Feast of the Presentation of Mary
The Aussies and Americans are quite similar, in a number of ways, but not in all ways. For instance, the Aussies are fond of the British, whom they call The Pommies, in a way involving both admiration and ridicule. Americans usually tend to express only our admiration of the English. And the Aussies have a hard time understanding what we Americans celebrate and admire, since we tend to tout our successes and victories, while they tend to extol their failures and defeats. They argue that it takes no backbone or strength of character to bask in success, but it does call for strength to pride oneself on one’s defeats and losses, which they are known to do.
Today we celebrate the Presentation of Mary in the temple by her parents, Joachim and Anne. There is little historical testimony to support this devotional memory, and yet it has retained a modest place on the church’s calendar over the years. The Passionists themselves have cherished this practice as quite compatible with the kind of piety that would have characterized the household into which Mary was born. It’s a devotion in keeping with the spirit of our Australian friends who don’t need a victory in order to celebrate an achievement worthy of admiration.
So our Founder, Paul of the Cross, named his very first monastery The Presentation of Mary in the Temple. He may well have done this on the basis of his ardent hope that this first foundation of the small Passionist community would grow and augment and increase in its membership. This hope is in conformity with the biblical readings suggested for today since they speak of this very thing: growth and expansion.
As we listen to the prophet Zechariah today we hear an expansion theme in his words about “many nations” binding themselves to the Lord, and about the Lord inheriting Judah as his portion of the holy land: a growth and enlargement motif. And this is in harmony with the incident in the life of Jesus when, on the occasion of His addressing a large crowd, someone called His attention to the presence of His mother and brothers standing nearby, wishing to speak with Him. And He too picks up on the expansion theme by observing that whoever does the will of His heavenly Father is His brother, sister and mother.
So it’s all a matter of vision and foresight. The Presentation of Mary in the Temple was an idea appealing to Paul of the Cross because it spoke to the expansionist potential Paul saw in his first foundation of The Presentation on Monte Argentaro. It was in keeping with the wonder surrounding Mary herself who became a mother in a totally new and different way. Only an early dedication of her by her parents to God’s plan for her could set the stage suitably for the wonderful things about to happen, thanks to her.
Maybe the Aussies are better situated than we are to appreciate unforeseen dimensions of the potential in our life situations.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Community in Louisville, Kentucky.