Be Patient. Our Lord Comes…
Gospel reflection for Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023
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.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
-and you yourself a sword will pierce-
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.
It is incredible how the daily Mass readings seem to follow the normal cycles of life. In today’s Gospel, we have a powerful message about faithfulness, but also obedience and patience. We are told of two people whose lives were dedicated to the service of God, patiently awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promise. In walks the Holy Family, with the very embodiment of God’s promises. To the two most faithful stewards of the Mosaic Law mentioned in the Gospels, who expected and recognized the promised Messiah in comes the living Word of God who is the author of the Law, the Ark of the New Covenant in the Blessed Mother and the faithful, Saint Joseph, who believed the humanly impossible and was the steward and high priest of the earthly home of the Christ… the true temple, as it were, because while the Temple of the old covenant could not “hold” the infinite God, but the humble dwelling of Mary and Joseph did house the living God. Yet, having been told by the angel the reality of Jesus’ divinity, Mary and Joseph remained obedient to the old Law.
At first glance, this would seem this would the most joyful day in the history of the Hebrew people and the world. But, immediately, joy is tempered with prophecy of the horrible suffering and intense division the Messiah would experience and bring to those who love Him. He would die the most agonizing and horrible death imaginable; His ministry would divide and lead to the destruction of Israel and, “yourself a sword will pierce.” As our Lord would later reveal, the Prince of Peace also came to bring “the sword” which would divide families and bring an end to the old order with violence. While there is joy and hope in the Gospel, there is also redemptive suffering. Modern, “feel good Christianity” often misses the message that those who follow Christ must suffer, must “take up your cross and follow” and, “those who endure unto the end will be saved.”
Recently, it seems like everyone who confides in me is struggling with this message. I know people who are suffering with long illnesses, years long financial troubles, depression and all manner of frustrations. It seems we pray constantly, day after day and year after year but nothing changes… often, it gets harder. Personally, I have been praying for a wife and a family for over 20 years, with nothing but disappointment in each relationship. God simply has not brought the right woman into my life and every time I try to make things happen, I fail. What are we to do?
We really have no more choice than those saints in our Gospel today. Like Simeon and Anna, we must remain faithful to God’s promises despite the limits of human patience. Like The Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, we must remain obedient and trust that God’s plan is better than our limited human understanding. If we do not, we will fail. We may not only lose our own salvation, but we may ruin things for others. We have a personal duty…. and that may be the hardest thing we have to face in life. That duty is our, personal cross. Emotionally, our crosses may seem to be nearly as hard to carry as was our Lord’s… but, if you meditate upon the Stations of The Cross, it will hardly seem so. We must carry, crawl, suffer and persevere, knowing if things do not get better in this life, we will have greater joy in Heaven. What is this moment compared to eternity? By no means am I being glib. I have and will fall countless times…. I have hurt, I have raged, I have wept, I have looked for easy answers, lost hope and had to go to confession (often). But, there is no other option. Jesus asked Saint Peter if he wanted to leave, to have an easier life. Saint Peter answered, “Lord, where would I go? Only you have the words of eternal life.”
When I think of the life of Saint Padre Pio, it is hard not to remember his tremendous suffering. Not only did he struggle with personal and emotional issues more deeply than most of us, he bore the wounds of Christ - the stigmata. Imagine, briefly the bleeding wounds and intense pain. I am a wood carver, so I often cut myself with a knife, gouge or chisel. I cannot imagine the pain of a nail being driven through my hand… much less hanging from that nail, each heartbeat and breath causing the wound to throb and tear. Yet, Saint Pio continued to walk on his feet and work with his hands, which were but four of his wounds. Regardless what Saint Pio wrote, I believe his wounds would have been unbearable for a normal man like me. His faith gave him the patience to suffer. Not only that, he rejoiced in his suffering, for the privilege to suffer the wounds of our Lord. But, consider his words, “Pray, hope and don’t worry.” Those words seem so light in the face of such weighty matters and unbearable suffering. His faith, and the fruit of faith, which is patience, made his burdens light enough to bear.
God promises He will not put upon us more than we can bear. When we are in the midst of suffering, that can be hard to believe. No platitudes or glib words can help. But, we have no choice. We must be faithful, patient and endure for one simple reason - God is God. God cannot lie. God cannot break a promise. His word is absolute truth. Trust in His promises. Remember Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke:
So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; everyone who searches finds; everyone who knocks will have the door opened. What father among you, if his son asked for a fish, would hand him a snake? Or if he asked for an egg, hand him a scorpion? If you then, evil as you are, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!'
While our prayers may not be answered quickly, God’s timing is not our timing. Pray, hope and don’t worry!
Such wise and humble words. Thank you for sharing..
Beautiful! Thank you writing this. What a beautiful encouragement!