“Come Lord, to Your holy temple” (Responsorial Psalm).
With this invocation, which we sang in the responsorial Psalm, the Church, on the day that commemorates the Presentation of the Lord Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem, expresses the desire to be able to welcome him even in the present of its history. The Presentation is a suggestive liturgical feast, fixed since ancient times forty days after Christmas, based on what the Hebrew Law prescribed for the birth of each firstborn (cf. Ex 13, 2). Mary and Joseph, as narrated in the Gospel passage, were his faithful followers.
Christian traditions from the East and West intertwined, enriching the liturgy of this festival with a special procession, in which the light of tapers and candles is a symbol of Christ, the true Light who came to illuminate his people and all nations. In this way, today’s date is related to Christmas and the Epiphany of the Lord. But at the same time, it is a bridge to Easter, recalling the prophecy of the old Simeon, who in that circumstance foreshadowed the dramatic destiny of the Messiah and his Mother.
The evangelist recalled this event in detail: those who received Jesus in the sanctuary of Jerusalem were two elderly people full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Simeon and Anna. They personified the “rest of Israel”, vigilant in expectation and prepared to meet the Lord , as the shepherds had already done on the night of his birth in Bethlehem.
2. In the Collect of today’s liturgy we ask that we too may be presented to the Lord “fully renewed in the spirit”, according to the model of Jesus, the firstborn of many brothers. In a particular way, you, religious men and women and consecrated lay people, are called to participate in this mystery of the Savior. It is a mystery of oblation, in which glory and the cross are indissolubly founded, according to the paschal character specific to Christian existence. It is a mystery of light and suffering; Marian mystery, in which the martyrdom of the soul is foretold to the Mother, blessed together with the Son.
We could say that today a unique “offertory” is celebrated throughout the Church, in which consecrated men and women spiritually renew the gift of self. Acting in this way, they help ecclesial communities to grow in the oblative dimension that intimately constitutes them, edifies them and encourages them along the paths of the world.
I greet you with great affection, dear Brothers and Sisters belonging to numerous Families of consecrated life, who bring joy to St. Peter’s Basilica with your presence. I greet, in particular, Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, who presides over today’s Eucharistic celebration.
3. We celebrate this feast with our hearts still full of emotions experienced in the Jubilee season that just ended. We resumed our journey, letting ourselves be guided by the words that Christ addressed to Simeon: “Duc in altum – put out into the deep” (Luke 5:4). The Church also awaits your contribution, dear consecrated Brothers and Sisters, to travel this new stretch of road in accordance with the guidelines I outlined in the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte: contemplate the face of Christ, return from Him, witness the your love.
This is a contribution that you are called to make daily, firstly, with fidelity to your vocation as people totally consecrated to Christ. Therefore, your primary commitment cannot fail to be in tune with contemplation. Every reality of consecrated life is born and regenerated every day in the incessant contemplation of the face of Christ. The Church herself draws her impulse from her daily confrontation with the inexhaustible beauty of the face of Christ her Spouse.
If every Christian is a believer who contemplates the face of God in Jesus Christ, you are in a special way. Therefore, it is necessary that you do not tire of stopping to meditate on the Holy Scriptures and, above all, the sacred Gospels, so that the characteristics of the Incarnate Word become imbued in you.
4. Returning from Christ, the center of all personal and community projects: this is the commitment! Dear friends, encounter him and contemplate him in a totally special way in the Eucharist, celebrated and adored every day, as the source and summit of existence and apostolic action.
And walk with Christ: this is the path of evangelical perfection, the holiness to which every baptized person is called. Holiness is precisely one of the essential points – in fact, the first – of the program I outlined for the beginning of the new millennium (cf. Novo millennio ineunte, 30-31).
We have just heard the words of the old Simeon: “this Child is here for the fall and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign of contradiction… so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2, 34). Like Him, and to the extent of conformation with Him, the consecrated person also becomes a “sign of contradiction; that is, it becomes, for others, a healthy stimulus to take a position before Jesus, who – thanks to the involving mediation of the “witness” – does not simply remain a historical character or an abstract ideal, but presents himself as a person life to which we must adhere without hesitation.
Does this not seem to you to be an indispensable service that the Church expects from you in this era marked by profound social and cultural changes? Only if you persevere in faithfully following Christ will you be credible witnesses of his love.
5. “Light to enlighten the nations and glory to Israel” (Luke 2:32). The consecrated life is called to reflect the light of Christ in a particular way. Looking at you, dear Brothers and Sisters, I think of the multitude of men and women of all nations, languages and cultures, consecrated to Christ with the vows of poverty, virginity and obedience. This thought fills me with comfort, because you are like the “yeast” of hope for humanity. You are “salt” and “light” for the men and women of today, who in your testimony can glimpse the kingdom of God and the style of the evangelical “Beatitudes”.
Like Simeon and Anna, take Jesus from the arms of his Holy Mother, full of joy for the gift of vocation, take him to everyone. Christ is salvation and hope for every man! Announce it with your existence dedicated entirely to the kingdom of God and the salvation of the world. Proclaim it with the unhesitating fidelity that, even recently, led some of your brothers and sisters to martyrdom in various parts of the world.
Be light and comfort to each person you meet. Like lit candles, I burned with the very love of Christ. Consume yourselves for Him, spreading the Gospel of His love everywhere. Thanks to your testimony, the eyes of so many men and women of our time will also be able to see the salvation prepared by God “for all peoples / light to enlighten the nations / and glory of your people, Israel”. Amen.
See also Pope Benedict’s homily