25th Sunday After Pentecost – Afterfeast of Entry of Theotokos
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is the leave-taking of the feast we celebrated earlier this week: the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple.
When the blessed Virgin was just three years old, her parents Joachim and Anna brought her to the Temple in order to fulfill their vow of dedicating her in service to God. The young Mary was placed on the bottom step leading up to the Temple, and in a manner beyond her years, she confidently ascended the fifteen steps leading up to the Temple and presented herself to the High Priest. The High Priest, Zechariah, inspired by the grace of God, led her directly into the Holy of Holies – a place where only the High Priest could enter, and then, only once a year. Needless to say, all those who witnessed this were astonished!
What a remarkable thing… for she, who enters into the Temple of the Most High God will become the Temple of the Most High God. She, who enters into the Holy of Holies, will become the Holy of Holies. With this feast, we celebrate the entry of the Mother of God into the Temple, anticipating the fact that she herself will become the very Temple of God and bring forth our Lord Jesus Christ into this world.
This feast marks the turning point from the Old Testament era to the era of the New Testament - wherein our Lord Jesus Christ indicated that the hour had come when we shall worship God neither on any specific mountain, nor in Jerusalem; but when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. That veil separating God from mankind was rent in two by Christ and all are called to the opportunity to unite themselves to Him. Just as the Virgin Mary became one who bore God in her very being, so too may we, through the Mystery of Holy Communion and the interaction of the Holy Spirit become God-bearers, bearers of the light and the grace of God.
This is a great mystery and a difficult thing to fully comprehend. But it is the absolute truth and should be the primary purpose of our life. All other pursuits pale in comparison to the importance of this union with our Lord. For it is by this proximity and growing union with Christ that we can be healed of the spiritual infirmities which afflict us.
We heard in today’s Gospel about a woman who bore her infirmity for eighteen years - a sickness which caused her to be stooped over so that she could not even straighten up, but was forced to live out her life bent over with her eyes fixed toward the ground.
Isn’t that a powerful metaphor for the spiritual condition of mankind? Our spiritual infirmities cause us to stoop over so that, after some time, we can hardly even raise our eyes toward heaven… we can only see the dirt below us and can no longer see the reality of the beauty that surrounds us.
What a startling contrast this is! Think of what is presented to us in the images of these two women… One is the Most Pure Virgin, who stands erect and, even as a young child bounds up the steps of the Temple. Through her purity and simple love for God, she is vouchsafed to become the living temple of God Himself! Think of the nobility and the beauty of that! And this, dear brothers and sisters, is what each and every one of us are called to become!
How different is the image of the woman bent over and suffering from her infirmities for so many years. She cannot see the heavens, her gaze is earthward, her pains and sufferings preoccupy her and bring her such great misery. What a sorry state she has come to!
Yet Christ is present… and the grace and compassion of Christ can heal such disfiguration. Christ said to the poor woman: ‘You are loosed from your infirmity’, and immediately she straightened up and stood at her full stature. She was healed by Christ to begin to become that which she was created to be.
God grant that we never lose sight of the dignity to which we are called… to be temples of the Holy Spirit. Can we even begin to comprehend this? God wishes to come and abide in us as living temples. Can God possibly love us that much? And how truly sorrowful it is then, that we would defile the temple of God with our sinful words, deeds, and thoughts.
The Apostle Paul exhorted us this morning: ‘Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.’
We must wake up and live our lives spiritually alert and recognizing the reality of the presence of God. If we could but live our lives with this focus on the one thing needful, the reality of the presence of God… how different would our lives be? Knowing that God is present, abiding within us and around us, how would we behave? How would we treat other people? With what care would we speak? With what vigilance would we guard even our thoughts?
May God, through the intercessions of His Most Pure Mother, grant us the spiritual alertness to remain awake to the reality of His presence at all times and in all places. May we understand, even in the tiniest fraction, the true dignity to which we are called to be temples and bearers of the Living God. And may we then live our lives in accordance with that dignity and nobility – taking great care to honor and preserve the grace which God bestows upon His beloved children… standing erect and healed from the spiritual infirmities which pull us downward, causing us to be stooped over, seeing only the dirt of this world.
‘Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.’ Amen!