Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Contemplation of Love

Feast of Presentation of the Lord

Today’s feast commemorates the event of the holy family paying a visit to the Jerusalem Temple, 40 days after the birth of Jesus to perform two rituals: the first is that of the presentation of a first born son who is to be redeemed from God and the second is the purification of the mother since child birth had rendered her ritually unclean. So, it is not only the Feast of Jesus, the Son of Mary, the Son of God. It is also the Feast of Mary. The feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a kind of little Christmas, where God’s love who took human flesh at Christmas is now reflected in the response of the mother. Today, we are invited into the school of love, to sit on the lap of Mary as she faithfully teaches us how to love the Lord.  There is much that we can learn from her.

Today, much of the love that we know and encounter is external. Love is often demonstrated by the expensive gifts which we heap on each other. This kind of love depends constantly on strong emotions and passions. This is a love that only appreciates external beauty. But Mary teaches us that much of true love lies hidden and is mysterious. Even though the strong emotions and external beauty fade, love remains. It takes faith to recognise what seems invisible to the eye. Simeon and Anna, both physically blinded by age and by the dim light in the Temple’s interior, were able to recognise the Christ Child where others could not.  The Blessed Mother teaches us the art of love is to see with the heart and not with our eyes

So what does Mary teach us of love?
Mary teaches us that ‘love means letting go.’  Mary and Joseph follows the ancient Jewish custom of presenting their first born son to God at the Temple. But more than just blindly following a tradition and custom, Mary understood the truth of her actions. This child does not belong to her. This child belongs to God. Mary understood from the very moment the angel announced his conception in her womb, she would not be able to force or manipulate the direction of his fate. This child comes from God, he will live a life in accordance with the will of God and when his earthly mission is accomplished, he will return to God. Unlike other parents who often behave in a manner which indicates possession of their children, controlling their future, their career and even their love life, Mary’s love would provide space for her Son to fulfill his mission, even though this would mean breaking her heart at the end. 

Letting go doesn't mean we don't care or that we’ve given up.  Letting go means we stop trying to force outcomes and make people behave. It means we stop trying to do the impossible--controlling that which we cannot--and instead, focus on what is possible for God.  And we do this in gentleness, kindness, and love, as much as possible. As the Buddha wisely taught, “In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you love? How deeply did you learn to let go?”

Mary also shows that ‘Love risks wounding.’ (love can be painful) Simeon prophetically foretells the pain which Mary will have to endure for her son. By doing so, the story links the love of Mary with the passion of Christ right from the very beginning. There are times we wish to shield our hearts from injury and hurts.  We enclose ourselves in a cocoon hoping and desiring that our hearts will not be broken. We often extend this protective veil over our loved ones, our family members, our children, our friends. But as much as we try to shield them and ourselves from pain and suffering, wounds are unavoidable when one takes the risk of loving. In his book, ‘The Four Loves’, C.S. Lewis beautifully speaks of the intimate relationship between love and pain, as he himself tries to make sense of the loss he experienced as a result of the death of his beloved wife. He writes, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

Mary’s love also teaches us that Love purifies or to be more accurate, it sanctifies. Mary, having given birth to Jesus, undergoes a ritual of purification. But Mary is in no need of such purification because she is the Immaculate Conception, the true Ark of the Covenant unsullied by original sin, the true temple of the Lord, her son Jesus. St Augustine tells us that Mary’s love first conceived in her heart and then in her womb. So what is the single most important sign of holiness? It is love. Scriptures constantly remind us that the beginning of love does not lie with the individual man or woman trying to be more caring. The beginning of love always begins with God’s love for his people even though they remained sinners.

Therefore, let us rejoice together with Mary as we offer our thanksgiving to God for the gift of His Son. Indeed, the Light has come into the World to illumine our minds and our hearts, to teach us see not with our physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith and love. Here is the one who teaches us that love always mean being ready to let go and not seek to posses; a love that risks wounding and is always ready to share in the passion of Christ; and finally, a love that purifies, sanctifies because God chose to become man in order that men may become gods.

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