Christ Purifies Man: Doctrinal Homily Outline for Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Year A)

Detail from "The Presentation" by Fra Angelico

Detail from “The Presentation” by Fra Angelico

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time) (Year A), February 2, 2014, (1) provides insights into the Sunday Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: Christ purifies man. Doctrine: Sin. Practical application: Our moral struggle.

To view the Lectionary 524 readings, click here.

Central Idea: Christ Purifies Man

Reading 1 Mal 3:1-4

Thus says the Lord God:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.

  • Malachi’s and Simeon’s prophecies reinforce and help explain one another.
    • Malachi says the Lord’s messenger and then the Lord will appear in the Temple of Jerusalem. The Lord will cleanse and purify the sons of Levi, the priestly people of Israel, so they can once again offer “due sacrifice” to the Lord.
    • Simeon prophesies that the child Jesus “is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be contradicted . . . so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
    • Christ’s work is to forgive us our sins and to transform us the way the refiner’s fire refines and purifies silver and gold or the way lye transforms cloth, turning it pure while.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 24:7, 8, 9, 10

R. Who is this king of glory? It is the Lord!

Lift up, O gates, your lintels;
reach up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may come in!

Who is this king of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle.

Lift up, O gates, your lintels;
reach up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may come in!

Who is this king of glory?
The LORD of hosts; he is the king of glory.

  • When the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem, the Jews led by King David rejoiced exceedingly.
  • Today we commemorate the entry of the true King of Glory, Jesus Christ, into Jerusalem. The true Temple of God, now an infant, is brought into the figurative Temple of God.
  • The words of this psalm will come true for us. The Church is the New Jerusalem and Christ is our temple and our glorious king.
  • His might and glory are his utter defeat of sin and death for us.

Reading 2 Heb 2:14-18

Since the children share in blood and flesh,
Jesus likewise shared in them,
that through death he might destroy the one
who has the power of death, that is, the Devil,
and free those who through fear of death
had been subject to slavery all their life.
Surely he did not help angels
but rather the descendants of Abraham;
therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters
in every way,
that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God
to expiate the sins of the people.
Because he himself was tested through what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.

  • Malachi prophesied the Lord’s messenger who will “purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord.”
  • Jesus Christ is our high priest, offering sacrifices for our sins, in fact, offering the ultimate sacrifice of his life on the cross to destroy death to set us free from our slavery to sin and death.
  • God became man and shared in our human condition, having a human body that could and did suffer in order to help us.

Gospel Lk 2:22-40

When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.

  • According to the Law of Moses, every firstborn male, whether a son or an animal, belongs to God. In the case of the firstborn son, he must be ransomed or bought back. This custom is to remind the Chosen People that God delivered them from slavery by slaying every firstborn Egyptian male (Ex 13:2, 12-13).
  • In addition, each woman who gave birth had to make two different sacrifices, a burnt offering and a purification offering  (Lv 12:2).
  • The sacrifice the Holy Family offers for Mary is the one a poorer woman is permitted to make.
  • Jesus Christ is the firstborn son par excellence because he is the Son of God the Father. He is the firstborn son who will be slain by sinful men to redeem the Gentiles and Israel from sin and death.
  • As we see in the case of Simeon and Anna, the Holy Spirit was active in the lives of devout Jews who were awaiting the redemption of Israel.
  • Simeon declares that this forty-day-old-child is the Savior that God promised he would see before he died. In the Psalms we pray “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Ps. 27:1). Simeon attests to his Master, God, that Jesus is “your salvation” and light and glory to humanity.

Doctrine: Sin

  • Sin is ultimately the cause of all human suffering. Its final consequence is death. (CCC 404)
  • Every sin is both disobedience to God’s law and an act contrary to reason. For these reasons a sin is both an offense against God and a wound to human nature and solidarity. (CCC 1870-1872). (Solidarity is the brotherhood that ought to exist among men.)
  • Sin comes from the desire of the human heart for something that seems good but is contrary to the divine law and human nature (CCC 1873-1874).
  • Mortal sin is knowingly and willingly choosing something gravely wrong. It “destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible.” If not repented, “it brings eternal death.” (CCC 1874)
  • Venial or pardonable sin “constitutes a moral disorder that is reparable by charity” (CCC 1875). Venial sin does not destroy friendship with God.
  • The repetition of good acts makes us virtuous, that is, persons inclined to do good acts. “The repetition of sins—even venial ones—engenders vices,” making us vicious, inclined to do evil acts (CCC 1876). Thus, evil acts dispose us to further evil acts.

Practical Application: Our moral struggle

  • We make moral choices many times every day. We desire something that appears to us to be good (otherwise we would not want it). We have to weigh that thought, word, or action according to the moral law. All of us sin, to some extent, all the time. The saints are all sinners who kept struggling against sin.
  • We said above that Christ’s work is not just to forgive us our sins but also to transform us, the way fire refines silver and gold or the way lye transforms cloth, turning it pure while.
  • Christ is, as Simeon says, a sign of contradiction because we resist this purifying transformation that can come about if we cooperate with grace. Here are three barriers:
  • Denial: We deny that we did it.
  • Excuse: We say we are too weak to resist the desire.
  • Negation: We deny it is wrong. (This is one of the most grave lies in our society today: people call good evil and evil good.)
    • We always have the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the forgiveness of mortal and venial sins and the infusion of new graces.
    • Our moral struggle against sins builds the virtues which make being good easier and being bad harder.
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