Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Sign of Contradiction, Part One

The deep aspect of the Church—called forth by Simeon during the presentation of the infant Christ in the Temple—that so often becomes lost in the modern industrial and technological world, with its comfort and ease, tendency to go along to get along, and lack of easily perceived martyrs—though are not the millions of aborted babies such—yet as Pope John Paul II reminds us, the Church is surely a sign of contradiction in the world.

Over the next ten days I will post excerpts from the final chapter of the first book published in English by John Paul (1979) Sign of Contradiction, which is a collection of talks then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla preached during the annual Lenten Retreat in March 1976 to his predecessor, Pope Paul VI.

“1. A sign of contradiction

“Now that we have reached the last meditation, let us try to pick up the thread that first attracted our attention, the guiding thread we have had in mind from the start.

“Forty days after his birth Jesus, son of Mary, was presented at the temple in Jerusalem in accordance with Old Testament law (cf. Luke 2:22-38). When Mary and Joseph entered the temple to go through the presentation rite, the old man Simeon took the child in his arms and spoke the prophetic words (cf. Luke 2:29-32) which the Church recites every evening during Compline: “A light to shine for the gentiles”, and then, turning to Mary, referred to him in the words we chose as the leit-motif of our retreat: “He is set for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, and as a sign of contradiction…” (Luke 2:34)

“Nearly two thousand years have passed but the words then spoken have lost none of their validity or relevance. It is becoming more and more evident that those words sum up most felicitously the whole truth about Jesus Christ, his mission and his Church. “A sign of contradiction”. In earlier meditations we tried to sketch some of the forms this contradiction can take while we were trying to understand what it stems from. Al of that guided us through the meditations on the great works of God and on the “mystery of man” contained in them.

“It is in Jesus Christ that both the “magnolia Dei” (Acts 2:11; cf. for example, Sirach 18:5; 2 Maccabees 3:34) and the most profound dimension of man’s mystery are most easily accessible to men’s intellects and hearts. That is why in this last meditation we want to look once again in loving faith at what occurred in the temple forty days after his birth.” (pp. 197-198)