February 1, 2014

Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, 2014, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH


Every couple of years I like to read my One Year Bible. This is one of those years. Just this past Friday, I read the following in Exodus 13: “Consecrate to me every firstborn.” Every firstborn animal had to be sacrificed to God. A donkey could be “ransomed” with a sheep; and “Every human firstborn of your sons you must ransom.” Remember that Moses was leading God’s people to Canaan, a land where child sacrifice was not unheard of. God was stating emphatically: DON’T DO THAT!

The “purification” mentioned in the beginning of today’s Gospel refers to the period after childbirth when a woman could not even enter the temple, not because she was in any way “dirty,” but because she had incurred ritual “uncleanness” due to loss of blood. After that time, she would offer a lamb and a turtledove or pigeon; or, if she couldn’t afford a lamb, two turtledoves or pigeons.

These are two different rites in the Old Testament, but by the time of Jesus they seem to have been combined into one.

There are two surprises here, ironies if you will, that are easy to miss. First, Mary, who was full of grace, never tainted by any sin, not even original sin, had to be purified, to go through a ritual of purification. Secondly, Jesus, who came to ransom us, first had to be ransomed himself! The Redeemer had to be redeemed—bought and paid for, so to speak.

Today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews makes it clear that our ransom was paid by Christ, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life... to expiate the sins of the people.”

The consequences in our life of faith are obvious.

First, we need to recognize our need of redemption. The first two of the Twelve Steps of AA offer a good example: acknowledging our “powerlessness;” and “a power greater than ourselves.”

Then, we need to recognize the gift of redemption. The word “amazing” is overworked today, but this is truly the gift we sing of as “Amazing Grace.”

So far so good. But wait! There’s more! Only, we won’t like it. We need to accept purification. This is a sometimes painful process (which is perhaps one of the reasons why people do not avail themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation) Confession or otherwise). It can be a trial by fire, as in the removal of impurities from gold. In this context there is an interesting passage in 1 Peter 1, 6-7: “In this [promise of salvation] you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Simeon in today’s Gospel gave thanks that he had seen the salvation, the savior. Anna spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. Both acknowledged the need and the gift. But Simeon also spoke to Mary about a sword!

When in the Lord’s prayer we say, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are asking not to be put to the test. Yes, it is wise not to count on our own strength. But then again, we don’t have to. As Job says in a very famous text: I know that my Redeemer lives. That’s all the strength we need!

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