Feast of the Presentation 2021
Mass in Celebration of the Consecrated Life
St. John’s Cathedral
This time last year we could never have imagined we were heading into a pandemic. Normally, we heard about pandemics in history or for some of you in missionary lands, you came across them there. But little did you expect to be living through one in Ireland.
It hasn’t been an easy year with isolation, restriction and lockdown the order of the day. Fear and uncertainty, suspense and a certain sameness have characterised our days. What we are going through is, of course, part of a world event. Worldwide we are experiencing an hour of truth, as Pope Francis calls it. We find ourselves at the school of Covid the Teacher.
But today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, a day when we celebrate the world day for consecrated life. We thank God for the gift of consecrated life represented by many of you from religious orders and communities linked to this celebration. Thank you for your prayers, your patience, your silent endurance during this year that hasn’t been easy for you either. And members of some of the congregations left us for the next life. We remember them with gratitude for their lives and entrusting them to God’s mercy.
In this year’s celebration, we can draw out three words from our liturgy to guide us in a time of Covid.
The act of consecration. Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to consecrate him to the Lord. It’s an invitation to us to consecrate this unusual year and all the ways we have been living it to the Lord. We all contain something of the baby Jesus in our own lives – our personal union with God, the presence of Jesus in the community that we are part of, the Jesus in our neighbour that we have prayed for or helped practically, the Jesus who has calmed storms in our lives, the Jesus in those who are suffering that we know about in our communities, our neighbourhood, our world, the Jesus in creation. Let’s recall those various “Jesus-us” and consecrate them today to the Lord.
“For my eyes have seen your salvation”. Simeon recognises Jesus and Anna too gave thanks to God. They had never given up on hope and hope did not disappoint them. They kept hope alive and they encountered Jesus. During a time of pandemic we can be tempted to get a little down, and memories of the past can arise that trouble us. I want to read what Pope Francis said at last year’s celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord: “These are the words we repeat each evening at Night Prayer. With them, we bring our day to an end, saying: “Lord, my salvation comes from you, my hands are not empty, but are full of your grace”. Knowing how to see grace is the starting point. Looking back, rereading one’s own history and seeing there God’s faithful gift: not only in life’s grand moments, but also in our fragility and weakness, in our insignificance. The tempter, the devil focuses on our “poverty”, our empty hands: “In all these years you haven’t got any better, you haven’t achieved what you could have, they haven’t let you do what you were meant to do, you haven’t always been faithful, you are not capable…”and so on. Each of us knows this story and these words very well. We see this is true in part, and so we go back to thoughts and feelings that disorient us. Thus we risk losing our bearings, the gratuitous love of God. For God loves us always, and gives himself to us, even in our poverty. Saint Jerome offered much to the Lord and the Lord asked for more. He said to the Lord: “But Lord, I have given you everything, everything, what else is lacking?” “Your sins, your poverty, offer me your poverty”. When we keep our gaze fixed on him, we open ourselves to his forgiveness that renews us, and we are reassured by his faithfulness. We can ask ourselves today: “To whom do I turn my gaze: to the Lord, or to myself?” Whoever experiences God’s grace above all else can discover the antidote to distrust and to looking at things in a worldly way.”
A third word from today’s liturgy is that uttered by Simeon to Mary “And a sword will pierce your soul”. It was like an annunciation of the Cross to her. She had responded so generously to the Lord’s call with her “here am I, I am the handmaid of the Lord” and had gone out so generously to Elizabeth in charity. But today, her journey continues, she hears this new Annunciation: bringing Jesus into the world will involve the Cross. Maybe we can reflect back on those moments in our lives when we had such moments of annunciation, realising what our dedication in consecrated life would cost us. And thank God for the grace of having responded to that and remained faithful to that. We can recognise that this Covid is one of those moments of Cross but in living it with love, patience, hope it can be fruitful.
So these are three words for us today: consecrate the Jesus in our lives to God; keep hope alive by recognising grace is always the starting point our consecration; call to mind those moments of Annunciation in our lives when we recognised we have been called in consecration to encounter the Lord on the Cross.
With these three words, let’s renew our consecration, which means allowing the Holy Spirit today too to be upon us, fanning into a flame the charism that has come into our lives through our religious order and our founder.