sabato 30 dicembre 2017

«Exspectans consolationem Israel»

The liturgy dedicates the Sunday within the Christmas octave to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. A week ago, reflecting on the mystery of incarnation, we were saying that the Son of God did not become an abstract man, as it were disembodied, sexless, stateless, without a history; on the contrary, he joined a specific people with its own history and culture. But even before joining a people, the Son of God willed to be born and grow up within a human family. Even though the manner of his conception was out of the norm, Jesus had a mother and a father who nourished and brought him up.

We know very little about the so-called “hidden life” of Jesus. In this connection, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “During the greater part of his life Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor. His religious life was that of a Jew obedient to the law of God [cf Gal 4:4], a life in the community. From this whole period it is revealed to us that Jesus was obedient to his parents and that he increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man’ [Lk 2:51-52] … By his obedience to Mary and Joseph, as well as by his humble work during the long years in Nazareth, Jesus gives us the example of holiness in the daily life of family and work” (Nos. 531 & 564).

From the hidden life of Jesus, the gospels report just few events. Matthew relates the visit of the Magi and the flight to Egypt; Luke, on his part, narrates two episodes connected with the temple in Jerusalem: the presentation of Jesus, forty days after his birth, and his finding there, when he was twelve. Today’s gospel is precisely about the presentation of Jesus in the temple. This story depicts the parents of Jesus as devout Jews, faithful observers of the law. They belong to that category of persons who keep the commandments of God, like Zechariah and Elizabeth, and are awaiting the salvation of their people, like Simeon and Anna.

Maybe, Mary and Joseph do more than what the law requires of them. According to the Bible, the firstborn was consecrated to God; and so, he should be redeemed by the parents paying a certain amount; but there was no need of presenting the child in the temple. The woman then had to be purified forty days after the childbirth, offering a year-old lamb and a turtledove or a young pigeon. The poor were allowed to offer, instead of the lamb, two turtledoves or two pigeons. I do not think Mary and Joseph were so poor that they could not afford a lamb. In my opinion, there is another reason why they just offered two turtledoves or two pigeons: it is because they did offer a lamb; they offered their own Son, the “Lamb of God.” Somehow, the presentation in the temple is a foretaste of the sacrifice of the cross. 

But the presentation is also an encounter of the Messiah with his people, who is “awaiting the consolation of Israel” (exspectans consolationem Israel). This people is represented here by two old persons, Simeon and Anna. They are moved by the Holy Spirit, who prompts them to go to the temple, gives them the grace of recognizing in the Infant Jesus the Messiah, and inspire them to confess him with exultation. Jesus reveals himself to them, and they welcome him as the fulfillment of their expectation. If only we too might spend our life in the same expectation, with no pretension to change the world, but just waiting for the coming of the Savior! Certainly, the Lord would come to meet us and reveal himself to us. The religious attitude of Mary and Joseph, of Simeon and Anna is the secret of happiness, the only way to encounter and recognize the Lord in our life, and, at the same time, is the secret of unity and peace in our families: where people live in the fear of the Lord and awaiting his salvation, there harmony and serenity reign.