Happy Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple! This feast is of ancient lineage, and has its roots in the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary the New in Jerusalem,, near the site of the ancient Temple. The Basilica was constructed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in 543 A.D., and later destroyed in the year 614 during the siege of Jerusalem. While the Basilica was destroyed, the Feast in honor of Our Lady blossomed and spread. Through the early centuries it was preserved in the monasteries, and introduced into the Papal Chapel by Pope Gregory XI in 1372. Eventually the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary into the Temple became part of the Roman Missal.
This ancient feast commemorates a pivotal event in the life of the young Virgin Mary. According to Sacred Tradition, Mary was the only child of Anna and Joachim. In thanksgiving to God for the gift of Mary, Anna and Joachim brought the young girl to the Temple, and consecrated her to God. The Blessed Virgin remained at the temple – close to God- to be raised and educated in the manner fitting of her high calling. From her youth, the Blessed Virgin lived a life of prayer, contemplation, sacrifice, and deep union with her Beloved.
One of the beauties of this feast is that it is universally celebrated by both the Eastern and Western arms of the Church. Indeed, to this day it is liturgically celebrated as the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Roman Catholics in the Western Church, and the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple by Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox Churches.
In 1997, Blessed Pope John Paul II enhanced the beauty of this Feast with the inauguration of a new facet: Pro Orantibus Day. Beginning in 1997, Blessed Pope John Paul the Great set aside November 21 as a day of prayer for contemplative religious. As Mary’s young life was one set aside in deep union with God through prayer, how fitting that the Universal Church celebrates Her Consecration with a day of prayer for those who pray. Pro Orantibus Day is meant to be a celebration of gratitude for those in monastic and religious communities who support the church through the essential work of prayer. Without these dedicated men and women the rest of us could not survive.
My son is discerning a call to the contemplative life- he aspires to become a Carmelite priest. Several months ago we were in the car, driving home from Holy Hill, and having a chat about his aspired choice of vocations. I asked why he seemed to be drawn to life as a Carmelite instead of as a parish priest. He said, “Mom, the parish priests are the hands; without them we – as the Body of Christ – would be lost. We need the hands to function. But, the contemplative priests, they are the heart. Without the hands, the body bleeds out; without the heart there is no life’s blood. Mom, I choose to be the heart.” I remember choking back tears, silently thanking God for my son, and praying hard that he achieve the calling of his heart. (Please pray too, for not only for my son, but for all the young men who are discerning vocations). While I recognize (as does he) that “Who can know the Mind of God?” and God might very well have other plans for his future, I still loved his analogy.
With it, I have reflected on all the religious (both contemplative and active). who have enriched my life so abundantly. Digging way back into the memory bank, as a third-grader I recall the tremendous respect I had for Sister Julliet, O.P. Likewise, with fondness I remember the Springfield Dominicans who shaped my adolescent years. These industrious women of prayer instilled faith, while teaching Algebra, Chemistry, Biology, Literature, and Music. I remember Sr. Mary Imelda standing as hall monitor, with her fifteen decade rosary slipping through her fingers as her lips moved in soundless prayer. Her silent witness spoke volumes. Last year when Sr. Imelda finally reached her eternal reward at 101, I hoped and prayed she knew the gratitude that I felt for all those prayers that she, and Sr. Marilyn Brennan, Sr. Theophane, Sr. Patricia Burke, Sr. Catherine Marie, Sr. Mary Paul, Sr. Margaret Mary, Sr. Regina, Sr. Joseph and their community uttered on our behalf.
In college it was the prayers of the School Sisters of Notre Dame- Sr. Joselma, Sr. Carol Marie Wildt, Sr. Patricia Anne Obremski, Sr. Joan Penzenstadler, Sr. Isaac Jogues, Sr. Rose Bast, and many others that wove the tapestry of ora et labora. While in graduate school, I relied upon the prayers and rigorous academic discipline of the Jesuit Fathers.
Now, as my little girls become young ladies- the prayers and guidance of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary: Sr. Marie, Sr. Ericka, Sr. Andre Marie, Sr. Anitza Marie, the effervescent Sr. Maria Faustina, and their incredible community, mean so much to our family. We are equally appreciative of the friendship and prayers of Mary Clare Stevens as she begins her new order: The Missionary Servants of the Holy Family, and our Franciscan song-bird (former choir director), Sr. Lorraine De Febbo.
Most especially, today I pray with appreciation for the Carmelite Friars whose daily presence in our lives is such a tremendous source of grace. Two of my dear friends, Fr. Redemptus Short, OCD and Fr. Matthias Montgomery OCD, are celebrating this Feast on the other side of eternity this year, Through the Communion of Saints, I know they continue to pray for us. On August 22, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary-we had the privilege to be present at Holy Hill as our friend Fr. Cyril Guise OCD celebrated his Diamond Jubilee- his sixtieth year as a Carmelite. How does one adequately say, “Thank you,” for sixty years of prayer? For these, and all the Carmelites, we are so grateful. On this the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple and Pro Orantibus Day, let us praise God for the blessing of the heart- those who offer their lives in prayer for us.
Blessings, Ad Jesum Per Mariam, MA JMJ