Grace: To imitate the patience, humility, and forgetfulness of self exhibited in the saints who follow Christ.
Text for Prayer: Luke 2: 22-38
Reflection: Many of you who read this blog may be interested in the Spiritual Exercises because you know the Exercises to be a powerful tool for discernment, for discovering God’s will for your life. Today’s meditation is on the mystery of Our Lady’s purification and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. I think it is a wonderful mystery for helping us to discover the disposition that will allow us to listen to the Lord’s voice and discover His will for our lives: namely one of humility, patience, and self-effacement.
Let’s begin with humility. We note that at this point Mary’s life, she has already completed a major part of her mission: she has said Yes to the angel and has become the Mother of God by bringing the Christ child into the world. What is she to do next? What more does her mission require of her? First, we should consider that Mary does not for an instant become puffed up but remains thoroughly humble (cf. 1 Cor 4:18). She remains humble even to the point of submitting to the purification requirements of the Mosaic Law which held that women were ritually unclean in the week following childbirth (Leviticus 12). Obviously Mary had no need for purification being herself conceived without sin and conceiving Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, but she nevertheless chose to obey the Law, a true mark of her humility before the Lord.
Next, we have the self-effacement of Mary and Joseph who present Jesus to the Temple for his “redemption” according to the Law. We might expect that when God’s very Son is presented in God’s own Temple it would be a spectacular event. We might expect choirs of angels, bright lights, maybe even a few trumpet flourishes. But what we see in this mystery is precisely the opposite. We encounter here a mystery that is the very essence of hiddenness, intimacy, and effacement. First, let us note the poverty of the Holy Family. They offer two birds for Jesus rather than a lamb, thus making the offering of poor people. Furthermore, as Mary and Joseph go to the Temple, they go in complete anonymity. They do not expect anyone at all to take notice of them; they expect no special treatment whatsoever. Rather, they go in a poor, lowly, and quiet way and are thus taken by surprise when holy Simeon and Anna recognize the child through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, let us consider the patience exhibited by Simeon and Anna. St. Luke tells us that Simeon was righteous and devout and that it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not taste death before seeing the Messiah. How many years had this old man waited in patience and prayer, carrying out his religious duties with silent fidelity? Luke tells us that there was also a widow in the Temple, also of great age, who waited on the Lord day and night with prayer and fasting. Such patience is one of the most Christian of virtues because it is another way of saying, “Lord, thy will be done.” It is a way of allowing things to happen according to God’s timetable and His good pleasure rather than demanding that things happen when and how we think they should.
We can draw a few conclusions from all of this. First, being humble and lowly helps us in discernment because it helps us to listen. St. Paul says that there is a kind of knowledge that puffs up. When we get puffed up we assume a know-it-all spiritual attitude which makes it hard for us to hear anything besides what we want to hear and what we already know is right. In the previous meditation on the nativity, St. Ignatius recommends that the person making the exercise imagine himself in the scene by making himself “a poor and unworthy slave” serving Mary and Joseph. Humbling ourselves in this way is good advice for the spiritual life as well.
Secondly, good discernment usually requires patience. In some cases, God’s call will strike like a lightening bolt and the individual called will know precisely and immediately what he/she has to do. More often, however, discernment, especially vocational discernment, is a process of slow, patient growth.
Thirdly, we can learn from this meditation, that when we are are striving to know God’s will, it is important to listen to other people. Notice the way that Simeon’s prophecy helps to further Mary’s discernment and open up her mission. When he tells her that, “a sword will pierce your own soul also,” she doesn’t dismiss his words but ponders them in her heart. These words will help her to make sense of her latter mission as she accompanies Jesus to the Cross and even beyond, as the Church forms around her and, with her, awaits in prayerful anticipation the descent of the Holy Spirit.
In a similar way, we can look for signs of God’s will in the words of people in our lives—especially the Simeons and Annas. Has anyone ever told you that you have certain talents that could be used in the Lord’s service? Perhaps someone suggested that you pursue graduate studies in a particular field or maybe someone commented that you have qualities that would make for a good priest or sister or contemplative or mother. Rather than pass over these words, we should ponder them in our hearts and, like Mary, prayerfully discern if the Lord might be using such words to open new vistas in our mission and lead us in the way He desires for us to go.
Questions: When I think about how I should serve the Lord do I think about the good I can do to please Him or do I aim to be great in a way that puffs up my own ego? Who are people I know who exhibit the virtues of humility, patience, and self-effacement like Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna? How might God be speaking to me the way that He spoke to Mary through the prophet Simeon? Have I received any advice or feedback that I should consider in my on-going discernment of God’s will?