Mary was perfectly open to God from the start.
That’s really what we are celebrating today in this Feast of the Presentation of Mary.
As the story goes, Saints Joachim and Anne brought their three year old daughter, Mary to be dedicated to the Lord in His Holy Temple — She was consecrated. Set apart. Given over to Him totally. This event is not recorded in any of the four canonical gospels, but it is an ancient story within the Church’s tradition, and I think we can learn a lot from it. Above all, it teaches us the supreme value of a life lived consistently for God.
Sometimes, I think we’d rather hear about the dramatic conversion stories of the saints than the quietly consistent discipleship of the Virgin Mary. Perhaps we can identify better with someone like Zaccheus, who goes completely off the rails and is ultimately brought back into the fold by God’s mercy when things looked most desperate. We like to hear about someone who is closed off from God, and then opened up by grace. We like to hear when someone is lost… and then spotted in the sycamore tree. We’re thrilled to hear how the eternal disaster was avoided, the horrid sinner rescued, the enslaved finally set free. It seems more exciting… more adventurous to us, right?
But that’s simply not the case! However good and beautiful those dramatic conversions are, a life lived consistently for God is always thrilling, always dramatic, always adventurous. Sin is anything but interesting. It’s a tired act! Been there, done that. Sin is boring. On the other hand, true holiness — no matter how much the world may try to paint it as stuffy, prudish, boring, and lame — is an epic quest into the very heart of the Infinite God, a God who desires nothing less than to give us everything. Anyone familiar with the life of the Virgin Mary can clearly see that her life — faithful, spotless, perfectly open to God’s will — is chock-full of adventure!
I find it quite beautiful — not to mention prophetic — that Joachim and Anne presented Our Blessed Mother to God at such a young age. She who was to become in her womb the very Dwelling Place of God is brought to the Temple — the Holy of Holies, the Tabernacle of the Lord here on earth. Already filled totally with grace… Already preserved from any trace of Original Sin… Mary is innocently offered to God… a foreshadowing, if you will, of her defining “Yes” — Her free self-gift of herself at the Annunciation: “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.”
We might find a fitting parallel to all this in our first reading from the book of Maccabees. We just heard about Eleazar, an elderly Hebrew man who has, as the text puts it, lived an “admirable life from childhood.” Eleazar was being pressured to betray the Law of the Lord and eat meat sacrificed to false gods. Even when the people pleaded with him to simply pretend to eat the defiled meats, he refuses. And it cost him his life.
What both Eleazar and the Virgin Mary can teach us is that consistent faithfulness to God from an early age is never boring, never stuffy, never tame. Rather, it’s the only life really worth living. So whether we are an Eleazar or a Zaccheus, let us ask our Blessed Mother to show us to greater intimacy with her Son, that she might teach us how to live completely open to Him — That she who was dedicated to the Lord from the very beginning might help us to dedicate ourselves to Him starting even now.