The fourth day of Christmas in Western Christianity.
Today in Catholic History:
† 1170 – Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, is assassinated inside Canterbury Cathedral by followers of King Henry II; he subsequently becomes a saint and martyr in the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
† 1539 – St Jacobs Church burns after being hit by lightning
† 1634 – Death of John Albert Vasa, Polish bishop (b. 1612)
† Feasts/Memorials: Thomas Becket (optional memorial)
(From the “On This Day” Blog Site
“Today in Catholic History”
Quote or Joke of the Day:
Franciscan Formation Reflection:
At this year’s end, how have you fulfilled your role as a Franciscan in today’s world? Have you lived a “Life to the Gospel, and the Gospel to Life”? Have preached the Gospel without needing to use words? Have you recalled, reviewed, and meditated on the “Rules” of the Order?
In the next year, what are you going to do to advance your journey with our Seraphic Father on God’s path to righteousness and eternal paradise in heaven?
(Starting with the first reflection blog of 2011, I will be posting a thirteen (13) part reflection based on a letter found on the SFO International Council website. It is titled “An exhortation of the Church to the Secular Franciscan Order” by Benedetto Lino, OFS. It can be read in full at: http://www.ciofs.org/Y2009/a9ENrodelet.html.)
Today’s reflection is about Jesus’ presentation in the Temple.
22 When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they [Mary and Joseph] took him [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23 just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” 24 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. 25 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. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. 27 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, 28 he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: 29 “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; 34 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 35 (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (NAB Luke 2:22-35)
The presentation of Jesus in the temple shows that Joseph and Mary were devout Jews and faithful followers of the Mosaic Law (Like we really need more proof!). Just as John [the Baptist] had been incorporated into the Jewish faithful of Israel through his circumcision (just a few months earlier), Jesus becomes a member of God’s “chosen people” through the same action of His own “sacred” circumcision. By Mosaic Law, it is at this time that a Jewish baby received his name: in this case, “Jesus”, meaning “God Saves.” Jesus is now considered part of the “chosen people” of God, in the same respect as Simeon, Anna, and even the parents of John:
“Both [John’s parents] were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly” (Luke 1:6)
“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.” (Luke 2:36-37).
Any woman who gave birth to a boy was unable to touch anything sacred (except her husband – [he, he]), or to enter the temple area by reason of her “legal” impurity for forty days according to the Mosaic Law:
“Tell the Israelites: When a woman has conceived and gives birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, with the same uncleanness as at her menstrual period. On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy’s foreskin shall be circumcised, and then she shall spend thirty-three days more in becoming purified of her blood; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled. If she gives birth to a girl, for fourteen days she shall be as unclean as at her menstruation, after which she shall spend sixty-six days in becoming purified of her blood. “When the days of her purification for a son or for a daughter are fulfilled, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the meeting tent a yearling lamb for a holocaust and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. The priest shall offer them up before the LORD to make atonement for her, and thus she will be clean again after her flow of blood. Such is the law for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl child. If, however, she cannot afford a lamb, she may take two turtledoves or two pigeons, the one for a holocaust and the other for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement for her, and thus she will again be clean.” (Leviticus 12:2-8)
At the end of this period she was required by Mosaic Law to offer a year-old lamb as a burnt offering, and a turtle-dove or young pigeon as an atonement of sin. If the woman could not afford a lamb, the offering instead could be two turtle-doves or two young pigeons, as Mary did in this Gospel reading. So, is this proof of Mary and Joseph led a humble and austere life?
They took Jesus to Jerusalem (which means “city of peace”) to present him to God. As the firstborn son, Jesus was consecrated to God as the Law required:
“Consecrate to me every first-born that opens the womb among the Israelites, both of man and beast, for it belongs to me. You shall dedicate to the LORD every son that opens the womb; and all the male firstlings of your animals shall belong to the LORD.” (Exodus 13:2, 12)
The “Law” further stipulated that the firstborn son should be redeemed by the parents through a payment of five shekels.
“You shall take five shekels for each individual, according to the standard of the sanctuary shekel, twenty gerahs to the shekel. Give this silver to Aaron and his sons as ransom for the extra number.” (Numbers 3:47-48)
Five shekels amounted to just about 100 grams of pure silver. The probable reason for the Temple obligation of “redeeming” the firstborn son through the giving to the Temple expressly “five shekels” is found in the Book of Numbers:
“Every living thing that opens the womb, whether of man or of beast, such as are to be offered to the LORD shall be yours; but you must let the first-born of man, as well as of unclean animals, be redeemed. The ransom for a boy is to be paid when he is a month old; it is fixed at five silver shekels according to the sanctuary standard, twenty gerahs to the shekel.” (Numbers 18:15-16)
I found a couple of possible explanations for “five shekels” of silver being used for the regulation just mentioned above. One I found elsewhere in Holy Scripture, and the other in Wikipedia.
First, let’s look at Holy Scripture. In Genesis, Rachel’s firstborn son, Joseph (You know, the one with the fancy coat) was sold by his brothers for twenty silver pieces (which is equivalent of “five shekels” per my Bible commentaries).
“They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. Some Midianite traders passed by, and they pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and took him to Egypt.” (Genesis 37:28)
This may have established that the “standard price” for a firstborn son being “five shekels” for the ransom to “redeem” the child. Interesting for me is that “twenty pieces of silver” was the exact price paid to Judas for betraying Jesus. Could this infer the payment required to redeem us?!
The Second source for this amount of money comes from the “Zohar”, a book from a Jewish “mystical” belief known as Kabbalah. Per the “Zohar”, the number five (5) is symbolic of the Hebrew letter “hei”, which was added to Abram’s name (becoming Abraham) when the time came for him to father Isaac, – – and the Jewish nation – – as written in the Book of Genesis:
“No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a host of nations.” (Genesis 17:5)
God’s choosing of the Jewish people as His “nation”, and the consecration and redemption of the firstborn alludes to Abraham. Thus, FIVE (5) shekels is the price for redemption.
What we do know for certain, is that Jesus is presented to God at the Temple in Jerusalem as a baby; paying for the privilege of being consecrated to the service of God, as was all firstborn sons of Jewish faith. Jesus however, also paid for our privilege of being saved from sin and death through His pain, suffering, and death on that Holy Tree some thirty odd years later in His life, when He will again be presented in this same place, this SAME Temple, at the end of His earthly ministry. At this time Jesus will be presented not as the newborn infant, but instead as the “Messiah Christ!!” Still a consecrated servant of God, Jesus offered far greater than a few coins to pay for His privilege of servicing God, and redeeming His people. He offered His life and death – – for our “redemption”.
Simeon (His name translates to “God has heard” – WOW!) was not a priest, but instead simply just a devout worshiper, always in the Temple. He reminds me of an elderly gentleman I know (named John) whom I see at my local parish church nearly every single time I am there. This man is always observed picking up little pieces of trash, straightening books, cleaning the parking lot, pruning the church and grotto flowers, dusting, – – and of course praying!
Though not a priest, Simeon obviously was close to his (and ours) loving God in the simple and miraculous fact that he received a prophetic vision that very few “sinful humans” are privileged to experience. This vision was given to him directly from God (no messenger here), and it was about the “Messiah”. Simeon here (and Anna later) speaks about the child “Savior” that all faithful Jews were awaiting with anticipation. Jesus is the ONE awaited “child” who is the “Redeemer” of Jerusalem as prophesized in the Old Testament. Simeon (and Anna) represents the hopes and expectations of faithfully devout Jews who were looking forward to the full and true restoration of God’s rule in Israel. The birth of Jesus brought these hopes to fulfillment for these two faithful servants of God (and for many others also).
How exciting it would be to actually see someone of a divine nature you had actually hoped and prayed for over many years, and to actually recognize that divinity in the infant child fully and truly alive and present before you. In his excitement Simeon extols openly and publicly a beautiful prayer:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.” (Luke 2:29-30)
He is now ready to die – – ready to be with God in paradise – – because he has found “salvation” in his very presence on earth. A salvation he had awaited his entire life.
I still remember the instance I looked at my wife on our wedding day, and each of my new-born children in the delivery room. The excitement and happiness I felt at those moments was so elating. Gazing upon the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord, would have to be many times greater than these most profound moments I witnessed in my life. I cannot wait to gaze upon you, my Lord and my all.
When reading Simeon’s prophesies, they are so somber to me. “Many will reject Jesus.” Even in His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus (and the Holy Family) was ostracized by neighbors who may have thought Jesus was simply an illegitimate child of Mary, whom herself was merely an “adulterer” while still only “betrothed” to Joseph. Jesus is bringing a new “covenant” to all people (including His town-folks) regardless of their status, nationality, or even beliefs, past actions, and/or behaviors.
What a radical departure from ‘traditional’ Judaism! Jesus awakened and probably scared some people in His teachings, approach, and life style. There appeared to be many reasons for not wanting to be “around” Jesus, or to follow Him. However, when condensed, all these reasons were simply and purely out of fear; a fear that I believe stemmed from ignorance. This ignorance could be seen throughout Holy Scripture in the fear emanated from the watchful eyes of the Temple priests and elders; and in the fear from the Roman government who was concerned about civil unrest and uprisings stemming from Jesus’ teachings and activities.
“And you yourself a sword will pierce” (from verse 35) is so dismal, depressing, and prophetic! Mary herself will not be untouched by the various reactions to the life and teachings of her child, Jesus. Her gift of being the mother of the Lord will be challenged by her son, Jesus!! Jesus Himself describes true blessedness as “hearing the word of God and observing it.”
“While he was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed. He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.’“ (Luke 11:27-28)
“He was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.’ He said to them in reply, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.’” (Luke 8:20-21).
The model believer, the model disciple, of Christ – – was Mary. She had to decide what her role was going to be in salvation history: either to follow God’s plan or her own plan. Though she was truly the faithful mother of God, Mary still had ‘free will.’ Family ties do not create faith – – only faith creates faith.
She did not want to leave her homeland any more than Joseph wanted to leave. However, according to God’s plan, Mary would have to escape to Egypt in order to protect her baby Jesus. She would have to experience the fear of losing a child for three days in His youth. And, Sadly, Mary would have to witness the devastation and despair of Jesus’ trial, scourging, crucifixion, and burial.
Mary, and Jesus, had to tread a rough and treacherous path hewed out for her by God, but isn’t sacrificing the “language” of love? It is because of her sharing so much in the pain, suffering, and humiliation of Jesus, that she is called the “co-redemptrix” – – the co-redeemer – – in the Catholic Church.
But through all of these trials of faith – – Mary never faltered. I believe she handled all these “sorrows” because she knew what was needed, and expected from herself, and from her son. More importantly, Mary trusted in God’s providence at every stage in hers and Jesus’ life. Even prior to Jesus’ birth, the teenage Mary had already surrendered her soul, her heart, and her body to God. She allowed the Holy Spirit to dwell in her – – and act through her. Mary had NO doubts about God in her life, and in her priorities. Even in the worst of times for her and her son on this earth, she never lost her faith, love, and trust in God’s plan for her. We can, and we need, to learn from her example. Please help me Lord to find the strength and fortitude to love, trust, and follow you as did your blessed mother, Mary, so perfectly demonstrated for us all.
Collect of the Day:
“Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple”
“Almighty and ever living God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
From the Morning Prayer of the “Daily Office”
Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO
A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day: St. Thomas Becket (1118-1170)
A strong man who wavered for a moment, but then learned one cannot come to terms with evil and so became a strong churchman, a martyr and a saint—that was Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his cathedral on December 29, 1170.
His career had been a stormy one. While archdeacon of Canterbury, he was made chancellor of England at the age of 36 by his friend King Henry II. When Henry felt it advantageous to make his chancellor the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas gave him fair warning: he might not accept all of Henry’s intrusions into Church affairs. Nevertheless, he was made archbishop (1162), resigned his chancellorship and reformed his whole way of life!
Troubles began. Henry insisted upon usurping Church rights. At one time, supposing some conciliatory action possible, Thomas came close to compromise. He momentarily approved the Constitutions of Clarendon, which would have denied the clergy the right of trial by a Church court and prevented them from making direct appeal to Rome. But Thomas rejected the Constitutions, fled to France for safety and remained in exile for seven years. When he returned to England, he suspected it would mean certain death. Because Thomas refused to remit censures he had placed upon bishops favored by the king, Henry cried out in a rage, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!” Four knights, taking his words as his wish, slew Thomas in the Canterbury cathedral.
Thomas Becket remains a hero-saint down to our own times.
No one becomes a saint without struggle, especially with himself. Thomas knew he must stand firm in defense of truth and right, even at the cost of his life. We also must take a stand in the face of pressures—against dishonesty, deceit, destruction of life—at the cost of popularity, convenience, promotion and even greater goods.
In T.S. Eliot’s powerful drama, Murder in the Cathedral, Becket faces a final temptation to seek martyrdom for earthly glory and revenge. With real insight into his life situation, Thomas responds: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”
Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.;
revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
(From http://www.americancatholic.org website)
Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) Prologue to the Rule:
Exhortation of Saint Francis to the Brothers and Sisters in Penance
In the name of the Lord!
Concerning Those Who Do Penance
All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength (cf. Mk 12:30), and love their neighbors as themselves (cf. Mt 22:39) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance.
Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, because “the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them” (cf. Is 11:2) and he will make “his home and dwelling among them” (cf. Jn 14:23), and they are the sons of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45), whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50).
We are spouses, when by the Holy Spirit the faithful soul is united with our Lord Jesus Christ; we are brothers to him when we fulfill “the will of the Father who is in heaven” (Mt 12:50).
We are mothers, when we carry him in our heart and body (cf. 1 Cor 6:20) through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through a holy life which must give life to others by example (cf. Mt 5:16).
Oh, how glorious it is to have a great and holy Father in heaven! Oh, how glorious it is to have such a beautiful and admirable Spouse, the Holy Paraclete.
Oh, how glorious it is to have such a Brother and such a Son, loved, beloved, humble, peaceful, sweet, lovable, and desirable above all: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave up his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:15) and prayed to the Father saying:
“Oh, holy Father, protect them with your name (cf. Jn 17:11) whom you gave me out of the world. I entrusted to them the message you entrusted to me and they received it. They have known that in truth I came from you; they have believed that it was you who sent me. For these I pray, not for the world (cf. Jn 17:9). Bless and consecrate them, and I consecrate myself for their sakes. I do not pray for them alone; I pray also for those who will believe in me through their word (cf. Jn 17:20) that they may be holy by being one, as we are (cf. Jn 17:11). And I desire, Father, to have them in my company where I am to see this glory of mine in your kingdom” (cf. Jn 17:6-24).