Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
With the baby Jesus—just 40 days old—Joseph and Mary travel to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic Law. Since the birth of the Christ Child, the Blessed Mother has been considered legally “unclean,” that is, she has been deemed impure for the purpose of worship in the temple and restricted from touching anything considered sacred to the Lord. We must note here that her impurity is not moral or physical but legal. There is nothing morally or physically wrong about being a mother. The Law set this requirement—think of it as a 40 day fast—in order to emphasize the importance of offering a firstborn son to the Lord as a “first fruits sacrifice.” In the temple, Mary and Joseph meet Simeon, a devout and righteous man, and Anna, a prophetess. Both recognize Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah and acclaim him as the Savior. With Christ's presentation in the temple, we recall Malachi's prophetic questions: “Who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears?” Are we prepared for the refiner's fire and the fuller's lye?
Where Mary was required by the Law to seek legal purification by offering her first born son in the temple, and thereby regaining access to the holy of holies, we are granted access to God by the “once for all” sacrifice of her son on the Cross. Some thirty years after Mary and Joseph present the Christ Child in the temple, Jesus offers himself—as both priest and victim—for the salvation of the whole world. The Christ's birth and death as one of us brings all of us to the threshold of the heavenly temple and invites us to step into the holy of holies, to follow his excellent Way, and submit ourselves to what the prophet Malachi calls “refiner's fire,” “the fuller's lye.” To be purified of all impurities, to be bleached of every stain: so that we may be presented to the Lord as spotless sacrifices on His altar. What do we sacrifice? Nothing and everything. Nothing we have and nothing we are is ours to give. And everything we have and everything we are is given. Because Christ the Lamb precedes us to the altar, our sacrifices are his and his are ours. . .IF, if we follow his excellent Way and submit ourselves to a life- long fast in love: surrendering hatred, anger, vengeance, greed, lust, jealousy, and pride. Are you prepared for the refiner's fire and the fuller's lye?
Please forgive me this image, but it is more than apt. Have you ever been prepared for a colonoscopy, or some other sort of gastro-intestinal diagnostic procedure? The doctor can't do his best work if you are—shall we say?—“unclean.” It is necessary to spend some time purging the impurities from your system before a proper examination can be done. Think of your sins, all your vices—great and small alike—and imagine them poisoning your soul, imagine them clogging your spiritual system, restricting your access to the Lord's blessings. What we need is a way to flush those impurities, a way to wash away all those habits of mind and body that prevent us from absorbing the divine nutrients of God's graces. In the same way that we can be prepared physically for a medical exam, we can be prepared spiritually for the final exam of our soul. We call this the sacrament of confession.
Mary endures 40 days of fasting from the temple and all things holy so that she might exult in presenting her son to the Lord. Because Christ presented himself to the Father on the Cross as a once-for-all sacrifice for us, we do not have to endure 40 days of fasting from the altar, or from His graces. We have immediate and unlimited access. There is no good reason for us live with the impurities that sicken us. Step into the refiner's fire and the fuller's lye. . .and be made clean!______________
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