ON THE PRESENTATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN
Quae est ista quare processit sicut sol, et formosa tamquam Jerusalem?
Consider first, that the church celebrates on this day the early dedication which the blessed Virgin made of herself to God, and to his eternal love and service; when, as we learn by pious tradition, she was presented by her holy parents, St. Joachim and St. Ann, in the temple of the Lord, and remained there in the company of other virgins, in an apartment allotted for that purpose in one of the courts of the temple. Learn, my soul, from this presentation of the blessed Virgin, the great advantages of early piety, and the happiness of dedicating one’s self from one’s childhood to divine love; as also the duty incumbent on all parents to present their children to God; to keep them at a distance from the contagion of bad company, and from all the false maxims and corrupt ways of a wicked world; and to train them up in the love and fear of God. The blessed Virgin was brought by divine inspiration to the house of God, where she lived remote from the noise and distractions of the world, because she was to be the house where the Son of God himself would be incarnate, and the living temple in which he would live. Christians, do you desire that your souls should be also the house of God, and the living temples of his glory? It is by withdrawing yourselves as much as possible from the tumult and confusion of the world: it is by continually presenting yourselves to God in his inward temple, by a spirit of recollection and mental prayer, that you are to attain to this happiness.
Consider 2ndly, in this presentation of the blessed Virgin – on the one hand, the voice of God calling her to his house, (in order to the disposing of her soul for the great things he was to work in her,) in the words of Psalm xliv., ‘Hear, O daughter, and see, and incline thine ear, and forget thy people and thy father’s house; and the king shall greatly desire thy beauty; for he is the Lord thy God, and him they shall adore;’ – and, on the other hand, the devotion and fervour with which she corresponds with the call; the resolution with which she ascends the fifteen degrees or steps that lead to that temple, resolving to ascend in like manner by all the degrees of virtue, to the very top of perfection; the profound adoration with which, prostrating herself upon the ground, she adored his divine majesty at her first coming into the house, and the oblation she there makes of her whole self to his perpetual service. Learn, Christian souls, the like correspondence with divine grace, when it calls you to God; the like devotion, fervour, and resolution in his service; the like adoration and oblation of yourselves to him. In this sacred retreat the blessed Virgin gave the first example of a consecration of herself to God, by a vow of perpetual virginity, (as she was inspired to do by the Spirit of God,) desiring in all things to choose the better part, and to render the sacrifice she made of her soul and body more perfect, more firm, and secure, by the means of her vow. Learn of her a love of purity and chastity, and a resolution of preserving it with all the perfection that thy condition of life shall allow of, and for this end daily beg the assistance of her prayers.
Consider 3rdly, the exercise which the blessed Virgin followed in the temple, for she certainly was not idle there. As the Holy Ghost continually visited and solicited her with his heavenly inspirations and graces, so she, who never received the grace of God in vain, continually opened the door of her heart to these visits, and co-operated with these graces with all her strength, and by these means every day of her life, as she increased in age, so she grew in virtue, grace, charity, and sanctity. And as to the employment of her time whilst she was in the temple, her whole life there was spent in ascending or descending by the mystical ladder of Jacob, Gen. xxviii. 12, which reacheth from the earth to heaven, and has God at the top of it. She ascended this ladder by employing a great part of her days in spiritual reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation, which are named by St. Bernard for the steps or degrees of this heavenly ladder. And she descended again by the humble exercises of working with her hands for the service of the temple, for the use of her companions, or for the benefit of the poor. Yet so, that even whilst her hands were employed at work, her heart was still with God by prayer and love. O how holy, O how happy, is this kind of ascending and descending by Jacob’s ladder! Lord, give us grace to follow this great example, and to be always upon this ladder which conducts to heaven.
Conclude, O my soul, to imitate this presentation of the blessed Virgin by frequent oblations, at least, of thyself to God every day of thy life. Be cautious indeed how thou engagest thyself by vow, without taking good counsel, and mature deliberation, because of thy frailty; but as to making an offering of thy whole heart and soul to thy God, with all thy thoughts, words, and actions, it is what thou canst not do too often.