Today’s gospel reading about the presentation of the child Jesus in the temple is most suitable for the feast of the Holy Family because it deals very gently with the difficult question of the relationship of young and old in families and in society generally.
The parents of Jesus are very careful to observe the Jewish laws about offering the first-fruits of family and field to God, thus acknowledging that all blessings come ultimately from a loving creator. This affirms the importance of the Hebrew tradition for the future followers of Jesus. The aged Simeon and Anna are there to represent the people of Israel, who have for so long been yearning and praying for the arrival of the Messiah. They have been living for centuries with scarcely any tangible sign of God’s concern for them, but they have not lost hope.
We can well imagine Simeon’s joy as God reveals to him that this infant is in fact the long-awaited Savior. For he immediately resigns himself joyfully and trustingly to a future filled with the goodness of God’s promises. Anna too sees her patient piety rewarded by this sign of God’s response to her persistent prayers.
There are so many of us older people alive today that we need to reflect carefully upon the example offered to us by Simeon and Anna. We do not see in them any sign of resentment as they recognize that their places are being taken by energetic and often impatient younger men and women. They are able to welcome this new and younger world because their prayerful attention to the Lord has established the utter trustworthiness of God’s promises of a future life beyond the weakness and the letting go in death.
There are few more remarkable signs of hope than that of older people whose eyes are still bright with the promise of better days in the ultimate future. In fact, the very act of taking an infant into one’s arms, as Simeon did, is a profound affirmation of one’s sure knowledge that God has given the victory to life.
The effect of this trust in life and in the future is to create an ideal environment for the nurturing of new life. In fact, today’s gospel tells us that, when Joseph and Mary welcomed the new world represented by their divine child, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). All children have the right to be nurtured, day in and day out, with loving attention and trust, so that they too may acquire the freedom and wisdom needed for responsible living.
We must reflect with great sadness on the tragedy of neglected children in our world. They receive so little psychological or spiritual support to enable them to “grow and become strong, filled with wisdom.” And we need to be deeply grateful for those parents whose love and care prepare their children for a future that can be both serious and joyful.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.