Lamb or Turtle Dove?

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Today is the World Day of Consecrated Life. Pope John Paul chose February 2nd to be the World day of Consecrated Life for the first time in 1997 because traditionally this day has been commemorated as the feast of Presentation of the Lord in the temple.

In the message given on the first day of celebration the Pope explained, the reason of celebrating this day as day of consecrated life is because “the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is an eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one.”

The day has been traditionally called in different names: The Presentation of Christ,  because this commemorates the Presentation of Christ by His Mother in the Temple at Jerusalem exactly forty days after His Birth; The Meeting of the Lord signifying the meeting between the Righteous Simeon and Anna and the Saviour; The Purification of the Virgin alluding to the Old Testament custom of bringing the child and the mother to the temple/synagogue in order to give thanks to God and pray for the purification of the mother and health of the child.

Pope Francis, in the 2014 message on the day, makes a brilliant commentary on the second aspect of the feast which he names the Feast of Encounter. This is the day Jesus goes to meet His People for the first time, it is the encounter between Jesus and His People. It is the encounter between the Holy Family and these two representatives of the Holy People of God. It is also an encounter between young people and the elderly. It is a singular encounter between observance and prophecy, where the young are the observers and the elderly are the prophets! And consecrated life is an encounter with Christ. These are excellent ideas for our daily reflection and prayer.

However, what strikes me today is a little different aspect of the presentation. One of the purposes of the presentation is the redemption of the first-born. The first-born, according to the Old Testament, belonged to the Lord (Exodus 13:1-2) Nevertheless, the first-born could be redeemed or bought back by paying five shekels (Numbers 18:15-16). The presentation could have been normally performed in the local synagogue but Mary and Joseph decided to make it in the temple. It was customary that if the family could afford they would offer a one year old lamb, but if not they would offer two young pigeons (Leviticus 12:8).

Luke mentions only about turtle doves and let us presume that Joseph and Mary offered two turtle doves for Jesus in order to fulfill all what had been “required by the Law of the Lord (Luke 2:39). Let us not be surprised by the fact that the holy family was too ordinary and poor given the sociopolitical and economical situations of the time. Neither did the holy family struggle to “show off” what is not in them!

Indeed, the consecrated people has nothing to boast off than of their indigence. For God has chosen the foolish and the weak of the world to shame the things which are strong (I Corinthians 1:27). But what is important to the consecrated people is what they offer to God in return. A pure and complete offering would make the consecration the best gift one could offer to God and the world.

Moreover, we also think of the Church as something what Pope Francis has been calling ‘the Church of the poor.’ In an audience, a few days after his election as pope, his Holiness Pope Francis confided to the  assembled journalists: I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor! Pope Francis has been proving that branding the Church as that of the poor is a prominent priority in the agenda of the current papacy. There can be various ways for the Church being poor.

The consecrated people needs to respond creatively to the call of the Pope. Let them offer the two turtle doves if they cannot afford to offer a one year old lamb. Let them be spiritually prepared to encounter Christ, else they shall never meet Him.

Jose Vallikatt has his specialisation in the interdisciplinary area of media, religion and culture. He writes on various issues related the Church and media.

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