The Exchange of Life: God Gives to Us, and We Give it Back

Each time we pray the glorious mysteries of the Rosary, we have the chance to meditate on the Gospel passage which we just heard today:  the presentation of Jesus in the temple—even though in today’s passage we only heard the second part of the story.  In any case, in the Presentation, Mary and Joseph complete the ritual gesture of consecrating their first-born son to God the Father.

The meaning of this gesture is this:  life belongs to God.  Each first born, both for animals and man, belongs to God.  The first born of animals must be offered as a sacrifice to God, as a holocaust:, something that is totally consumed.  As for the firstborn of man, to avoid human sacrifice, the new-born was redeemed with the holocaust of a lamb, or if the family was poor, with the offering of a pair of turtledoves.  The meaning was clear:  God gives the gift of life, and we, in exchange, should give it back and consecrate this very gift of life to him.

I. Mary

In a very particular and miraculous way, Mary gave birth to the Son of God.  In a certain sense, Jesus belongs to her, because He took the human nature of his mother.  At the same time, though, Mary knows, in the depths of her heart, that Jesus doesn’t belong to her, but to God.  Therefore, keeping all these things in her heart, fulfilling the ritual gesture of redemption, Mary goes beyond the exterior sacrifice, and offers a much more difficult interior sacrifice, and so gives to God—with the pain of separation, but with the serenity of faith—the fruit of her womb, Jesus.  This sacrifice gets periodically renewed, though; for instance, it gets clearly demonstrated when Jesus is twelve years old, and gets lost for three days and when finally found, the distressed Mary says: Son, why have you treated us so? (Lk 2:48) – to only receive a disconcerting response:  How is it that you sought me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? (Lk 2:49).  Again, Mary had to offer her son to the Father, with a great interior sacrifice.  Not to mention the death of Christ on the cross, when the sword pierced Mary’s heart.
In that moment, she had to die to all of her maternal instincts, she had to pronounce her “Fiat” even another time to the Lord.  The Presentation of Jesus in the temple is the first time in a series of “Presentations” – a series of moments in which Mary offers Jesus to God the Father.

II. Us

Isn’t this the same for us?  We find the same dynamic in our life:  we, too, present to God the things that are most precious to us.

  1.  For example, the presentation of our children to the Lord.  Certainly, children come to the light of this world through parents, but parents are instruments.  In reality, children aren’t our own—they’re God’s.  The aim of education and formation in the family is to arrive at a point of full maturity, in which children become independent—or better, the aim is to give the children back to God, to whom they belong.  This request is a great sacrifice of interior separation on behalf of the parents.
  2.  There is a spiritual paternity in which we find the same dynamic.  St. Paul feels like the father of the community in Corinth, saying: For though you have countless guides, you do not have many fathers.  For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel (1 Cor 4:15).  The same thing goes for the local priest at the parish, for example, or for the founder of a monastery.  We generate spiritual life, but the life generated isn’t ours; it belongs to God.  Thus, even we, imitating Mary, must renovate the interior sacrifice, offering to God the persons for whom we are responsible, saying: “here are your children:  they are not mine, but yours.  Take care of them in your love.”
  3.  The same principle goes for all of our plans, both large and small.  We generate our projects, so to speak, we give light to them, we help them grow—but in all of this, our projects depend on God.  St. James confronts this argument, using the example of business:  Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get grain”; whereas you do not know about tomorrow.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that” (Jam 4:13-15).  Therefore, our projects are to be presented to the Lord.
  4.  Even life itself belongs to this dynamic.  Life is not mine, but belongs to God; it is a gift completely free, in a certain sense, loaned to us.  Instead, we tend to think of life as if it were private property, something personal that we can manage, organize, plan, and even manipulate – but illness and death teach us that life is very fragile.  The Lord may ask us to return it at any moment. And so, we receive the gift of life with gratitude  – and then we prepare our hearts to give it back, to present this life to God when He asks us for it.

The Gospel passage which the Liturgy proposes for our meditation today is of great wisdom.  Jesus comes from God the Father, and Mary must give him back to the Father.  Our children come from God, and we must make an interior sacrifice to give them back to God.  All that we are and all that we have comes from God, and we will be free in the measure in which we are able to give everything back to God.  This sacrificial gift requests, on our part, the death of our self-love, the death of our self-centeredness, the death of the old man.  And the old man doesn’t die easily.  But the birth of Christ, which we celebrate in these days, brings joy to our hearts, because it offers the possibility to renew the Christian—a new life, an interior freedom, a great, generous, and divine love.
(Translated from the original Italian by B. Gonzalez.)

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