Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple
Draw me: we will run after Thee to the odor of Thy ointments.
The King hath brought me into His storerooms:
We will be glad and rejoice in Thee
(Canticle of Canticles 1.3).
Saint Joachim and Saint Anne went to Jerusalem to fulfill the vow they had made to God to dedicate their glorious child to Him in the Temple, where young maidens were brought up for the service of the Divine Majesty.
The first Christians had great spiritual feasts on the anniversary of their Baptism, which was the day of their dedication – that is, the day on which they were dedicated to God. They took no notice of their birthday, for at birth we are not children of grace, but rather Adamites or children of Adam. So they celebrated the day on which they were made children of God – the day of their Baptism.
While it is on Easter that the baptized renew their dedication to God through the Baptismal promises, this day is a fitting feast when the religious – those who are dedicated and consecrated to Him in a special and irrevocable manner – renew their vows and promises…. As a consummate lute player has the habit of testing the strings of his instrument from time to time to see if they need tightening or loosening in order to render the tone in perfect harmony, so it is necessary at least one a year to examine and consider all the affections of our souls to see if they are in tune so as to sing the canticle of the glory of God and of our own perfection. Thus, annual confessions have been enjoined so that we might discover our strings that are out of tune, our affections that are not really in balance, and our resolutions of the preceding year that have not been kept. After having tightened the pegs of our lute,… we come with our glorious Lady and Mistress and invoke Her protection, to place all our affections on the altar of the Temple of the Divine Goodness, in order that, without reserve, they may be burned and consumed by the fire of His burning charity…. [This] is a very necessary exercise, since our misery is so great that we always suffer some spiritual loss, and only too frequently fail in our designs. Therefore it is expedient to check ourselves and to consider by what means we can recover what by our weakness, even our negligence, we have lost.
True, we must not be surprised at this, since in this world that is the way it is. Indeed, it seems that even the sun needs to start its course anew once a year, to repair the losses suffered during the year by those place that do not have a favorable climate. Don’t you agree that the earth decays during the winter, and when spring comes it has to repair the losses it has suffered during the severe cold? We ought to do the same, making our course like the sun over all the affections and passions of our souls in order to repair the losses caused by their immortifications during the year…. In order to present ourselves well so as to re-offer to Her Divine Son that which we once offered and dedicated to Him – that is, ourselves – we renew our vows, as we have just done. For this custom of renewing our vows and promises can repair any faults we may have committed when we first made them.
… Three points which must be observed in order to make the renovation well. The first is that Mary comes to the Temple in Her childhood, leaving Her parents after being weaned; the second, that She is carried part of the time in Her parents’ arms and walks the other part with Her own feet; the third, that She gives and offers Herself entirely, without reserve.
As to the first point, namely, that She came to dedicate Herself to God in early childhood, how can we observe that, inasmuch as we have definitely passed that age and can never more return to it, for time lost cannot be recovered? You say there is no longer a remedy? O… there is remedy for everything! If virginity is restored by humility, and if the chaste widow becomes a triumphant virgin, why would you hold that we cannot recover time lost by the fervor and diligence with which we use the present time [cf., Eph. 5.15-16]…. Just as stags run so lightly, when pursued by the hunter so redouble your speed that they seem to fly, even so should we try to run our course. But at the time of our renovation and reaffirmation we should not only run, but fly, and ask with the holy Prophet [cf., Ps. 54.7] for the wings of a dove in order that we may fly swiftly, without lagging, until we rest in the clefts [Canticle 2.14] of the wall of holy Jerusalem [that is, the New Jerusalem – the Catholic Church]. By this I mean that we should be totally united to Our Lord crucified on Mount Calvary by a perfect conformity of life.
It is quite certain that the Divine Goodness desires our youth as the most fitting time for us to give ourselves to His service. But do you think the youth is always to be taken and understood in terms of our age, and that the Divine Spouse means those that are young in when She says in the Canticle of Canticles that the maidens love their celestial Spouse and are drawn to Him by the fragrance of His perfumes? Oh no, without doubt She is speaking of those who are young in zeal and courage and who, in their later years, come to consecrate to the service of His holy love not only every moment of their lives, but all their actions – and this without any reserve. You will say: after we have completed our youth, when is the most fitting time for us to consecrate and devote ourselves to God? Oh, when is it? It is the present moment, now, immediately [cf., 2 Cor. 6.2]; for the past is no longer ours, the future may never be ours, so the present moment is the best.
Second, namely, that our glorious Lady and Mistress, coming to dedicate Herself to God, was carried by Her parents a part of the way, and the other part She came on Her little feet – always aided, however, by Her parents. For when St. Joachim and St. Anne came upon a level stretch, they put Her down and allowed Her to walk on Her own. This little heavenly and glorious child then held up Her little fingers to grab hold of Her father’s and mother’s hands, lest She trips. As soon as they came upon some rough road, they immediately took Her in their arms. They allowed Her to walk – not to relieve themselves, because it was a great consolation to carry Her, but for the pleasure it gave them to see Her taking some steps….
During our long pilgrimage on this wretched earth Our Lord leads us in these two ways. He either leads us by the hand, causing us to walk with Him, or He carries us in the arms of His Providence. I mean that He holds us by the hand and let us walk in the exercise of virtue. For if He did not hold us by the hand it would not be possible for us to travel this road of blessing. And who does not see that usually those who abandon His fatherly hand do not take a single step without tripping and falling head first to the ground. His Goodness is willing to lead us and to carry us, but He also wants us to take our little steps alone, doing on our part all that we can, helped by His grace. And Holy Church, tender and solicitous for Her children’s well-being, teaches us to pray each day a prayer in which she begs God to accompany us along our earthly pilgrimage and to assist us with His prevenient and accompanying grace, without which we can do nothing. Leading us by the hand, our Savior does with us the deeds for which He seeks our cooperation… (to be continued) [Taken from the Sermons of St. Francis de Sales].
A blessed Feast to all!