Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
Psalm 24: 7, 8, 9, 10
Luke 2:22-40 (alt., Luke 2:22-32)
Sometimes we struggle to understand how a day’s scripture reading might refer to me or to my life. Nothing "jumps out" at us as we meditatively read over the scripture of the next day, in preparation for our Mass or Liturgy of the Hours. Some days are just like that.
Yet there are other times that we find ourselves being "cuddled" by the scriptures; the examples, whether in the Jewish Scriptures or in the Christian Scriptures, which are used to describe God’s working in and among the people are examples that we can feel, taste, wear, and put our arms around.
Today’s feast of the Presentation of the Lord is like that for me. In Simeon and Anna, I discover memories of my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather; the Gospel narrative brings these two people out of a 50 year old memory-space of my head and puts them squarely in the passages we share today.
Starting with Malachi’s first reading, we are reminded that fidelity is sometimes compromised even in serving our God, and that before fidelity can be restored, the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s lye–refining the precious metals, and "fulling" the newly woven cloth–will be applied as purification and renewal.
"Suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire." In the light of his coming, the struggles and burdens of a lifetime will be lifted, their purpose will have been fulfilled.
My maternal grandfather, "Don Chon" was purified through years of manual and menial work; at various times he collected firewood in New Mexico to sell in Texas; he collected scrap metal in the hope that the market price would give him something with which to feed his three sons and one daughter. As late as 1951, he was driving a horse cart through the neighborhoods of El Paso, Texas, selling fruits and vegetables. His oldest son was killed fighting in New Guinea, a victim of the Second World War. His wife left him to his scrapping in order to pursue the seductively bright lights of Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Yet, he never gave up on his conviction that he was in God’s hands, that he would not buckle under; he would continue to provide for his family until they were "on their way" in life. His sense of fidelity was purified over and over, so that when my grandmother defeatedly came home from Juarez, he welcomed her into his little one-room stone house, with a dirt floor.
My paternal grandmother, "Chanita" was always an anomaly to me as a child (she lived with us until two years before her death when she needed a nursing home’s attention). She was always praying, always dressed in black, and always going to church. However the only people I knew who were always praying, always dressed in black, and always going to church were the Religious Sisters who taught us catechism and taught in the Catholic Schools. I wondered why she hadn’t become a Sister…and I usually tried to hide from her about the time that she would gather us "little ones" for our daily rosary and litany. Her purification came through the years of caring for her oldest child, Julia, who was born with cerebral palsy. My father followed, and she had her hands full since her husband would not stay behind in El Paso, Texas, where good jobs were scarce. He left for California, but she would not leave the only world that she knew, and in which there were family members whom she could call on. She also was tested in the crucible of purifying desperation, but she knew that if she was faithful to God, God would not abandon her, though her husband might.
Whether either my grandfather or my grandmother had ever reflected on the words of today’s second reading, they are words that gave substance to their faith in God, in Divine Providence, and in the purpose of their life-long fidelity to God: "Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters….Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested."
By the time we come to the Gospel reading, my mind sees a hunched-over, shuffling Don Chon in the person of Simeon, and a prayerful, waiting Chanita in the person of Anna. Two patient long-ers for the Lord; faithful in their aspirations; and constant in their "watching" for the Lord/Messiah.
For Simeon and Anna both, there was the symbolic fulfillment of their watching as they recognize in the Divine Child the achievement of their lifetimes. As they welcome the Child, their lives’ purpose is vindicated, and with purified and renewed spirits, they prepare to take their deserved rest.
Let us pray to be faithful watchers, in the face of every refining adversity, and to be confident that God will renew our faith when we most need it.
By the way, Don Chon died in 1970, in El Paso, Texas, six months after his grandson was ordained a Passionist Priest; Chanita died in 1960, at the very hour that her grandson was arriving at Union Station, Los Angeles, California, for a summer break from the Passionist Minor Seminary. "Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine." May they rest in peace.
Fr. Arturo Carrillo is the local leader of the Passionist Community in Houston, Texas.