Wednesday, February 02, 2011

What a Friend

February 2, 2011
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

By Colleen O’Sullivan

And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek. And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1b-c)

Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. (Hebrews 2:17-18)

He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:27-32)

Piety - Entrusting Myself to the Hands of Jesus
I’ve come to think that the only, the supreme, prayer we can offer up during these hours when the road before us is shrouded in darkness is that of our Master on the cross: “In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum.” To the hands that blessed and caressed, that were pierced;…to the kindly and mighty hands that reach down to the very marrow of the soul – that mould and create – to the hands through which so great a love is transmitted – it is to these that it is good to surrender our soul, above all when we suffer or are afraid. And in so doing there is a great happiness and great merit. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., from Hearts on Fire, p. 132)

Both the prophet Malachi and Simeon in our Gospel reading today testify to the coming of our Savior. Malachi says the Lord whom we seek will come to the temple. Hundreds of years later, Simeon is at the temple in Jerusalem when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to be presented, as was the custom. This faith-filled elderly man immediately recognizes that he is in the presence of the promised one, the salvation of Israel. He can die in peace, knowing that God’s anointed one has come.

When I was a child, I eagerly listened to my grandmother’s stories about Jesus and absorbed what the nuns taught us in CCD about Jesus. Somewhere along the line, though, something didn’t get communicated clearly. By the time I was seven or eight, I was a proper little heretic. I understood that Jesus was God’s Son and fully divine, but I had some difficulties with the fully human part. In my young child’s mind (influenced by Saturday morning cartoons and grade-Z Saturday afternoon Westerns), I pictured Jesus and the disciples in the desert, replete with huge Saguaro cacti and rattlesnakes. I imagined them having wagon-train style meals. Only I thought that Jesus just pretended to eat with the disciples. I pictured him taking a bite of food and then going behind one of the giant cactus bushes and spitting it out, because he didn’t really have a stomach like the disciples. He was just pretending to be human.

Fortunately, somewhere along the way, my thinking got straightened out. Thank goodness, a Messiah who only pretends to be human is the furthest thing from the truth. God sent his Son into the world and Jesus willingly took on every aspect of our human nature except sin – every sort of trial and sorrow or happiness and joy that you or I could ever experience. In the reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author says Jesus became like you and me in every way so that he could be a merciful and faithful high priest before God. Because Jesus was tested through his suffering, he can help us in our trials.

This should have great implications for our prayer lives. Sometimes we approach God in prayer as though we are putting on our “best faces,” saying what we think God would like to hear, leaving out a lot that’s going on inside. What a waste of time! First of all, God knows everything about us. We can’t hide our real selves from God. Secondly, we’re depriving ourselves of the experience of God’s love and compassion. There is nothing we could share with Jesus that he hasn’t experienced or wouldn’t understand or couldn’t forgive.

I am reminded of the words from an old hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus:”
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.
- Joseph M. Scriven, 1820-1886

Next time you pray, remember that even in the deepest, darkest recesses of your heart, there is nothing that Jesus, because he became like us, couldn’t comfort, heal or forgive. Share with him something that you usually keep tucked away and allow yourself to be embraced by his love for you.