Presentation of Mary in the Temple
1 Samuel 3:1-10
This liturgical memorial, with somewhat ambivalent origins in the bible, and a corresponding modest place in our liturgy, was nonetheless near and dear to St. Paul of the Cross. He named his first community residence (or retreat) in honor of Mary’s Presentation in the Temple as a baby girl, and did the same for the first residence of the Passionist Nuns. The former was built on Monte Argentario, the latter in Tarquinia.
This memorial occurs just a day before the anniversary of Paul’s own dedication of himself to the work of God, symbolized by his being vested/clothed in the Passionist garb, or religious habit. This is the heart of what we celebrate today: dedication. And it’s an initiative that is a response to an earlier initiative on the part of God, both in the life of Paul (while still a young man), as well as in the early life of Mary, and equally so in the youth of the prophet-to-be, Samuel. All three of these persons have in common the experience of a special call.
This occurred to Paul as he walked the streets of his hometown, Castellazzo, and suddenly received an inspiration (or call) from God; it happened to Mary in the privacy of her home in Nazareth as the angel Gabriel conveyed a message to her (a call); it interrupted the heavy sleep of Samuel in the temple in Jerusalem (in the form of several calls from God).
Each of these occurrences was unexpected and abrupt; each occurred in relatively private circumstances; each initiated a new enterprise or venture: Samuel was to discover and anoint the greatest king of Israel (David); Mary was to bring the Savior of the World into our midst; Paul was to begin new religious communities.
And each of these advanced the work of God on earth: consolidating the kingdom of Israel; establishing the definitive manifestation of God among us; enriching the church with a community to remind us of the blessings brought by Christ’s death on the cross.
We are the beneficiaries of these events. We certainly have had nothing to do with their emergence here on earth; we are merely recipients of what they mean. But, in this capacity, we are on the same playing field as Samuel, Mary and Paul, who likewise were simply recipients of God’s favors and gifts. But each of these occurrences alerts us to the likely possibility that we too have a call from God, to note the benefits God has bestowed on us, and to see if we are using them to advance His work from our vantage point. Samuel, Mary and Paul worked "out of their homes", so to speak, whether they were temple, home, or monastery. Each of us too has a vantage point from which to hear God’s call, to explore its meaning, and to do God’s work-from home.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.