Maybe it was the delivery of the homily. Maybe it was the allure of the Gospel itself, or the expansion of Scripture with an eye to tradition. Maybe it was the concept of holiness, or the truths about Life’s cruel and incomprehensible turns embedded in the story. Maybe it was just time to think about what holiness really is. No matter what, it happened.
There was Joseph and Mary, a newborn, at the Temple. There was Anna and Simeon, the elders. In accordance with the customs of the time, the child was presented at the Temple. Turtledoves, an emblem of poverty, were offered as a sacrifice recognizing the blessing of this first born child. In a world where the marginalized dwelt within their labels, here was a couple with a questionable past arriving in the heart of the community. There was embrace and acceptance; there was hope and promise. It was all about the moment: it was a judgement-free zone. It was all about reality colliding with holiness, wholeness and holiness meeting in flesh.
In a secular world, “holiness” has multiple meanings and elusive connotations. Some are loaded and evocative, drenched with images of hypocrisy. Others are virtually inhuman with an emphasis on what is somehow perceived to be divine. It is a term than can be dismissed and divisive, but it is also a window to the sacred and the secure. Today, in the simplicity of the Presentation, it seemed that holiness is found in interaction with one another, in conveying acceptance without judgement, in knowing that there is so much more that matters than the harshness of criticism and the exclusiveness of judgment. Holiness embraces who and what and how we are. Holiness enables us to sense that in others, to discover it in the world around us. Holiness is the path to the sacred and it is intensely, personally human. Holiness is a gift given to one another in moments of simply being human.
As with Anna and Simeon, whose lives took unexpected and probably unwanted turns, holiness knows suffering but is rooted in hope. Each of them had taken solace in days dedicated to prayer and the processes of service in the Temple. Each of them had grown old with the world changing around them, in spite of, not because of, them. Each of them demonstrates that holiness recognizes the reality of goodness in others. Holiness has the courage to embrace and nurture and develop that. Holiness houses the humility of the healthy that enables and empowers a modesty that appreciates the gifts of others. Although the Gospel does not explore it, the traditions around Mary and Joseph point to similar stories. All of it points to the reality that life is challenging under the best of circumstances. That is a foundational understanding of Catholicism: life is difficult. And there is a second point: We can make life easier for one another.
That is what the Feast of the Presentation offers: the judgement-free zone of acceptance that belonged to Christianity (before it was a slogan attached to a gym).