On September 8, I reflected on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. This week, the Church celebrates a companion event, also found in the apocryphal Gospel of James, the Presentation of the Child Mary. According to the story (whose fanciful details still express an important truth), the three-year-old Mary is brought by her parents to the Temple, where she is dedicated to the service of God, and in turn dances before her Lord. As the gorgeous painting by Titian reminds us, one is never “too young” to surrender oneself to the mysterious grace of God, through which one finds true joy, complete contentment, and profound wisdom. Would that we all might be as receptive as she to the infinite grace God bestows on us.
In his wonderful reflection on Titian’s “Presentation of the Virgin,” an online blogger, Dr. F., citing the work of David Rosand, approaches the painting from the perspective of “iconography,” that is, an artistic image that serves as a “window” into heaven. We behold the pious parents of Mary, Ss. Joachim and Ann, whose turn away from the viewer suggests their attitude of humility and self-abnegation. The beautiful young woman at the bottom of the stairs and the young priest at its top may well be Ss. Elizabeth and Zechariah before they were married. The old woman looking away from the Temple seems to represent the Old Covenant giving way to the New. Finally, the child Mary, bathed in divine light, seems to be ascending into the presence of God (a foreshadowing of the Assumption?), advancing from the security of her family to a destiny that is higher, deeper, and wider in scope.
By looking into great art, we also have a glimpse into the state of our own soul. I believe that there is an invaluable lesson in the “Presentation.” No one’s relationship to God is forged, as it were, in a vacuum. Indeed, the very language we use to speak to and about God we receive at our parents’ knees. This is why Catholicism refers to the family as the ecclesiola, or “little church,” for in the context of faith we establish the habits of loving God and our neighbor.
You can probably see where I am going with this. St. Mary’s staff, particularly the religious education team of Mrs. Nora Toal, Miss Kathleen Friend, Deacon Rafal, and I, with our wonderful catechists, want to assist our families with everything they need to pray with their children and speak confidently with them about the greatest gift we can impart to them: our faith. To that end, we strongly urge you (I am not above begging!) to do what only the family can do: come to Church every Sunday, pray together (e.g., the Rosary) every day, talk to your children about their catechism lessons, and finally, try to attend two sessions of the adult Catechism class on Monday evenings (7-8 PM, Msgr. Ryan Hall). They are only one hour in length, and well worth the effort. For those who prefer a more Scripture-based program, we have Bible Study on Thursday evenings (7-8 PM Msgr. Ryan Hall), and will have various Scripture experts come to share their wisdom. We are also preparing an exciting Youth Ministry program for our young people, so they may enjoy fellowship while growing in their faith.
Friends, the divine transformation of our children can only occur if they are prepared for it, namely by religious formation in the home. Together, let us discover the presence of Jesus.