The Presentation of Mary
St. Paul of the Cross fostered a special devotion to this feast commemorating an event in the life of Mary. He manifested this by naming his first community residences for both Passionist men religious and Passionist women religious in honor of Mary’s Presentation as a child in the temple, by her devout parents. Paul did this so as to indicate the sense of mission that impelled him to begin the Passionist community, in the first place.
We know his mission orientation was centered on the preaching of Christ Crucified to those in need of appreciating God’s outreach to them. As he often remarked, the Passion was the greatest manifestation of God’s love for us. It is this same notion of God’s care for us that underlies this feast of Mary’s Presentation. Presented to God (in the temple) by her devoted parents, she became a sign and a major instance of all those presentations of God’s presence that can occur in life to open peoples’ eyes to His loving concern for us. This is mission, alerting us to God acting on our behalf.
So when Luke, in the day’s gospel, records the event in which a woman admirer of Jesus praised his mother for bringing Him forth and nourishing Him, to the benefit of so many like herself, Jesus moves beyond that testimony to recognize all those who hear His preaching and follow His direction. In other words, Jesus extends the witness His mother provides, to God’s activity on behalf of the rest of us who cannot bring Him into the world as His mother did through birth and upbringing, but who can imitate that broader witness she provides of hearing God’s word and acting on it-a witness that can engage us all. We see Mary thereby initiating a way of witnessing God to others, that is available to us: not a physical accomplishment, but the way of discipleship . By her presentation Mary is on mission to us, so that we in turn can go out on mission to others by presenting our way of encountering God to them.
A similar message is found in the prophet Zechariah today. He foresees the city of Jerusalem emerging in significance before God, because it so clearly manifests God’s predilection and favor among the peoples of the world. In this way Jerusalem goes out on mission to other places, as they become aware of God’s presence within it. This is very apropos of Mary, in the way she manifests to others God’s favors to her. She is a presentation of God to them in the same way Jerusalem is a presentation of God to others.
Describing In this way Mary’s function in our lives, these scriptural readings open up new avenues for appreciating her capacity to present God to us, and, in the process, they alert us to the fact that, in our own way, we can do much the same thing. For example, we can illustrate for others, from our own enrichment by the word of God, that they too can be similarly favored, and we can also model for others the way we try to center our lives on God. We thereby go out on mission to them, presenting them ways and means of coming to terms with God by their observation of the way we lead our lives. By absorbing the meaning of Mary’s presentation in our lives, we become a facsimile of her presentation, and carry on the mission St. Paul of the Cross that he had in mind by naming two important foundations of his nascent community after the feast of Mary’s Presentation.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.