(Homily on February 2, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord)
When I look at today’s congregation and I see many senior citizens, I am reminded of Simeon and Anna in our gospel story today about the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple. Simeon and Anna, in their old age, were rewarded with the fulfillment of their hopes and longing to be able to see the Messiah before they die. Their openness to the Holy Spirit gave them the wisdom to recognize the child Jesus as the Messiah. When you think of the many people in the Temple at that time and only these two senior citizens acknowledged Jesus, you wish that many others were also inspired by the Holy Spirit. At the very least these people could have listened to Simeon and Anna and learned from their wisdom.
There are those who have expressed alarm when they see that the parish congregation is graying. On the contrary, when I see that the church is filled with our senior citizens, the parish is blessed. Do you agree? We should all agree. There is a ministry called pastoral care of the elderly. But don’t get the idea that this ministry to the elderly is a one-way traffic, believing that our senior citizens are the only ones who benefit or at the receiving end of this ministry. The reality is that there is a mutual benefit between the ministers and the elderly.
There is so much wisdom to be gained being with the elderly. Even if the elderly are no longer able to do a lot of things due to illness or some other disabilities, their attitude towards life inspire us to live with dignity and respect for life. They may not be all saints but the lessons they have learned through all these years can inspire us to become holy. I remember my father saying that he learned more from his mistakes and failures. And this kind of learning process is not without pain. It is like purification by fire. The prophet Malachi asks, “Who will endure the day of the Lord’s coming for he is like the refiner’s fire? He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord.”
The life’s lessons learned by the elderly are precious like gold and silver. They all endured through all these years to gain wisdom. As they say, “No pain, no gain.” When they say, “Been there, done that,” we should all pay attention. Otherwise, we might miss a lot of good things. In our gospel passage today we heard that the child Jesus grew in wisdom and grace. But don’t get the impression that Jesus gained wisdom the easy way just because he is the only begotten Son of God. The letter to the Hebrew reminds us that Jesus became a human like us. He shared in the flesh and blood and had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way. And so just like most of us, Jesus learned his lessons the hard way, listening to his parents and grandparents and the likes of Simeon and Anna.
The wisdom of Simeon and Anna is gained through openness to the Holy Spirit. Simeon and Anna are spirit-filled individuals and their wisdom enables them to recognize Jesus even in the ordinary. They both saw the light of the nations in the ordinary family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. When we are able to see Jesus in our neighbors wherever we are, whatever we do, it can be said that we have learned our lesson from the wisdom of the elderly represented by the likes of Simeon and Anna. Thank God for our senior citizens!