By Sarah Streitwieser
The Presentation marks another mystery in which Mary is the recipient of lively, weighty, and (presumably) unexpected conversation. In each early moment of Jesus’s conception and birth, it seems that someone is “dropping in” on Mary with astonishing announcements or sweeping proclamations.
In the Annunciation, Mary is visited by Gabriel and asked to become the Mother of God, “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). In the Visitation, Mary is unexpectedly greeted by Elizabeth, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). At the Nativity, the Holy Family is visited by shepherds, who share their story of angelic contact. We are not privy to the details of exactly what was said, but we are told that Mary and Joseph “were amazed by what had been told (to) them by the shepherds” (Luke 2:18)
Now in the Presentation, Simeon greets the Holy Family with what must have sounded like another strange and unexpected bidding. Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph together, then he turns, looks only at Mary, and speaks to her alone. “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
Mull over these words. What do they mean? Mary, though sinless and perfectly faithful, is not all-knowing. Perhaps she does not yet know the meaning of this prophecy either. It is clear that this prophecy (perhaps not unlike all of the announcements she has received thus far), contains notes of joy and sorrow together. “Fall and rise … sign and contradiction … heart will be pierced.”
How does Mary receive and react to round after round of unexpected, life-altering information? How does she behold that which she may not yet completely understand? Does she know what is coming her way, or like us (albeit, infinitely more faithful), does she wade through life’s mysteries with only partial information, only able to make sense of her circumstances retrospectively?
Throughout the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, we see Mary and Joseph question and wonder with perfect faith but not total understanding: “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34), “they were amazed at what had been told to them” (Luke 2:18), “the child’s mother and father were amazed at what had been said about him” (Luke 2:33), and “But they did not understand what he said to them” (Luke 2:50).
Mary is endlessly receptive – even when news is unexpected, difficult, or incomplete. I heard the statement recently that “love always receives.” In the Presentation, receptivity means that Mary is willing and ready to joyfully accept the prophecy of Simeon, even without complete understanding. Personally, I find that Mary is much easier to relate to when I realize that (like me) she does not have foreknowledge or complete understanding of her circumstances. This is part of what makes Mary so beautiful. Trusting God through life when we don’t know all of the eventualities or outcomes – that is true faith.
The phrase that is written twice to summarize the early events of Jesus’s life is, “Mary kept all of these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). Not only does Mary receive the (sometimes difficult) words and prophecies of God spoken through others, but she keeps them, cherishes them and reflects upon them in her heart.
For more on the Presentation, click the link below. Share your thoughts and prayers with your family. Come back next week for something new!