The Presentation of Mary in the Temple
This feastday celebrates the occasion of Mary being presented to God in the temple, by her parents, Joachim and Anna. The historical record of this event is not found in the bible, since the protocol surrounding this religious ceremony centered on a male child rather than a female child. This doesn’t necessarily mean a girl-baby could not be presented to God, but simply that a boy-baby should be presented in the temple, according to a ritual then in use. Given the kind of parents Mary was privileged to have, in Joachim and Anna, it is likely that such parents would have sought to offer their daughter to God in this manner. But the historical accuracy is not to the fore in this celebration, but rather the devotion of St. Paul of the Cross, who named the first monasteries of both the Passionist men and the Passionist women in honor of the Presentation of Mary.
We get the gist of this devotion from our biblical readings today. The first reading unfolds the history of the Jewish prophet Samuel, beginning in the temple in Jerusalem, when Samuel was a young apprentice, so to speak, of the priest of the temple, Eli, an old man at this point in time. We learn of Samuel’s encounter with the Lord, occurring in the temple where both of them were living at the time. One night Samuel was awakened three times by a voice calling him, and the lad ran to the old priest in response to this call he heard. It was only on the third call that Eli realized this was the voice of God calling this young apprentice of his, and so he instructed the youngster to reply: “Speak, I am listening.”
This incident stands at the heart of the spirituality associated with this feastday of the Presentation of Mary. It is one of reverential openness to whatever God might be asking, and this, in turn, would resonate with the spirituality of St. Paul of the Cross, whose openness of attitude toward God’s will in his regard carried Paul through some trying moments as he at times struggled to get his new community (the Passionists) established, and on their way. It was not an easy task for him, but he eventually prevailed. It was his sense of God’s presence to him through thick and thin that enabled him to get his new community of the Passionists underway.
And much the same interaction occurred in the life of Jesus on the occasion that He entered the town of Jericho, and encountered Zacchaeus, “a chief tax collector and a wealthy man”. Unlike the young Samuel, Zacchaeus made an opportunity for himself to meet the Lord, by climbing a tree lining the road down which Jesus was passing, for Zacchaeus was a short man. Whereas Samuel was feeling his way along a new venture for himself, Zacchaeus exuded a considerable amount of self-confidence and jumped at the opportunity to wine and dine Jesus at his own house. And while the young Samuel had to observe his Ps and Qs in ascertaining the next step to take in dealing with the Lord, Zacchaeus was taking the initiative to cement his relationship with Jesus by showing how he was going to improve his style of life, gaining thereby Jesus’ very encouraging approval: “Today salvation has come to this house…”
So this feast of the Presentation of Mary to the Lord speaks to those who are open to any overtures God makes in their lives, as the young Samuel showed, and also to those who initiate opportunities to meet the Lord in ways that they themselves develop. The Presentation of Mary offers us the opportunity to see how God operates in our lives, so as to respond to them.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Community in Louisville, Kentucky.