The Presentation of the Lord and the Year of Consecrated Life
Traditionally a celebration of the consecrated life, the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation forms an especially meaningful moment in the Year of Consecrated Life proclaimed by the Holy Father (November 2014-February 2016). Pope Francis has invited religious and laity alike to cultivate a deep gratitude for a state of life which uniquely displays the work of God’s grace. Just as reverence for the priesthood and religious life are, according to St Josemaria, unmistakable signs of love for God’s Church, so such veneration also shows a fuller appreciation for what God’s grace can do in the lives of otherwise weak sinners (cf. The Way, no. 526).
What He does with us is not unlike raising the dead or fashioning a new creature or giving children to a barren woman. In the Pauline expression, a “new man” is made from the old one, and common sinners become living and breathing images of Christ (Eph 4:24). St Augustine goes so far as to say that the justification (or sanctification) of the unjust is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth, because although heaven and earth will pass away, the saints will endure.
AN UNDIVIDED HEART
This lifetime work of renewal is essentially the call of every Christian, but our vocation is rendered unique by the directness of our bond with Christ. It is the undivided heart that sets consecrated persons apart (cf. 1 Cor 7:32-35).
Jesus enters our lives as He did those of the Apostles and draws our love not by compulsion, but by attraction. In making an all-or-nothing proposal to follow Him, the Lord appeals to the noble need of the human heart to give all—and at the same time, presents Himself as the only One wholly worthy of that love. St Josemaria quotes a song sung among soldiers that reflects this basic human need: “I have no use for divided hearts; and if I give mine, I give it whole” (cf. The Way, no. 145).
Everyone can see their future branch out into two different directions: What I could be if I follow my own dreams, and What I could be if I follow Christ. In the first path, we think we know what we can expect; in the second, we must be prepared for anything. But the real moment of vocational insight dawns when we see Christ at the meeting point of our aspirations for love and happiness and His call to follow. They are not at odds. Jesus asks us not to renounce the fulfillment of our desires but to enlarge them: “I will run the way of thy commandments, since thou didst enlarge my heart” (Ps 118:32). Having enlarged our capacity for love, we can understand His strictness in counting us unworthy of Him if we do not prefer His love to that of family, friends, and even life itself (cf. Lk 14:26).
FISHERS OF MEN
The Apostles initially didn’t even know where Jesus lived, much less where their lives would end up. But in the moment of their calling, all they knew or needed to know was Jesus. His voice, His words, His mercy were enough to justify their abandonment of everything that made them recognizable to themselves as Simon, James, John, and the rest. They could see, if only imperfectly, that the invitation to leave behind their ragged nets was really a call to fish with nets as large as the world.
Had these fishermen refused to be made into fishers of men, then they would have remained fishermen. It’s that simple for everyone. If Jesus looks in your direction and you excuse yourself, then He leaves you as He found you. It’s good to be a fisherman, but if the Lord points His finger down another road, then we must choose: Can we abandon something good for something better—something sure and familiar for the mysterious pull of grace into the unknown?
The Lord’s Presentation shows in a concrete way how God’s call and human dreams and expectations meet in Jesus. Between the elated heart of Simeon and the pierced heart of Mary, there is the One who justifies all human waiting, suffering, and love (Lk 2:22-38).
The heart of the scene is certainly the Lord Himself. All attention, affection, expectation, and wonder is focused on the Light of the World. But the holy ones who surround Him all have in common a total gift of self. They have given everything to be there, both their past and future. In Simeon and Anna, two full lifetimes have been irretrievably spent in expectation of their long-awaited Christ. They have lived in hope, and one moment of contact with Him is enough to justify a lifetime of waiting.
A GIFT, WHOLE AND ENTIRE
For the Lord’s Mother, a foreboding prophecy of a pierced heart casts a shadow headlong into her future—something akin to the prophecy pronounced over Simon Peter, as the Lord alluded to the kind of death by which he would glorify God (cf. Jn 21:18-19). In either case we are once again face-to-face with a vocation that demands all the human heart can give. Not only are we called to give each passing moment to God, but also to accept in advance whatever His will might bring in the future. With such a range of possibilities before us, we recognize that a divided heart can’t move forward; only a heart totally given over to Christ can run on ahead in the way of His commands, with Him as the sole guiding light.
Whole and entire is the only way for religious to give themselves. You can’t retrieve as lost what has been given as a gift, nor can gifts be reappraised as loans at some future date. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” says the Apostle, without any trace of nostalgia (Phil 3:8). We tend to lose things by accident, but Jesus commands us to give our lives by losing them in a very deliberate way.
In point 420 of The Way, St Josemaria writes ironically: “How little a life is to offer to God!” On our end, the offering of our lives seems big to us, our hearts seem such a difficult thing to hand over in faith—it’s all we have. Yet in God’s eyes, there is no comparison between what we have to offer and what He has to give. Only next to Jesus can we appreciate that, whatever our “nets” might be, they are not worth clinging to. When we have left behind the things we thought we needed to be happy, then the transforming grace of Christ can begin to direct our steps in the way of true life.
Whereas in the world we might amass a whole network of needs that don’t lead us to God, Jesus tells us: You have only one need. And the secret of consecrated life is not adding to it, but fanning that one need into a larger and hotter flame each day. “One thing is necessary,” and it is Jesus Himself (Lk 10:42). Our Lady and St Joseph, Simeon and Anna, show us that He is the One worth living for, the One worth all of our love, the only One whose claim on our hearts can bring to fulfillment the Love that has been promised us in the moment when He walks into our lives with the invitation: Follow me.