Friday, February 02, 2007

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
Recognizing the God Who Enters His Temple

Readings: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalms 24:7, 8, 9, 10; Hebrew 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40 or 2:22-32

And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple…

There’s much truth in what someone once wrote: that even the person who knocks on the door of a prostitute is searching for God. Whatever our religious affiliation – even those who might consider themselves atheist – aren’t we all searching for God in some way? Don’t we spend much of our lives building temples to the God for whom we seek? Of course, few of us literally build churches or mosques or other official places of worship. The temples we build are of a different sort. We might think, for example, of our long years of study – often lasting even into adulthood. We might think also of the painstaking efforts we make to nurture that special relationship, or to build up our careers, or to school and tutor our children. Indeed, we could probably continue multiplying the examples… However we do it, we’re all looking for God. We’re all building temples

And yet, for not a few of us, there comes a time when we perhaps get a sense of the apparent futility of all our efforts at construction. Even after we might have built a beautifully sculpted temple, whatever the sort, there seems little we can do to ensure that the God we are seeking will actually come and live there. High-flying careers, a beautiful spouse, and intelligent healthy children cannot guarantee happiness. At some point, if we are lucky, we learn the truth in the words of the psalmist: if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor (Psalm 127).

Which is why today’s feast is such a joyous occasion. What we celebrate is the entrance of the Lord into his Temple. In a sense, God didn’t have to come. God could very well have decided to leave our temples cold and empty. But come he does. And not just into the Temple in Jerusalem but into every nook and cranny of our lives, into the busy offices of our work, into the intimate corners of our homes, into the deepest recesses of our hearts.

But it is of crucial importance for us to consider carefully how this God of ours appears. For who would expect that the almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen, would enter his temple as a helpless infant, carried by a couple presenting the offerings of the poor? Who would find it easy to accept that God would decide to share equally in our blood and flesh, even to accepting death on a cross?

Isn’t this at least one reason why, despite all our efforts at building temples, we often don’t seem to experience the God whom we seek? Could it be that although God is already present in his temple, we do not yet have the eyes to see and the ears to hear him? Isn’t it striking that the two people who do recognize the child Jesus in the Temple have spent long years contemplating his coming? Could it be that through their time of waiting their hearts and minds have gradually been purified – much like the gold and silver mentioned in the first reading – giving them eyes and ears that are attuned to the presence of God, even when God decides to come wearing the distressing disguise of helplessness and poverty?

If all this is true, then perhaps what we need to do, quite apart from building more and more temples, is to cultivate our longing, to beg the Lord, who so graciously enters his temple, to purify our hearts and enable us to better recognize him.

How might we continue to do this today?

1 comment:

  1. The presentation of the LORD in the Temple never fails to remind me of the engaging TV serial of years gone by - Roots, which traced the history of African Americans from the time they were deported as slaves from Africa to the New Land. The lead actor of the series, when his first son was born, held him up to the heavens in some native African ritual to "present" him to the gods.

    The presentation of Jesus in the Temple also kind of pre-figures our Eucharist where God offers Himself to God Himself, the one true, perfect sacrifice of all time.

    The Archdiocese of Singapore is famed for its impressive monumental churches. In a sense, rightly so because it signifies that we spare no effort to show our respect for the Divine. This is the easy part. The difficult part is to build a faith community. At the dedication of the Franciscan Church of St Mary of the Angels in 2004, Friar Steve Bliss, Superior, had this to say: " Now that the building the church is completed, let us start to build the church". Oxy-moronic?

    The building of a faith community is a, well, community effort. It requires the active participation of the least no less than the great. Sadly, there are so many obstacles and divisions in our way: socio-economic status, those who are active/ not active in parish activities, the age gap, etc. May those of us who pray for and look to the building of a strong faith community in St Ignatius' be edified by Anna and Simeon who waited patiently for the Promised One to appear.

    May the Promised One bring to fruition our prayers for the Parish of St Ignatius.

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