Growing up near Philly, I always looked forward to the annual, hours-long Mummers’ Day (New Year’s Day) Parade that wound its way through center city and up Broad Street, in cadence with the music of many “string bands.” The marching brigades, elaborately festooned with thousands of sequins and miles of satin cloth, and the numerous floats, were a unique Philly tradition, that rivaled in pageantry New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parade. We always went as family, with a thermos of hot chocolate and a bag of sandwiches and left-over Christmas cookies. If it was a bitterly cold, blustery day, we would stay home and watch it on TV -as family. Both of those parades featured an oft-repeated song “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It took years for me to understand just who could become saints and ‘go marching in’ to heaven.
Two people mentioned in this Sunday’s Gospel – a just and pious man named Simeon, and the prophetess Anna – are among such saints, even though they don’t carry the “official” title. They abruptly and seemingly unexpectedly inserted themselves among the Holy Family, praising God and speaking of the child (Jesus) whom they had just seen for the first (and possibly last) time in their lives on earth. Simeon and Anna understood hope! The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. The moment he sees Jesus, Simeon recognizes that he has met the Salvation of the world, and so he utters this prayer: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
This thought extends the Holy Family in two ways: it now includes not only Israel, but the whole world as well. Jesus has come for the salvation of all. Ultimately it will be the world that is the family of Jesus, and that includes us.
Further witness to Jesus’ identity is given Anna. An elderly woman widowed for many years, she spent day and night in the Temple court, praying, fasting, worshiping, and waiting — another way of saying she spent night and day immersed in hope – the temple representing the whole of Israel’s hope that God would again rescue them from their current untenable situation, and the recalling of how He had done so in the past. She confirms the testimony of Simeon. On seeing the child, Anna somehow knows her many years of vigil are over; that in this child, hope and memory would now be fulfilled. God has again kept His promise of salvation and sent His Messiah to deliver them from captivity — not just this time, but for all time.
She had much time to meditate on the biblical events of the past. She has, in fact, made Israel’s memory her own; she has made the story of the scriptures the story of her own life. Accordingly, like any prophet, she can’t help but tell others that their hope is not in vain, that God has kept His promises to them and how He has done so. The scriptures make this point explicitly, that after coming upon Christ, she then “spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”
God’s constant fidelity manifests to his faithful, and elicits a response from them. Simeon and Anna, now as extended members of the Holy Family, give witness to a great style of evangelization: of hearing the Good News and responding to it, proclaiming it boldly and enthusiastically. As part of God’s (holy) family, we also are called to continue this pattern of hearing the Good News and sharing it, confidently and joyfully with others.
As we prepare ourselves to enter a new year as a parish family, let’s commit ourselves to manifest the best ideals of Discipleship and Stewardship, namely, hospitality, prayer, formation and service. In other words, we will invite people proactively to join us in prayer, especially attending Sunday Mass; we will make ourselves well-prepared for celebrations of the sacraments, Mass and other occasions for prayer as a sign of hope and paths of grace to heaven; we will study the Bible and learn more about Jesus and our Catholic faith, as in our Sunday adult series after the 9:00 Sunday morning Mass; and we will work to serve each other, especially those in need, by practicing works of charity and justice. You might say that these are our New Year’s resolutions!
I invite you to consider how you can advance on your own individual path of holiness by growing in faith, hope and especially charity as a disciple of Jesus. Unexpected people do turn up at our door. Sometimes they insert themselves in our lives to remind us that Christ has come and there is reason to hope in God’s fulfilled promises. Ultimately, there will also always be those who hear God’s call to faith, hope, and charity. There will always be those prophets who persevere in the place of hope and memory and share their graced encounters with Christ with those still in search of the Him. “When the Saints go marching in,” may we be among the number who tell others all that God has spoken to us, and so fascinate the world into conversion. HAVE A BLESSED NEW YEAR!