Terese Horlocker composed this reflection in the style of the Spiritual Exercises, where one of the principal forms of prayer is reflection on scenes from the Gospels. Terese contemplated Mary’s heart at the Presentation to gain understanding of her own joy and sacrifice in the handing over to God her daughter, Kate (now Sister Agnes Pia of the Holy Eucharist)…dwelling on the words, “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).