Prayer Warriors of the Old Testament

Summary drawn from Catechism paragraphs 2568-97.

During this feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we glimpse Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Covenant. As ever, our liturgy furnishes us with food for thought, which becomes food for prayer.

Today’s Gospel recounts the admirable faith of Simeon and Anna, thereby teaching us that we are heirs to their profound tradition of prayer, first revealed in the Old Testament and perfected in Christ. As the Word of God, the Old Testament continues to speak powerfully to us today, and we can learn a great deal from the school of prayer enshrined in its pages.

Abraham illustrates “attentiveness of the heart,” a willingness to listen to the Lord’s call and abide by His will, trusting even in the midst of his darkest test of faith.

When Jacob wrestles with an angel all night, he shows us the value of sticking with prayer, no matter how we struggle, so that we too might reap the rewards of perseverance.

We can easily relate to Moses’ uneasiness about the great mission God has for him: “he balks, makes excuses, above all questions.” But through this intense dialogue with God, “Moses also learns how to pray,” and he would go on to become a great intercessor, pleading with God to have mercy on his rebellious people.

Through Elijah and the other prophets, we realize our need to go beyond “excessively external worship,” to encounter the Lord Himself, and undergo true “conversion of heart.”

David is our model for soul-stirring repentance, as well as for offering prayers of praise. Traditionally attributed to David, the Psalms (literally “Praises”) are “the masterwork of prayer in the Old Testament.” Both personal and communal, embracing all dimensions of salvation history to the end of time, the Psalms are an integral part of the Church’s prayer: “The Psalter is the book in which the Word of God becomes [our] prayer,” for “the same Spirit inspires both….”

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 2:22-40

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph (Year B): Gospel – Luke 2:22-40

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

“The presentation of Jesus in the Temple shows him to be the firstborn Son who belongs to the Lord,” as the Catechism teaches (paragraph 529).

Benedict XVI observes a crucial detail about St. Luke’s language. Unlike the custom to “redeem” the firstborn by a payment, this Presentation only confirms Jesus’ total dedication to God:

Evidently Luke intends to say that instead of being “redeemed” and restored to His parents, this Child was personally handed over to God in the Temple, given over completely to God. The verb paristanai, here translated as “to present,” also means “to offer,” in the way that sacrifices in the Temple were “offered.”

…Luke has nothing to say regarding the act of “redemption” prescribed by the law. In its place we find the exact opposite: the Child is handed over to God, and from now on belongs to Him completely. None of the aforementioned acts prescribed by the law required an appearance in the Temple.

…Here, in the place of encounter between God and His people, instead of the reclamation of the first-born, what happens is that Jesus is publicly handed over to God, His Father.

Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 3, pp. 82-83.

The Presentation itself becomes an encounter between the baby Jesus and the devout pair of Simeon and Anna, who embody the piety of Israel.

“With Simeon and Anna, all Israel awaits its encounter with the Savior – the name given to this event in the Byzantine tradition” (Catechism paragraph 529).

Simeon and Anna belong to the “small Remnant, the people of the poor, who await in hope the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem” (711), and their hope is fulfilled when they meet the infant Jesus in the Temple.

Both Simeon and Anna are themselves wholly attuned to the Lord, as Benedict points out. Living intentionally for God, they are docile to the Holy Spirit and receptive to His inspiration.

Question for reflection: How might I be more generous in giving myself to the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel: Presentation of the Lord

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord — Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary offer Him to God in accordance with the Law; in the Temple, Simeon and Anna recognize the Infant as the long-awaited Messiah

Pope Benedict XVI sets the scene:

This is the meeting point of the two Testaments, Old and New. Jesus enters the ancient temple; He who is the new Temple of God: He comes to visit His people, thus bringing to fulfillment obedience to the Law and ushering in the last times of salvation.

It is interesting to take a close look at this entrance of the Child Jesus into the solemnity of the temple, in the great comings and goings of many people, busy with their work: priests and Levites taking turns to be on duty, the numerous devout people and pilgrims anxious to encounter the Holy God of Israel. Yet none of them noticed anything. Jesus was a child like the others, a first-born son of very simple parents.

Even the priests proved incapable of recognizing the signs of the new and special presence of the Messiah and Savior.

Alone two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, discover this great newness. Led by the Holy Spirit, in this Child they find the fulfillment of their long waiting and watchfulness….

The prophetic attitude of the two elderly people contains the entire Old Covenant which expresses the joy of the encounter with the Redeemer. Upon seeing the Child, Simeon and Anna understood that He was the Awaited One.

Homily of February 2, 2011

Beyond their representation of the Old Covenant, Simeon and Anna also stand for all of humanity, as Benedict has explained:

In giving a deeper interpretation to these things we understand that at this moment it is God Himself who is presenting His Only-Begotten Son to humanity through the words of the elderly Simeon and the Prophetess Anna.

Simeon, in fact, proclaimed Jesus as the “salvation” of humanity, a “light” for all the nations and a “sign that is spoken against,” because He would reveal the thoughts of hearts (cf. Lk 2:29-35).

In the East this Feast was called Hypapante, a feast of encounter. In fact, Simeon and Anna, who met Jesus in the Temple and recognized Him as the Messiah so long awaited, represent humanity that encounters its Lord in the Church.

Subsequently, this Feast also spread to the West, where above all the symbol of light and the procession with candles which gave rise to the term “Candlemas” developed.

This visible sign is intended to mean that the Church encounters in faith the One who is “the light of men” and in order to bring this “light” into the world, receives Him with the full dynamism of her faith.

Homily of February 2, 2010

Question for reflection: When have I realized that God is faithful to His promises?