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13 June

Saint Anthony of Padua
1956: In Nigeria, the Brothers of St. Peter Claver joined the Marist Brothers’ Congregation.

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The wonder of life



Presentation of Jesus in the temple

01/02/2006: General House

And when the day came for them to be purified in keeping with the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – observing what is written in the Law of the Lord: Every first born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is prescribed in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to the restoration of Israel and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:

Now, Master, you are letting your servant go in peace as you promised; for my eyes have seen the salvation which you have made ready in the sight of the nations; a light of revelation for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel. (Lk 2, 22-32).

The old man and the baby
In the temple in Jerusalem, Simeon holds the baby Jesus in his arms. It is not a simple encounter, but a true and just passage of testimony over two generations. For so many years he had hoped and believed and here is his hope: it is small as a baby, but full of life. Simeon is full of joy because he has the certainty that finally his ideals will become a reality in this baby.
It is not easy for this old man who is rooted in each one of us, to welcome the baby and the new life that is in gestation and that wants to be born in us. We are afraid that the baby can betray the old man, setting him apart, giving him a glimpse of new horizons that are always destabilising. But the newness of God (one of the sure things that we can say about God is that he is always new and eternally young) is revealed under the semblance of a baby, of something totally new, and our being reacts out of fear and resistance. In this way, we are not able to welcome the God who comes. We try to put the old and new together and while our security is anchored in who we are and in what we have, the newness of God calls us and pushes us to go towards a new land, one that he will indicate to us (Gn 12,1).
But we all know that the old dies and that only the newness of God resists the wear and tear of time: But how difficult it is to grasp the future when it comes assigned in the fragility of the present! On that 2nd January 1817, we were in a position of grasping the “newness” that was given to us or we could have found a way out by saying “Can anything good ever come from La Valla ”?

The person and the structure
Simeon’s attitude is exemplary. He is a person who is sensitive, attentive and available. It seems clear that he is not developing a role, not immersed in or overwhelmed by any structure, and it is perhaps because of this that he realises that he whom he is holding in his arms is not “just a ordinary baby” who must be circumcised, but is Jesus, the light of the world. Herod also had the same opportunity, but bound by structures and power, saw in this baby a threat and a rival to be eliminated.
It could be interesting to discuss the necessity or at least the structure, but perhaps it is more useful to ask ourselves what attention do we give to people? Do we put our energy into encouraging people to grow or into perpetuating structures? Are we more concerned about conserving existing structures or building for the future?
Without dragging in Saint Augustine (Confessions, I, 1), I like to remember a motto of A. Einstein: “We must be convinced that we can always chase after truth without ever catching it!” This intuition can serve to shake off this pinch of narcissism (or triumphalism) that goes as far as considering well done only that which we have succeeded in achieving. But life and the future need to be sown but when you come to gather them, they have already passed by.

Eyes that can read
Now, Master, you are letting your servant go in peace as you promised; for my eyes have seen the salvation.”
There were certainly many people in the temple, but who succeeded in grasping the salvation that was manifested in this baby? Many went to the temple to meet the Lord, but he passed in the midst of them and they did not know how to grasp his presence. Some would have glimpsed Jesus, others would have stopped to share a few words with Joseph and Mary, saying what was suitable in such circumstances… and then moved on to pray to their God.
How difficult it remains to grasp hope, salvation, joy… when it is being born, when the evidence has still not been found, when we do not have the canonical imprimatur. The faith of Abraham is certainly not easy but that of Thomas risks become ridiculous. There was no reign of peace at the time of Simeon, and also today things are no better. Salvation, then as today, is not fully realised, the joy of Israel was not apparent and still does not shine in our skies, but Simeon grasps in this baby “peace, salvation, light and glory”.
What difficulty we have in grasping the seeds of hope, of life… that are born in us, yet without this exercise will result in being nearly impossible to perceive that which blossoms around us, in our environment, in others… We have the terrible risk of becoming accustomed even to ourselves and thus always behaving as in the past. We know how to do things in a certain way and we run the risk of making ourselves comfortable, considering life as a treasure to be conserved rather than as a gift to be developed. And for this, if we want to choose life, we must cultivate the entrepreneur rather than the archivist.

Accepting in peace the newness of life
Now, Master, you are letting your servant go in peace”. Simeon grasped the sign that God had sent him and he retired in peace. It is the normal pathway in life, the wisdom of a mature man and the serenity of a holy person.
He could go in peace because he had consistently and joyfully done the will of the Lord. He could go in peace to allow those who came after him to grasp the “signs of the times” to be in their turn, faithful in their response. He could go in peace without defending lines or positions from the past because their outlook is directed towards the future. He could go in peace because he was at peace and because it is God who develops history, all of history and not just my history.
Do we share in Simeon’s waiting? Do we desire the Lord? We cry to the Lord: Your Kingdom come in us and around us. We have faith in the tomorrow of God that it is the only certain tomorrow. We are in a position to open wide our eyes to face the day with joy, to overcome familiarity, to avoid preconceived ideas and easy prejudices. Do we succeed in discovering the newness despite the appearances? What mechanisms for growth do we use for “praising God and speaking of the baby” to the world around us if, like Anna, we are very advanced in age? Why does it remain so easy to remember and recount our glorious history, and so difficult to construct a great history?
Parini reminds us that “noble blood is not fitting with a spirit that languishes” and I would not like to apply this hard comment to the consecrated life, but I would like to remember what the Superior General wrote in his circular “A Revolution of the Heart”:
“Do you and I believe that a revitalisation of our way of life is possible? Are you and I committed to the dream and charism of Marcellin Champagnat, and do we plan on channelling a significant portion of our time and energy toward realising both in a way that is in keeping with contemporary needs? If, either in word or by deed, our answer, and that of a majority of our brothers, is “no,” there will be little worry about a future for our Institute. In all probability, it will not last beyond the present generation. ”.

Thank you Mary because you welcomed the newness of God
without the pretence of having had it in advance.
Thank you because you left him to realise his plans.
Thank you because you revealed to us that nothing is impossible for him.
Thank you because you believed in the fulfilment of his Word.
Thank you because you gave us Jesus
the ever-new fruit of the love of God for you and for us.

Onorino Rota, fms

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