“We belong to God before we belong to anyone else.” These words from Bishop Mueggenborg’s reflections on this gospel jumped out at me when I read them.
The event of Jesus’ presentation in the temple is recorded only in the Gospel of Luke. It is rooted in the Jewish practice of purification of a mother after childbirth and the offering or dedication of one’s firstborn son to God.
This tradition has its roots in Leviticus 12 which prescribes rules of purification and presentation. In ancient Judaism, after childbirth women were required to be purified before interacting with people and sacred objects. They were ceremoniously unclean for 40 days. The woman would avoid contact with people for the first seven days and then holy objects for the next 33.
Though childbirth was considered a divine blessing, purity regulations like these developed out of concerns of diseases and taboos regarding bodily fluids and their relation to religious objects.
So, after 40 days, as devout Jews, Mary and Joseph go to the temple, about two miles from Bethlehem and offer a sacrifice of two pigeons because they were poor and could not afford to offer a sheep, which was the customary offering. Our first and second readings complement this event, as Malachi prophesies about a messenger of the covenant at the temple, and the Letter to the Hebrews recognizes Jesus’ participation and faithfulness in Jewish ritual life.
Though this event centers on Mary, Joseph and Jesus, two community members support the Holy Family during the celebration, Simeon and Anna.
As I prayed with these readings, I reflected on the beautiful ritual we celebrate when parents bring their children for baptism. They stand before us, we the community, and proclaim their child’s name and ask the Church for baptism.
In the sacrament of baptism, we too are consecrated to God and established as a temple of the Holy Spirit. We are adopted into the family of God, and because of that adopted status, we can call God our “Father” in the midst of the Church, the community of faithful. It is the community’s responsibility, “our” responsibility to assist the parents in helping them raise their children in the faith.
Clothed in Christ and anointed with the oil of chrism, the children are “entrusted” to their parents to be raised in the faith as children of God. The challenge then is to raise them according to the will of their heavenly Father. By allowing Jesus to live his life in an unending consecration to God, Mary and Joseph are giving all Christian parents an inspirational example for their families as well.
Families who understand the deep meaning of baptism will raise their children according to the values of the gospel rather than the values of consumerism, relativism and secularism. They will teach their children how to be children of God rather than children of the world.
We belong to God before we belong to anyone else.
This is a radical statement to our world today. Yet, as I have preached over and over in so many different ways, it is our deepest and truest identity. We belong to God first and foremost. We are God’s beloved. We are meant to be a holy people who are in deep relationship with our heavenly Father who loves us beyond all telling, Jesus his beloved Son who gives his very life for us, and the Holy Spirit poured out upon us to guide us and strengthen us on our journey of faith.
We belong to God before we belong to anyone else.
We cannot do this on our own. That’s why Simeon and Anna are so very important. They represent the community of faith to help us and to guide us.
Simeon, who is described as righteous and devout, is the first to recognize Jesus as the “Christ,” that is, the anointed one, the Messiah, the source of peace, the glory of Israel, the light to the Gentiles and the salvation of the world.
Anna, a truly devout and holy Jewish woman, sees what is happening and begins to spread the message of who Jesus is to the world. Anna is an evangelist and a missionary, much like the women at the tomb who spread the message of Jesus’ resurrection.
Simeon and Anna give us examples of how to be good members of the Christian community. They were able to unwrap the identity and mission of Jesus within God’s plan of salvation for the world. They were truly missionary disciples.
So what about us? Do we recognize that our spouse belongs to God first and therefore is a beloved son or daughter of God even when they irritate us, don’t listen to us, speak hurtful words or ignore us?
Do we strive to be truly Christian families, rooted deeply in our Catholic faith, its teaching and traditions? Do we strive to make our home a domestic Church, a holy place? Do we consciously seek through word and example what it means to be a holy, Catholic family?
Do we bring our family to Church every Sunday? Do we make all Sundays sacred, even Super Bowl Sunday, remembering that we belong to God first before anyone else or any specialty team sport? Do we regularly celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation as parents and bring our children, providing an example for them?
Does your family participate in one of the many faith formation opportunities we offer: our parish school, F.A.I.T.H Sunday, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, EDGE, Life Teen and our young adult group?
As parents, do you monitor screen time for your children, what they watch and how long they spend on their device?
These are important questions to ask ourselves if we are ever going to understand more deeply what our consecration to God in baptism means and to discover and to live into our belovedness as daughters and sons of God, and to create holy families in a world where family life has been demeaned and fractured.
As the song says, “You can have all this world, give me Jesus.” Or this song that we sang on Friday at the all-school Mass to close Catholic Schools Week: “We belong to you, O Lord of our longing, we belong to you. In our daily living, dying and rising, we belong to you.”
Friday night I was with a couple from the parish having dinner and a beer when the tribute to Kobe Bryant with the LA Lakers came on the screen behind us. The volume was low, so I could not hear the singing or the words that were spoken. Occasionally I would turn around and see pictures and other players.
In next Sunday’s bulletin in my Pastor’s Notebook, I write a reflection about Kobe Bryant, not as a famous and incredible basketball player, but as a Catholic husband and dad. Last Sunday he attended 7 AM mass before he, his daughter Gigi and seven other folks boarded the helicopter so that Gigi could play basketball.
God came first, not basketball. We belong to God before we belong to anyone else. Kobe knew that and shared that faith with his family. Let’s remember his example on Super Bowl Sunday in our nation that so often put sports and popularity way before God, if we even acknowledge God at all.
We belong to God before we belong to anyone else. Amen.