Perhaps more than any previous January, I’ve been struck this year by the number of people who’ve kept their nativity scenes on display until today’s Feast. In uncertain times, when many are distanced from those they love, when many are anxious about their health and the future, we need to prolong the unchanging truth that God entered our world, keeping it, literally, before our eyes in the crib.
The manger, of course, is a sign that we are not alone. God is with us. In His Son, God enters into our life so that we can enter into His life. In the words of St Athanasius, ‘The Son of God became human so that we might become God,’ ‘wanting,’ says St Thomas Aquinas, ‘to make us sharers in his divinity.’ (cf CCC 460)
Whatever our struggles, or whatever dislocation we feel humanly or spiritually, the birth of the Christ-child closes the gap between us and God with a bridge of limitless love. God gifts Himself to the world, inviting us to live in, through, and for, Christ. And our joyful acceptance lights the pathway of hope which can never be eclipsed.
Today, with Mary and Joseph, with Anna and Simeon, we enter the Temple with our forty-day-old infant Saviour. Liturgical time has brought us quickly from the Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord to His public ministry. But today, we go back to the beginning, to the early days of God’s foothold on our planet. As the mid-winter darkness slowly subsides, we proclaim Christ as the eternal light that banishes the gloom. Christ; who is salvation in person, for all the world to perceive. Christ; who is divine love in person, for all the world to receive.
On this twenty-fifth World Day of Consecrated Life, we thank God for the women and men who hear and live the Lord’s invitation and offer themselves in the temple of His Church. How blessed are we by everyone who follows the call to consecrated life in all its beautiful variety. To each of our consecrated religious sisters and brothers in our Archdiocese, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you for your witness and dedication. And with particular honour, we recognise those celebrating significant jubilees of profession this year. How magnificent is your faithfulness, your prayer, and your generosity.
Today, I invite all our consecrated women and men to return back to the beginning, to the very personal early days of the gift of your vocation. Recall, for a moment, the first time you sensed the Lord’s call to you to follow Him with an undivided heart. Who was the first person to confirm they too recognised the Lord was tugging at your heartstrings? Let your inner being re-live how and when the Lord captured you for Himself; how He brought you to that place of definitive commitment, asking you to give your life to Him as your first love, and the apple of your eye.
Dear sisters and brothers, what began then continues now. Never lose the freshness and the wonder of the Lord’s choice of you. Unlikely candidates we may be; unworthy, imperfect, and sometimes slow to learn. But here’s the truth: the Lord has chosen us, the Lord has chosen you. And, even more than this, in each and every present moment, the Lord chooses us, He chooses you. His call is ever new, alive and vibrant, keeping us young in spirit, even as the years pass.
Your continuing consecration to the Lord demands a continuing sacrifice. Yes, the beautiful offerings of poverty, chastity and obedience, through which we truly find selfless wealth, love, and freedom. But also an ongoing and sacrificial giving of ourselves after the pattern of Christ’s servanthood.
Those consecrated to the Lord see in the weak and the poor, in the sick and the suffering, in the stranger and the dispossessed, the Christ-child needing to held and loved. Those consecrated to the Lord speak of the Christ-child with tender affection, with words and actions that lift hearts broken, afraid, desperate, or rejected. Our prayer overflows into service. Our evangelising missionary discipleship feeds bodies and souls. Living for Christ means giving for Christ, and Him seen in the other without exclusion or exception.
When they presented the child Jesus in the Temple, Mary and Joseph made the sacrifice of the ‘anawim,’ of the Lord’s poor ones. They were not rich enough to make the usual offering of a young lamb, and gave instead ‘a pair of turtle doves or young pigeons.’ And yet, in actual fact, they did offer a lamb, the lamb who reconciles, heals, and redeems our fractured humanity.
Pointing to the Lord Jesus, St John the Baptist would say: ‘Look, there is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’ St John’s vocation, like yours, is to point to Christ. You are signposts of the kingdom. You are witnesses to the overflow of grace. You are sisters and brothers with and for us, who make Christ known, loved, and served here among us. Your strength comes from Christ whose sacrifice is re-presented in the Mass, whose presence is prolonged in the Eucharist. On the altar, and in the tabernacle, with St John the Baptist and all the saints, together we point and say ‘Here is the lamb of God,’ who awaits, meets, comforts and feeds His beloved believing people.
Anna and Simeon were prompted by the Spirit to enter the Temple. They were enlightened by the Spirit to recognise and announce the Lord Jesus as Saviour. May the same Holy Spirit prompt and enlighten you, dear sisters and brothers, to embody for others the light and glory of Christ.