Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the day when Joseph and Mary brought their little baby Jesus to the Temple to fulfill the prescription of the Law.
When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord. (Lk 2:22-24)
I think the most amazing fact of this feast day is that we celebrate it at all. Here we see Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law, being brought to the Temple in obedience to the Law. How can it be? Shouldn’t he be above the ordinary manner of observing the law? It would seem so, but Jesus was like us in all things but sin. So as a little Jewish baby boy, it was right that his parents would present him in the Temple in observance of the law. An enigma, if you ask me.
Anyway, this feast day brings to mind the 4th Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, the finding of the Christ child in the temple. As some of you know, each mystery of the rosary has a spiritual fruit is associated with it. The fruit of this mystery is obedience, and when we pray this mystery we pray to grow in this virtue. In my post of two days ago on St. John Bosco, I pointed you to the recounting of St. John Bosco’s vision of hell. I remember noticing the impact of obedience, or lack thereof, on the road to hell:
“Traps were everywhere, some close to the ground, others at eye level, but all well concealed.”
Carefully examining many of the traps, I saw that each bore an inscription: Pride, Disobedience, Envy, Sixth Commandment, Theft, Gluttony, Sloth, Anger and so on. Stepping back a bit to see which ones trapped the greater number of boys, I discovered that the most dangerous were those of impurity, disobedience, and pride. In fact, these three were linked to together…”
“…I have always heard that pride is the root of all evil.”
“It is, generally speaking, but, specifically, do you know what led Adam and Eve to commit the first sin for which they were driven away from their earthly paradise?”
“Exactly! Disobedience is the root of all evil.” (source)
How easy it is, indeed, to disobey God and follow our own way. St. Paul puts it best in his letter to the Romans, “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” (Rm 7:19) We’ve all been there. In fact, sometimes, I think I live there! Throw on top of this a culture that reveres individualism that bows to no one, and a populace that condemns those who obey the authority of the Church, and falling into disobedience can happen almost without our noticing it.
Why is this? I think the answer lies in the continuation of the “…” from the paragraph above in Don Bosco’s dream:
Many other traps also did great harm, but not as much as the first two (impurity and disobedience). Still watching, I noticed many boys running faster than others. “Why such haste?” I asked.
“Because they are dragged by the snare of human respect.”
Human respect. That’s often what it is. We value the opinion of those around us more than we do the opinion of God. Think about the times in your life when you’ve said or done something that you knew wasn’t right, but you did it anyway. Why did you do it? I think if we really probe our actions, we’ll see that it was because we wanted someone to think better of us.
One sin that immediately comes to mind is gossip. How often do we make sinful, disparaging comments about someone because at the root we want to make ourselves look better? How hard is it for us to hold our tongue about someone when we feel we’ve been wronged? Indeed, it is penance to charitably hold our speech.
So what’s the remedy for this ailment of ours? The response is twofold:
The first remedy lies in the actions of Mary and Joseph in today’s gospel. They submitted their wills to God’s. It was nothing other than a decision – and so it is with us. We decide to obey. In their obedience, they heard amazing things about their little boy – some wonderful, some puzzling. Our obedience will mirror similar wonderful and puzzling moments. We must decide to obey.
“One of the greatest graces for which I feel myself indebted to Our Lord is, that His Divine Majesty has given me the desire to be obedient; for in this virtue I find most consolation and contentment, it being that which Our Lord recommended by His own example more than any other, and on this account I desire to possess it more than anything else in the world.”
We must pray for the desire to be obedient. God will answer that prayer. St. Paul tells us, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Rm 12:2) We must resist the lure of human affection. We must pray.
Now this might sound silly, but there are areas in our lives where we just plain don’t want to obey. Maybe it’s charity of thought, or generosity towards the poor, or not following certain teachings of the Church, or not being completely honest on our taxes. Whatever it is, we all have those secret places where we “do not do the good we want, but do the evil we do not want.” We must renew our minds with a desire to obey. Yes, desire to obey is the precursor to actually obeying. Uniting our intellect and will with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can “become more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rm 8:37)
So today, I invite you to pray and reflect on obedience in your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you one area where you need to become more obedient. Then take this area and make it your Lenten project. Lent starts 3 weeks from yesterday, so the time is right to weed the garden of sin. Pray to know and understand as you approach Lent, and pray to overcome it during Lent with sincere prayer and concrete action. If we approach it thoughtfully and prayerfully, God will do a mighty work in us.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee! Anne