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This Sunday's Programme

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Feast of the Holy Family B

Sunday 31st December 2023

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Lk 2:22-40

When the time for Mary’s purification according to the Law of Moses had come, the parents brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (It is written in the Law that every first-born son is to be made holy to the Lord.) They did this according to the Law by offering a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
And look, there was a man in Jerusalem, named Simeon, a devout and just man, who yearned for the consolation of Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him. In fact, it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not experience death until he had seen the Anointed One of God. So led by the Spirit, he came to the temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to carry out the customs of the Law, he took him in his arms and blessed God, saying,
‘Lord, you can now let your servant depart in peace,
just as you promised,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in sight of all the nations:
a light to enlighten the pagans
and glory for your people, Israel.’

Joseph and the child’s mother stood there, astonished at what was being said about Jesus. Simeon then blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, ‘Look, this child will be for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, a sign that will be rejected – yes, a sword will pass through your very soul – and the innermost hearts of many will be revealed.’

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser. An elderly woman, she had been married seven years, when her husband died. Now she was now eighty-four, and she spent her time praying and fasting before God, night and day, never leaving the temple. Just at that moment, she too came and praised God. And she spoke about him to all who looked for the redemption of Israel.

When they had fulfilled all the requirements of the Law of God, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew up, strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and God’s favour was on him.

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 104:1-6, 8-9
Acclaim the Lord, call out in his name,
glorify all his deeds in the midst of the people.
Sing, sing, make music to his name,
meditate on all his wonderful works!

Glory in his holy name.
Let the hearts of those seeking him overflow with joy.
Seek the Lord, desire his strength,
Yearn to see his face.

Remember all his wonders,
his deeds and his judgements,
children of Abraham, his servant,
and descendants of Jacob, the one he chose.

For all time God remembers his covenant,
his promise to a thousand generations,
the covenant made to Abraham,
the oath sworn to Jacob.

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Coming

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

The Gospel for this Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple is an extraordinary cameo in the Gospel of Luke. It encapsulates the finest of the Jewish faith tradition from which Jesus emerged while foreshadowing both the suffering and glory of salvation that he would bring. Luke’s description of Mary and Joseph fulfilling the Law has the hallmarks of one who didn’t actually know or experience what the Law was and so had got it partially wrong. On the fortieth day, it was only Mary who had to come to the temple to be purified, after the birth of her first-born son. But, on another level, Luke describes this presentation with an extraordinary theological and symbolic understanding. Behind the language and the imagery, stands Second Isaiah, the prophet who had foretold the consolation of Israel and the suffering of the one who would bring it about.

We hear nothing of the actual religious ceremony, only the fact that Jesus’ parents were presenting the offering of the poor – two small birds, instead of a lamb. Rather the story focusses on the response given by two elderly people who happened to be in the temple at that time. But their presence was not mere happenstance. Three times, Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit inspired Simeon to come and recognise the Messiah for whom he had so passionately desired. Anna, an elderly widow, we are told spent her life in prayer in the temple and happened by at that moment. In both these two elderly figures, we see the best of the Old Testament figures represented.

Simeon’s blessing prayer departs in a significant way from what would have been expected of one glorifying God for having seen the Anointed, the Messiah. He names Jesus as the salvation prepared for ‘all nations’ specifying firstly the pagans, the gentiles, and then the people of Israel. Later in Luke, at the beginning of his ministry, when Jesus preaches to the people of his own town, it is his openness to the pagan gentiles that brings about the wrath of, and then rejection by, his own people. In Paul’s declaration at the end of Acts, Luke has Paul stating that ‘the salvation of God has been sent to the gentiles.’ From the very outset of his life, Jesus’ mission of salvation is presented as extending to all peoples.

The words that Simeon addresses to Mary are enigmatic. Luke’s Gospel does not have Mary standing at the foot of the cross, so it seems unlikely that it was Jesus’ crucifixion to which Simeon alludes. Rather, the Catholic devotion of the seven sorrows of Mary, perhaps points us in the right direction. Adherence to the teaching of Jesus Christ will bring sorrow and suffering. It is as though the very goodness of the one we follow draws out the evil which is in our world. The proper response is to be, like our Master, and allow the swords that evil brings to pierce our hearts rather than to retaliate in kind.

 

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

Coming

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

My niece recently had her first child. In the photo that was taken of my brother that evening, his face is suffused with joy from the light that seems to flow from the baby’s head. The birth of a baby is a most potent symbol of the joy and grace of God that flows into our world. When a child is born, people become new creations. A woman becomes a mother, a man a father, parents become grandparents, others become aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings. Each of us, at birth, is born into and creates a web of relationships. This happens so often, yet still, those caught up in a birth are often utterly sideswiped by the depth of mystery and joy.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we see two old people transformed by the arrival at the Temple of Jesus with his parents. Simeon and Anna’s humility and faithfulness were so profound that God could reveal in and through them the mystery of this child. Listen to Simeon, custodian of all that was good in his Jewish faith, who sees the reality that is present in this child and predicts the lines of future. Look at Anna, a woman who was probably dismissed as a religious fanatic, joyously drawing all into praise of God and to a recognition of God’s redeeming power. In a very real sense, Simeon and Anna act as faith-filled ‘grandparents’ of those who look to Jesus as Saviour. By their testimony they draw others into the depth of faith that was theirs.

As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, we are inevitably led to reflect on our own family. Each of us have a role to play, like Simeon and Anna, in pointing out the presence of Jesus and the salvation that he brings. As we do this, our own faith is strengthened and we discover that Jesus himself is born into our hearts and lives.

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

– Giotto Presentation in the Temple.
– Giovanni Bellini Presentation in the Temple  .
– Hans Memling Presentation in the Temple.
– Rembrandt Presentation in the Temple.
– Simeon’s Song of Praise  by Aert de Gelder.
– William Hole Presentation in the Temple.

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

As you mix with you family and friends mull on how the presence of Jesus is revealed in your midst.  Who are the people of faith in your circle who reveal what salvation looks like?

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

Rest in the love of your God.

When a child is born into the world, he or she comes into and creates a new web of relationships. Reflect on the change that you have seen with the birth of a new baby, especially to a couple for whom it is the first. If you have had a child, reflect on how that child transformed you.

Birth is for those having a child, like a new birth for them. Sit and imagine how Jesus wishes to come to birth in you. How would you be changed?

Rest in the love of your God.