Homilette for Friday, November 21, 2008

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Revelation 8:1-11; Psalm 119; Luke 19:45-48)

Today’s memorial pictures the day when Mary’s aged parents presented her to the Lord in Jewish Temple. There is no record of this event in any of the four canonical gospels although an apocryphal gospel, the “Protoevangelium of James,” does tell of it. Since this source appears relatively late in the Christian tradition, scholars doubt its accuracy.

The Church retains the feast on its calendar at least partly because it recalls the founding of a church dedicated to Mary near the Temple site. More to the point, Christians see Mary herself as the new Temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. Bearing Jesus in her womb, she becomes the shrine of the holy.

By happy coincidence today’s gospel reading shows Jesus cleansing the Temple as recorded by the evangelist Luke. Of all the gospel writers Luke gives by far the most favorable impression of the Temple. His gospel begins there with the account of the angel’s revelation to Zachariah that his wife will give birth to a son. It also ends in the Temple where the disciples retreat to praise God after Jesus’ ascension. In Luke Jesus purifies the Temple area not because the Temple is corrupt but because of marketing excesses carried on there. Significantly, he returns to the Temple area to teach. We must never forget that Jesus was always a law-abiding Jew with high regard for the Temple. Now we can exalt the Temple all the more since it not only is a holy place where the Lord habituated; it is also an image for his most blessed mother.