Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. In the Eastern Churches, it’s called the Meeting or Encounter with Simeon and Anna. I like that title better.
An encounter with an “other” is so much richer than a presentation. A presentation sounds a bit too showy. I feel as if there should be an announcer in a coattails and top hat booming into a megaphone in front of audience. But an encounter… An encounter speaks of something intimate, something quiet, something small yet powerful enough to require your whole attention. Pope Benedict XVI said in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Simeon and Anna encountered the baby Jesus and it changed their lives. The joy that was born in their hearts was unlike anything they had experienced. Simeon and Anna can teach us how to encounter the Lord with joy.
Simeon and Anna represent the whole of Israel and us, the Church. They are the male and female representatives of their nation, and in them, Jesus meets all of Israel who have been longing for a savior. They were both advanced in years. They, and all of the people of Israel, were familiar with waiting. In the same way, Simeon and Anna represent us, the Church, who seek the face of the Lord and redemption. Not everyone was privileged to be there in Jerusalem to see the month-old incarnate God, but through Simeon and Anna we all participate in this encounter in preparation for our own unique meeting with Christ.
We must ask, where do we encounter Christ? Simeon and Anna were in the Temple, and that is where we can seek him as well. Not necessarily the Temple in Jerusalem, but the house of God. In the liturgies of the Church, in Mass, in prayer, we find the one whom our soul desires. It is specifically in the Eucharist that Jesus keeps his promise literally, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” I was blessed to grow up in a diocese that deeply valued Perpetual Adoration chapels. It seemed as if every other church had one. If we seek Christ where we know he will be, we are sure to encounter him. The Eucharist is a great place to start. It is also possible to have a spiritual experience in nature, and praying on a mountain peak is one of my favorite things to do. But if I want to be with Jesus physically, I go to Church. If I want to hear him speak to me, I read the Bible. I also encounter him in my spiritual companions, who are temples of the Holy Spirit as a result of baptism. As C.S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object present to your senses.” These are some of the places we can encounter Christ, where he waits to meet us and give us rest.
Let us also look to these two elders of Israel, Simeon and Anna, to teach us about preparing for an encounter with the Lord. In them, we see examples of patience, attentiveness, longing, hope, and joy. Simeon’s reaction to seeing and holding the child Jesus was “Now You may let your servant depart in peace.” He was ready to die, to sleep, to rest in the peace of his forefathers. He has seen the one for whom he had hoped, the savior of his people, and his hope was fulfilled. Finally, he can rest. Anna recognizes Jesus and His mission, and proclaimed it to all who would listen, sharing her knowledge and her joy. Anna was a prophetess, one who was known to speak of God’s will for his people. Because she was so close to God in prayer, she was able to see Him when He entered into her world. She was ready for her Lord to share His life with her, even in such a small way.
We can emulate them by being attentive to the movements of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, by accepting the gifts we are given in their due time, and by sharing our joy with others as witnesses of God’s work in the world. By preparing our hearts in this way, we too can encounter our Savior in the imminent and intimate manner which He desires to share specifically with us.