This evening we celebrate a feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary near and dear to the Society of San Sulpice and to this Seminary, namely, the Feast of Mary’s Presentation in the Temple. And it is a beautiful feast which illumines our Christian imagination: that wonderful and grace-filled moment when Saints Joachim and Anne presented their daughter Mary in the Temple.
The joy of this feast reminds us of the joy that parents experience when they present their children for the Sacrament of Baptism. When I baptize babies, I often imagine that their good and faithful parents experience something of that wonderment Joachim and Anne must have felt when they brought Mary to Temple to dedicate her life to the Lord. Nonetheless, the Presentation of Mary in the Temple was a wholly unique moment in the history of God’s saving plan for the world. Let us remind ourselves why Mary’s Presentation is exceptional.
Full of Grace
Joachim and Anne, Mary’s parents, were part of a remnant of God’s People who looked forward with eager anticipation to the coming of the Messiah. Their hope and trust in God’s promises of deliverance were undimmed by the catastrophes that befell the people of Israel – whether it was exile, or the desecration of the Temple, or suppression and conquest by foreign powers. Through it all, the faith of this holy remnant—far from fading— grew ever more vibrant and ever more expectant.
So, while every faithful parent sees the hope and joy of God’s love shining on the faces of their precious children, I would wager that, when Joachim and Anne beheld the pure and beautiful face of their daughter Mary, they experienced a wonder and awe they could neither describe nor explain. What deep thoughts and emotions must have filled their hearts as they entrusted her completely to the Lord, the God of Israel! Could they have sensed deep-down that their daughter was already “full of grace”? Could they have sensed she would play a special role in salvation history?
Blessed Are We
Blessed are we because we see what Joachim and Anne longed to see and we hear what they longed to hear. To us has been given knowledge of things Mary’s parents could only anticipate, for by faith we celebrate the unique vocation to which their daughter was called. In turn, their fidelity in waiting for the Lord, in hoping against hope, inspires us to believe, to hope, and to trust more deeply in all God has promised.
Mary, like other children, was presented in the Temple when she was about three years old but hers was no ordinary Presentation. To echo the Prophet Zechariah, Mary entered as the Daughter of Zion and her coming to the Temple signaled that the time was at hand for God to ‘stir from his heavenly dwelling’ and to be present to humanity in a new and unimaginable way: the Eternal Son would take upon himself our human nature in Mary’s womb. The Word would become flesh and dwell among us. He would come to preach, heal, suffer, die and rise – for us and for our salvation. And so, in God’s providential design, Mary arrived at the Temple as the blessed and chosen daughter who would herself become a temple, a dwelling place, a tabernacle for the Lord of Hosts.
Joachim and Anne could indeed only wonder what lay in store for their daughter, but we can draw two insights (among many others) from today’s feast: first is that Mary would find her vocation within the loving home, the domestic church, if you will, that Joachim and Anne prepared for her. And second, is that our faith in Christ helps us understand Mary’s unique vocation and in turn Mary’s unwavering faith and dedication to God’s saving will illumine our faith in Christ (CCC № 487).
Mary and Us
Mary, of course, not only gave birth to Christ our Savior, but also, she was his first and greatest disciple. She pondered the living Word of God and was shaped by the Word as none other. She lived the Beatitudes even before her Son preached them. She shared in the Sacrifice of the Cross more fully than anyone else. She prayed with the disciples as the Church came to birth in the Holy Spirit, and she now shares, body and soul, in the Risen Life of her Son Jesus, the blessed fruit of her womb.
None of us has been given Mary’s unique vocation and none of us has been accorded her singular and God-given privileges – but all of us are called to be those disciples ‘who hear the Word of God and keep it.’ What could this mean for you and me except a daily process of surrendering ourselves, moment by moment, to the saving will of God? Father Jean Jacques Olier, who chose this as his seminary’s principal feast, mediates at length on how Mary, moment by moment abandoned herself to God in a quite complete and absolute way – such that Jesus could live in her – “Jesus living in Mary…” Thus did her soul magnify the Lord! Thus did she share completely in his teaching and in his saving mission.
Mary’s abandonment to God’s will should prompt and inspire us in the Holy Spirit to seek, moment by moment, to abandon ourselves to God’s will – whether at prayer, at study, interacting with one another, or engaging in ministry remembering that fidelity in small things is key to fidelity in larger matters (Lk 16:10). Friends, we present ourselves to the Lord by seeking, not our will, but the will of the heavenly Father, in things both great and small. This is our way of saying to Jesus: “Come and live in your servants!” Come and live in us! As we become steadily more attuned and dedicated to the will of God. then our hearts too become more and more a fit temple for the Lord. This is how our souls magnify the Lord! This is how we become disciples who share in the Lord’s mission of mercy.
St. John Paul II’s motto was “totus tuus” by which he expressed simultaneously his praise of Mary’s pure and total dedication to God and his life-long prayer that he be purified and dedicated wholly to God’s will. As Mary’s Presentation in the Temple unfolds before our eyes of faith, the priests who serve here at St. Mary’s will renew the promises of priestly service which they made on the day of their ordination. As they do so, may we all utter, in the spirit of Fr. Olier, our own “totus tuus” – so that we, like Mary, may do the will of our heavenly Father.
“O Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in Your servants. In the spirit of Your holiness, in the fullness of Your might, in the truth of Your virtues, in the perfection of Your ways, in the communion of Your mysteries. Come and subdue every hostile power in your Spirit for the glory of the Father. Amen.