“If we were perfectly dead to ourselves, and no ways entangled in worldly things: then might we be able to relish divine things, and experience something of heavenly contemplation.” (IC 1,11,3) “[Anna] never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” (Lk 2:37)

Kempis is not shy about recommending mortification as a way to grow closer to God, as he does again here (1,11).  The more our minds are cluttered with worldly affairs, the less room there is in our lives for the Lord.

The prophetess Anna, in the episode of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:22-40), exemplifies this way of being.  Having been widowed early, it may well have been sixty years or more of her living in the way described in the headline.  For her piety, she likely got not much more than some grief from others, maybe a bit of sympathy for her early loss (and, it seems, no children), and probably more than her share of curious looks and murmurs for the eccentric old lady.

It seems that she became dead to herself upon her husband’s death, relishing divine things only from that point forward.  Could she have imagined such a reward, though?!  Seeing her Savior and His parents!  Being memorialized for all time in Sacred Scripture!  Who knows, maybe she, like Simeon, was given some insight into her one day seeing the Christ.  And what does she do immediately upon this glorious occasion?  Evangelize!  The result of her encounter with the Word Made Flesh was that she “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38).

This is a model for us.  Exceeding joy and thanksgiving and a burning desire to share the Good News when encountering God.  Unlike Anna, we can have this intimate experience daily at Mass, where Jesus comes to us in Word and Sacrament, preparing us for an eternal dwelling place with Him and all the angels and saints.

I am reminded of Pope St. John Paul II’s final words on his deathbed: “Let me go to the house of the Father.”  These words, and today’s reading and reflection, invoke Psalm 27:

One thing I ask of the LORD;

this I seek:

To dwell in the LORD’s house

all the days of my life,

To gaze on the LORD’s beauty,

to visit his temple. (v. 4)

Finally, this evokes one of my favorite St. Louis Jesuits songs: This Alone.

Rembrandt, “The Prophetess Anna”, 1639
The Prophetess Anna (1639) by Rembrandt

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