Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
Last Thursday, while attending a charitable dinner for Children’s Hospital, I found myself in the company of fellow parents who knew the trauma of surrendering their child to the doctors to undergo serious surgery. Each of us had to make the decision to hand over our hearts to the care of another, who could do for our child what we could not. Each of us hoped and prayed, and ultimately trusted those we gave our treasured children to, to bring them back to us more whole.
When the Blessed Mother presents Jesus in the Temple in obedience to the Torah, she shows us how we are to be. More than thirty days earlier, at our Lord’s Circumcision, Mary had allowed her son to be submitted to the knife. We’d done the same with our children. What Mary did out of obedience, we did out of necessity. Mary knew this to be the right and good thing to do. We knew that our children’s lives depended upon these surgeries being successful. Surrendering to faith is like surrendering to medical necessity. We will be better for it, though it is sometimes hard and on many occasions, we wish such medicinal actions (spiritual or physical) could be delayed.
The whole mystery of the Presentation reveals to us that God is faithful. The whole mystery invites us to discover the comfort of God’s faithfulness and wisdom via obedience. By offering the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord, Mary receives the gifts of Simeon’s prophesy to ponder in her heart. We also know that Simeon’s prophecy that Mary’s heart would be pierced is a foretelling of the Crucifixion, when Christ (Mary’s heart) is pierced. Mary begins the deeper part of her call as the Mother of God, to begin preparing to become our adopted mother “to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
On Sunday, that same son who experienced open-heart surgery at Children’s attended adaptive Religious Education, and I met a whole new host of families who shared the struggle and joy of raising a child with special needs in the Church. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple reminds us that Mary and Joseph did not raise Jesus in isolation, nor were they themselves raised in the absence of a broader faith community. Surrendering our children to be steeped in the faith through Continuing Catholic Education or Catholic School, we do the same thing. We offer our children to the care of others, trusting that those who take on the task of instruction will return our children more whole than when we brought them to class or to the school.
It is not easy to let someone else take on some of the tasks we’ve sworn to do at baptism. It's equally not easy to recognize we cannot do this task exclusively or exhaustively. We require more than ourselves to grow the faith in our children. We know Mary knew no sin. She had the purest relationship with God one could have since Eve herself, so theoretically, she could have handled it. Yet Mary brought her son, the Son of God, to the Temple, to be revealed as part of the community as tradition demanded. Why? Because Jesus is and always will be fully human, part of our community, part of our history from a specific time and place and culture. He doesn’t assimilate into whatever culture we embrace, He embraces us across time and place, but as a distinct person who also happens to be God.
There is more. The more one delves into the mystery, the more one finds. As C.S. Lewis said, “Go deeper and deeper in,” because each of these mysteries has within it, far more than any one person or any one column can discern. Collectively, however, we can come to know more of what God is revealing to us in these moments of Christ’s life and the life of His most perfect disciple and what it means for our own families and faith lives. When meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, we can always find ourselves and how we should respond to whatever life brings. It is part of why we’ve been given the Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous and Glorious mysteries, it’s why we bring our children to the temple and offer them back to the God who gave them to us. It’s the beginning of how we will learn to love and to trust and to know God.