Psalm 23: 7, 8, 9, 10
Hebrews 2: 14-18
Luke 2: 22-40
“We receive, O God, your mercy, in the midst of your temple” (Ps 47:10). This is the word from Psalm 47 that the liturgy places on our lips and in our hearts today. In the Middle Ages today’s feast was sometimes called Susception Day, from “suscepimus,” the first word of the entrance antiphon. Often translated as, “we receive,” or “we accept,” “suscepimus” has yet another meaning. This other meaning, while crucial to understanding the mystery we celebrate today, is often overlooked. “Suscipere” means to take up a new born child, and so acknowledge it. In ancient Rome a father acknowledged a child as belonging to him by taking the little one into his arms in the presence of witnesses. Knowing this, the entrance antiphon becomes transparent for us, illumined as it is by the word of the Gospel: “Simeon took him into his arms” (Lk 2:28). “We take up into our arms, O God, your Mercy, in the midst of your temple.”
To Cradle Mercy in Our Arms
The one thing that everyone finds irresistible is to hold a baby, even if only for a few moments. Elders are transformed by it. Boys suddenly become tender and girls motherly. Even little children vie for the privilege of holding the newest arrival. As the little one is passed from one person to the next, faces grow bright with awe and delight. A little child has the power to light up a room. The little child we celebrate today has the power to light up the world: “A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Lk 2:32). The entrance antiphon names the Child “Mercy.” Today, it is given us to cradle Mercy in our arms.
Guided by the Infant
An antiphon from today’s Office sings that, “the ancient carried the Infant, but the Infant guided the steps of the ancient.” Simeon, the image of all that in us has grown old with waiting, carries Mercy in his arms, but Mercy, by the light that shines on his face, guides the old man’s steps. If we would be guided by Mercy, we must first receive Mercy, the Mercy of God that comes to us in the outstretched arms of a little Child seeking to be held.
In the Middle of the Temple
The entrance antiphon says that Mercy is given us “in medio templi” — in the middle of the temple. This places the Infant Christ, the human Face of Divine Mercy at the heart of today’s mystery. As in the icon of today’s feast, all of the other figures in the Gospel are seen in relation to the Child. All of the other figures are seen, in fact, in the light of his face. “What can bring us happiness?” they ask. “Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord” (Ps 4:7). “Look towards him,” they say one to another, “and be radiant” (Ps 33:6). Christ is placed in our arms today that we might gaze upon the human face of Divine Mercy and, in the light of that face, be transformed.
Icons of Consecrated Life
On this World Day for Consecrated Life we find in today’s gospel the enduring images of consecrated life inscribed there for us by the Holy Spirit, images full of freshness, vitality, and hope. Standing today with their eyes fixed on the face of the Infant Christ, the Virgin Mother Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna, are, for us, icons of consecrated life.
The Silence of the Virgin Mother
Blessed Mary is completely silent in today’s Gospel. Even when addressed by Simeon, she remains silent. Her silence is an intensity of listening. She is silent so as to take in Simeon’s song of praise, silent so as to capture his mysterious prophecy and hold it in her heart. She is silent because today her eyes say everything, eyes fixed on the face of the Infant Christ, eyes illumined by the brightness of his appearing. She is the bride of the Canticle of whom it is said, “Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil” (Ct 4:1). Consecrated life in all its forms, and monastic life in particular, begins in the silence of Mary and in the light of her eyes, eyes made bright by contemplation of the face of Christ.
The Silence of Saint Joseph
Joseph shares Mary’s silence. Silence is the expression of their communion in a tender and chaste love. Joseph listens with Mary. Saint Joseph is the first to enter deeply into the silence of the Virgin. It is his way of loving. It is his way of trusting her beyond words. The silence of Saint Joseph becomes for all consecrated persons a way of loving, a way of trusting, a way of pushing back the frontiers of hope. Joseph is necessary to the unfolding of the plan. God willed to need him. Saint Joseph’s role, like that of Mary, was not merely incidental, limited by time and space. He stands beside the Church today, silent, listening, tenderly focused on the face of Christ in all his members.
The Old Priest Pointing to the New
Simeon represents the old priesthood disappearing into the light of Christ, our “merciful and faithful high priest before God” (Heb 2:17). Simeon is the old priest pointing to the new. He speaks; he sings his praise; he utters prophecy. Saint Simeon models the vocation of every priest charged in the celebration of the Eucharist with the calling down of the Spirit over altar, bread, wine, and people. Simeon has a particular relationship with the Holy Spirit. Three times in as many verses Saint Luke emphasizes the mystical synergy of Simeon and the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit was upon him. . . .” (Lk 2:25); “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. . . . “ (Lk 2:26); “He came in the Spirit into the temple” (Lk 2:27). In the Spirit, Simeon contemplates the face of the Infant Christ; in the Spirit he raises his voice in prophecy and in thanksgiving.
Anna of the Face of God
Finally, there is Anna the prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel whose name means “Face of God.” Anna has made the temple her home. Abiding day and night in adoration, she emerges from the recesses of the temple only to give thanks to God and speak of the Child. Drawn into the light of the face of Christ she cannot but praise and immediately publish the good news “to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). Anna of the Face of God models the vocation of every consecrated woman called to be at once fully contemplative and fully apostolic. Anna’s encounter with the Infant Christ energizes and rejuvenates her. In some way, Anna is the first apostle sent out by the Spirit. Before Mary Magdalene and before the twelve, Anna announces Christ. She is compelled to speak but does so out of an “adoring silence.” She emerges from her secret place in the temple to publish the long-awaited arrival of Mercy with the light of his Face shining in her eyes.
The Exchange of Mercy
Mercy in the flesh was passed from the arms of Mary and Joseph into the arms of Simeon and, then, undoubtedly into the embrace of holy Anna. The festival of the Presentation celebrates the exchange of Mercy. Mercy given, Mercy embraced, Mercy exchanged. Consecrated life is just that. Now we go to the altar for the Eucharistic fulfillment of the chant placed by the Church on our lips as we crossed the threshold: “O God, we hold mercy in our arms, in the midst of your temple” (Ps 47:10).