Luke 2:22-40, The Presentation of Our Lord
A very dear uncle in the US emailed me the other day. He asked if I had some reflections about the Feast of the Presentation. He wanted to share it with his church group. Alas, I told him, I myself always had difficulty writing a homily on the Presentation. Because other than what we just read from Luke this evening, the Gospels make no further reference about this very Jewish initiation rite. What I always found interesting, though, I told Uncle Will, was the effect the infant Jesus and his parents had on two elderly people that day: senior citizenSimeon who held baby Jesus, and senior citizen Anna who beheld him, I said with a smiley emoticon.
I think the phrase “senior citizen” triggered something in Uncle Will’s 70-year-old heart. Because when he emailed back, he said: “After the passing of my best friend I went into a very deep kind of loneliness. After 37 years in America and my involvement with church, I realized I only have very few good friends, and Toots was one of the very few I could open up to, without being judged…. I have more years behind me than before me. The thought of many losses in my life—people dear to my heart, Inay, Tatay, Kuya Rey, your mom; the loss of vitality and energy; not being able to do many things I was able to do before—these losses are painful and very real. There will be more losses in the coming years. My question is how do I live with more and more loss? How do I live such that experiencing loss can still be fruitful, that I may still be a blessing to my family and to others?” Then he became penitent: “One major regret in my life? I wish I loved my parents and my siblings more. I wish I said a thousand times, ‘I love you Tatay, I love you Inay, I love you Kuya Rey, I love you Ate Idad. I wish I had asked forgiveness from them and also told them, ‘It’s ok, I understand. I forgive you.’ If only I let go of my pride…and grabbed the opportunity, then maybe my presence might’ve made them happier.”
Senior citizen Simon and senior citizen Anna—I’m sure they had seen the best and the worst of life and of humanity, and of themselves. Knowing they had more years behind them than before them, the two must’ve decided to spend the greater part of each day praying in the Temple, for whatever was left of theirtime on earth. Jews came to the Temple of Jerusalem for various reasons. They made pilgrimages there. They prayed over intentions. They gave alms. They presented their firstborn sonslike Joseph and Mary did that day. But most importantly, the Temple was a place where Jews offered up a sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins. If they made a decent living, they brought the meat of goats and sheep. If they made only little, pigeons or turtledoves would do. Twice a day, high priests would receive the skinned meat and burned them, making sure they were absolutely consumed by the raging fire, and that nothing was left but ashes.
Old as they were, Simeon and Anna could offer up animalsfor only so long. The last sacrifice they could offer to God, for what was left of their days were, I guess, themselves—even as the merciless fire of contrition and penitence raged and consumedthem, with all their fearful thoughts of death, all their loneliness, the faces of people they had lost, all their regret for not having loved them more, not having said sorry more, not having forgiven more and served more. They say there are days when senior citizens feel that way even to this day. Not only do they feel imprisoned by old age, but also see how their past has been ruled by so much unfreedom.
Then, one day came along a very gentle, very poor couple with a pink, chubby-cheeked baby boy wrapped in swaddling clothes. He must’ve been quite adorable and irresistible. Simon and Anna couldn’t help holding him and singing praises to God for him. I guess that’s pretty much the same feeling when lolos and lolas take a grandchild in their arms for the first time. All they could feel is joy and gratitude and pride and a deep sense of being so gifted, so blessed. But most strangely, they feel a strange sense of consolation and hopefulness about the future. In the Temple that day, the child Jesus in their arms unlocked whatever chains had bound Simeon and Anna to their loneliness and regret. They raised the child to God, probably along with all their fears and regrets, all their wishes, hopes, and prayers. “Now, Master, you may let us go in peace. For your word is always fulfilled…in spite of ourselves. We always see your salvation in spite of our sins. Even with the darkness we cause, you bring us light. No matter our failures, you bring us to glory.” Where, then, does it take us when we dwell on our fears, our regrets, our uselessness and emptiness—when in fact, our arms have been filled with you?
Little did Simeon and Anna know that the baby who freed them that day from the sorrow of old age would grow up doing exactly the same thing to everyone he’d meet. Those who presented themselves to him, he would light the way to the deep, the interior, the consoling sense of divine pardon and freedom!
I wrote back to my Uncle Will with a brief but sincere note of thanks. And you know what he sent me right on his next email after all of that? A picture of a child: his newest granddaughter!