Pope Francis Homily during the Mass for the 18th World Day for Consecrated Life – St. Peter’s Basilica – Sunday, February 2, 2014
The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple is also known as the Feast of the Encounter: the encounter between Jesus and his people. The liturgy tells of when Mary and Joseph brought their child to the Temple in Jerusalem; it is when the first encounter between Jesus and his people took place. This day is also called the Feast of Encounter because on it the New Testament, represented by the Baby Jesus, encountered the Old Testament, represented by Simeon and Anna.
He points out it was also a meeting between the young and the elderly: the young were Mary and Joseph with their infant, and the elders were Simeon and Anna, two characters who always attended the Temple.
We observe what the evangelist Luke tells us of them, as he describes them. He says four times that Our Lady and St Joseph wanted to do what was required by the law of the Lord (cf. Luke 2, 22.214.171.124). One perceives that Jesus’ parents have the joy of observing the precepts of God, the joy of walking according to the law of the Lord! They are two newlyweds, they have just had their baby, and they are motivated by the desire to do what is prescribed. This is not an external fact; it is not just to feel right, no! It ‘ a strong desire, a deep desire, full of joy. That’s what the Psalm says: “I rejoice in following your statutes…. Your law is my delight (119, 14.77)”.
And what does St. Luke says of the elderly? He underlines, more than once, that they were guided by the Holy Spirit. He says Simeon was a righteous and devout man, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and that “the Holy Spirit was upon him” (2:25). He says that “the Holy Spirit had announced “that before dying he would see the Christ, the Messiah (v. 26); and finally he went to the Temple “moved by the Spirit “(v. 27). He says Anna was a “prophet” (v. 36), She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (v. 37). In short, these two elders are full of life! They are full of life because they are animated by the Holy Spirit, obedient to his action, sensitive to his calls…
And thus, this is the encounter between the Holy Family and the two representatives of the holy people of God. Jesus is at the centre. It is He who moves everything, who attracts all of them to the Temple, the house of his Father.
It is a meeting between young people who are full of joy in observing the Law of the Lord, and the elderly who are filled with joy for the action of the Holy Spirit. It is a unique encounter between observance and prophecy, where young people are the observers and the elderly are prophetic! In fact, if we think carefully, the desire to keep the Law is animated by the Spirit and the prophecy moves forward in the path traced by the Law. Who, more than Mary, is full of the Holy Spirit? Who better is docile than she to its action?
Dear Brothers and Sisters, in the light of this Gospel scene, let us look to consecrated life as an encounter with Christ: it is He who comes to us, led by Mary and Joseph, and we go towards Him guided by the Holy Spirit. But the centre is Him. He moves everything, He draws us to the Temple, to the Church, where we can meet Him, recognize Him, welcome Him, embrace Him. Jesus comes to us in the Church through the foundational charism of an Institute: it is nice to think of our vocation in this way! Our encounter with Christ took its shape in the Church through the charism of one of its witnesses. This always amazes us and makes us give thanks.
And in the consecrated life we live the encounter between the young and the old, between observation and prophecy. Let’s not see these as two opposing realities! Let us rather allow the Holy Spirit to animate both of them, and a sign of this is joy: the joy of observing, of walking within a rule of life; the joy of being led by the Spirit, never unyielding, never closed, always open to voice of God that speaks, that opens, that leads us and invites us to go towards the horizon.
It’s good for the elderly to communicate their wisdom to the young; and is good for the young people to gather this wealth of experience and wisdom, and to carry it forward, not so as to store it in a museum, but to bring it forward addressing the challenges of life, to carry it forward for the sake of respective religious orders and of the whole Church.
May the grace of this mystery, the mystery of the Encounter, enlighten us and comfort us in our journey. Amen.