Wow, what a day! Today, we in the West (Roman Catholic Church) celebrate the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This celebration is unique in that it is one of the few memorials also commemorated on the same day by our Eastern Catholic and Orthodox brethren. They celebrate today as “The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple.” Even though we mark today with different titles, we remember with joy the same event – when our Blessed Mother was presented by St. Joachim and St. Anne to God in the Temple of Jerusalem.
Although this feast doesn’t explicitly appear in the text of Sacred Scripture, it does come down to us through Sacred Tradition. According to tradition Saints Joachim & Anne were well advanced in age and childless. They prayers for a child were answered with the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In thanksgiving for their daughter, Joachim and Anne presented Mary, while she was still a youngster, to the Temple where her life and virginity would be consecrated to God. When she reached adolescence, she was assigned to St. Joseph, who would be her guardian. That’s where the Nativity Narrative in the New Testament picks up.
While some find this tradition beautiful and inspiring, there are others who look on the Presentation of Mary as kind of a “waste of talent.” How, after all, could she be productive to the rest of society if she was shut up all day in the Temple praying? Well, that is a very valid question and it prompts me to discuss in a little depth the other occasion we celebrate today. Today, we also celebrate “Pro Orantibus Day;” a day to remember in prayer all the cloistered religious and those“totally dedicated to God in prayer, silence and concealment,” as Pope Benedict XVI remarks. To the outside world, and even to some mistaken fellow Catholics, these cloistered religious also seem to be putting us and themselves at a disadvantage by not making use of their “talents” to “better society.” However, as we shall see, they are an extremely vital part of our Church.
I often use this following analogy when people challenge me about my own discernment to the Discalced Carmelites and I find it quite applicable to the posed question. I answer:
We all know that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. Just like a human body the Mystical Body has hands, a heart and life-blood. The hands are the active religious orders and the diocesans, while the heart is the contemplative religious orders. The life-blood is prayer. If you chop off the hands, the heart will bleed out. If, on the other hand you remove the heart, the hands will die and be entirely useless. BOTH the active and contemplative traditions are vital to the overall productivity of the Mystical Body.
The contemplative religious are so often under-appreciated for their enormous sacrifice. They are authentic people, with real lives. Had they not given their lives to God in the cloister, they might have been the next NLF star, American Idol or President of the United States – and this seemingly “waste of talent” is all that the outside world sees. Yet it is not a waste, no it is far from one indeed: it is a sacrifice.
Like our Blessed Mother, these contemplative religious have presented themselves to God in His Holy Temple – their cloister. Day and night they never cease to “praise the Name of the Lord,” and it is by their prayers that this world is supported.
So on this Pro Orantibus Day, please join me in prayer for our dedicated and committed contemplative religious, even if it’s just with one simple, well-said “Hail Mary.” Who knows just which one of our souls their prayers may be bailing out of Purgatory!