Ave Maria meditations
THE PRESENTATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
Although Holy Scripture does not tell us anything about the presentation of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple, this belief is based upon evidence authorized by a very ancient Christian tradition, and the Church has given it official recognition by making it the object of a special Marian feast. Mary, who leaves her home and parents in her most tender years in order to live in the shadow of the Temple, speaks to us of detachment, of separation from the world, of complete dedication to the service of God, of virginal consecration to the Most High. After her, countless virginal souls will present themselves in the Temple to offer themselves to God but no offering will be as pure, as total, as acceptable as Mary’s.
Our Lady is truly the privileged one among all creatures, who, from the first moment of her existence, heard the great cal1: ” Hearken, 0 daughter, and see and incline thy ear, and forget thy people and thy father’s house” (Ps 44, I I). The Most High is enamored of her beauty and wills that she be wholly His. Mary responds, and her answer is eminently prompt and complete. The response of souls whom God calls to the Altar, to the religious life or to virginal consecration in the world, should resemble Mary’s. These souls must also be separated from the world, leave parents and friends; they must detach themselves from their people and their homes. There cannot always be material separation, but there must always be a spiritual one, that is, a separation in the realm of the affections. It is the heart which must be detached, be secluded, because the Lord’s elect can no longer belong to the world: “they are not of the world” (Jn 17, 14), Jesus said.
To live in the world without being of the world is not easy, but it is absolutely essential in order to answer the divine call. There are virginal souls who fail in their consecrated vocation, or neglect to correspond fully, because they are still attached to the world-to its maxims, its vanities, its affairs, its comforts; they have not had the courage to effect a true separation, or at least, if they have undertaken it, they have not remained faithful. This can happen not merely to souls living in the world but even to those in the cloister, for the world penetrates everywhere, and everywhere it invades hearts that are not entirely detached.
Corresponding to complete separation is oblation, total consecration. Mary gave herself wholly to God, unreservedly, forever. “Lord, in the simplicity of my heart I offer myself to You this day as Your servant for evermore, for Your homage and for a sacrifice of perpetual praise” (Imit IV, 9, I). Such must have been the dispositions with which this holy child offered herself to the Most High, dispositions which were lived with a fullness and coherence incomprehensible to our wretchedness.
Never for a moment did Mary fail in her complete consecration; God was able to accomplish in her all that He willed, without meeting the least resistance. Circumstances of an exceedingly difficult and painful nature abounded in the life of our Blessed Lady: Joseph’s doubt concerning the origin of her maternity; the hardships and inconveniences of the journey to Bethlehem; the bleak poverty in which she saw her Child born, the flight into Egypt, the life of privation at Nazareth, the hostility and malice of the Pharisees toward Jesus, the treason of Judas, the ingratitude of a people so favored and beloved, her Son’s condemnation to death, the way to Calvary, the Crucifixion amid the insults of the populace.
In vain would we scrutinize Mary’s heart to find there a single movement of resentment, of protest; in vain would we seek to find upon her lips one single word of complaint. Mary gave herself wholly to God, allowing Him to exercise over her all His rights as Sovereign, Lord, and Master. She made no objections nor did she marvel that her immolation should reach such proportions: had she not offered herself without reserve? And when her offering was consummated she did nothing but repeat : ” Fiat! Ecce ancilla Domini! ”
What a contrast to our life as consecrated souls! How easily we take back the gift made to God! We take back our heart when we admit human affections; we take back our will when we refuse to submit to certain commands of our obedience which mortify or contradict us, when we will not accept that which entails sacrifice, when we complain, protest or defend our rights. Yet the only true right of a soul consecrated to God is that of letting itself be used and consumed for His glory.
Let us ask Mary, presented in the Temple, to take our poor offering into her maternal hands, to purify and complete it by her offering, so pure, so perfect; to include and hide it in hers, so great and so generous, that being thus purified and renewed, it may be agreeable to God.
“0 dearly Beloved of God, most amiable Child Mary, would that today I could offer you the first years of my life and consecrate myself to your service, my blessed and sweet Lady, as you presented and consecrated yourself in the Temple for the honor and glory of God …. But time has slipped away and so many years have been spent in serving the world and my own caprice, as it were, forgetful of you and of God. Woe to the time when I did not love you! But better late than never.
Behold, 0 Mary, I present myself to you today, offering myself entirely to your service, for the number of days, whether few or many, that are still left to me on earth. I renounce all creatures, as you did, and vow myself entirely to the love of my Creator. I consecrate to you, 0 my Queen, my intellect, that it may always think upon the love you deserve, my tongue, that it may praise you, my heart that it may love you. Accept, 0 Most Holy Virgin, the offering which this wretched sinner presents to you; accept it, I beg, by the consolation your heart felt when you gave yourself to God in the Temple. And if I am late in putting myself at your service, it is but fitting that I redeem the time lost by redoubling my devotion and my love.
“0 Mother of Mercy, help my weakness by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your Jesus the strength to be faithful to you until death. Grant that after having served you always in this life I may go to praise you eternally in Paradise” (St. Alphonsus).
Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene OCD