Since we celebrated our Lord’s birthday on Christmas, and will celebrate His circumcision on the eighth day of His life on January 1st, today’s Gospel may seem a bit out of place, as it refers to His presentation in the Temple on the fortieth day of His life. We will celebrate it again on February 2nd, but let me explain what we heard in today’s Gospel.
The Temple in Jerusalem was very unique. Every Jewish town had its synagogue, where people went for prayer and scripture reading—but only Jerusalem had God’s Temple. It was literally the house of God on earth—in a small area surrounded with a veil, was the Ark of the Covenant, upon which God placed Himself. The veiled area—called the “Holy of Holies” was off limits to all but the High Priest, who could enter but once a year. Outside and in front of the Holy of Holies was an altar upon which various sacrifices were offered to God—animals, incense, and hot loaves of fine wheaten bread.
Since pregnancy was associated with blood-flow, a woman was considered ritually “unclean” until the fortieth day after the birth of a male child (eighty for females), at which time she was to present the child in the Temple and offer a lamb and a dove in sacrifice to God, and she would be declared to have been purified. If she were too poor to afford a lamb, she could offer two doves.
Of course, Mary was in no need of any purification, but as she and Joseph were devout Jews, the followed the Law of Moses in all details. For us, they were examples of faithfully observing all of God’s laws. While they were at the Temple with Jesus they met the two people mentioned in today’s Gospel. The first was an old man who had been promised by God that he would live however long it took for him to meet the Savior of mankind. Apparently, Simeon was constantly in the Temple, waiting for a sign that the infant Savior was being presented by his parents. Simeon took the baby Jesus into his arms, and declared his willingness to die since he had seen the Savior:
Now Lord, Thou mayest dismiss Thy servant, in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast set before all the nations. A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.
Mary and Joseph also met Anna, a widow and prophetess “who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day.”
While it is not explicit that Anna or Simeon actually lived in the Temple—which may not have been possible—it is quite clear that both spent their waking hours with God in His holy house, adoring the Divine Presence and witnessing the sacrifices offered to Him. If Mary and Joseph are proposed to us as models of obedience to God’s most holy laws, then, along with Anna and Simeon, they are all models of devotion to Almighty God Himself.
We are all required to observe God’s holy Law, yet few of us may be able to express the devotion of Mary, Joseph, Anna, and Simeon. As parents, Mary and Joseph were constantly concerned for the wellbeing of the young Son of God—putting a roof over His head, putting food on the table, cooking, cleaning, and sewing for Him, practicing His lessons, and even teaching Him how to pray. Their love of God was expressed primarily in practical ways.
Anna and Simeon seem to have expressed their love of God in a more contemplative way—with prayer and fasting, and nearly continuous presence before God in the Holy of Holies. Understand that God was truly there! What they were doing was marvelously similar to the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament conducted in some monasteries and convents.
Mary, Joseph, Anna, and Simeon are a wonderful example of what it takes to be a generous Catholic. Like Mary and Joseph, we must look after the practical needs of our Lord in our parish church—keeping a roof over it, cleaning, sewing, ironing—caring for all of the physical needs of the place, the altar, and the vestments—there are always things to be done.
But a Catholic church, much like the Temple in Jerusalem, is the House of God. Our Holy of Holies is the tabernacle right behind the altar of sacrifice. One can come and worship the Divine Presence. Every day one can witness the sacrifice offered to God in Holy Mass—not an animal sacrifice, of course—for our chief priest and victim is Jesus Christ Himself. The human priest is simply a conduit for the divine sacrificial action.
This is the last Sunday of the old year. Let me urge you to spend the new year getting to be more generous with your talents and time. Get to be more like Mary, Joseph, Anna, and Simeon—strive to be both more active and more contemplative in the practice of your Catholic Faith.
 Gospel: Luke ii:33-40 http://www.drbo.org/x/d?b=drl&bk=49&ch=2&l=33-#x
 Leviticus xii http://www.drbo.org/drl/chapter/03012.htm
 Luke ii:26 ff. http://www.drbo.org/x/d?b=drl&bk=49&ch=2&l=26-#x
 Luke ii: 29-32 http://www.drbo.org/x/d?b=drl&bk=49&ch=2&l=29-#x