One of the difficulties of reading the Book of Revelation is it has imagery that are difficult to explain. We will not speculate on who these two witnesses are. Instead, we look at what happened to these two witnesses. They were conquered and killed by the beast. Three and a half days after their death, they were raised from the dead.
Today’s Memorial commemorates the Presentation of Mary. This memorial started with the dedication of the Basilica of St Mary’s the New in Jerusalem in 543AD. The memorial recalls the time when St Joachim and St Ann brought Mary to the Temple to devout her life to God. This event was narrated in the extra-Scriptural work called the Proto-evangelium of James which was written in the 2nd century. This work recounts the conception, presentation, betrothal of Mary to Joseph, the struggle of Joseph upon learning of Mary’s pregnancy, the birth of Jesus, the proof of Mary’s virginity after the birth of Jesus and the death of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.
While this work is not Scriptural, it shows two things about devotion to our Lady in as early as the 2nd century in the Church: 1. The fact that this was written in the 2nd century shows the Church has venerated our Blessed Mother since Apostolic time or shortly after that. When we take this work and the tradition that in approximately 40AD, our Lady appeared to the Apostle James in Spain while she was still alive in Jerusalem, we see the devotion of the early Church to our Lady. 2. Some of the teachings we believe about our Lady, such as her miraculous conception and her perpetual virginity, are not modern day inventions, but have been part of the Sacred Tradition of our faith since the early Church.
The Protoevangelium mentions Joachim and Ann as parents of Mary, who were extremely wealthy but without child. Because of their barrenness, people treated them as if they were cursed by God. As they mourned over their barrenness, God promised Ann and Joachim a child and this was fulfilled when Ann conceived and gave birth to Mary. When Mary was 3 years old, Joachim and Ann brought her to the Temple and dedicated her to God and left her at the Temple. Mary remained there until she was twelve years old when she was betrothed to Joseph.
When we take the readings and the memorial we celebrate today, we see the message is about life from the dead. The womb of Ann was considered dead because it could not bear a child. Yet, God did something great for the couple and allowed them to conceive and bear a child.
God gave life to the dead womb because as Jesus said in today’s Gospel: God is God not of the dead, but of the living. This is why Catholics always are always on the side of life. How is the resurrection from the dead and life from a dead womb, relevant to us today?
The Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, proclaimed Mary as Theotokos, Bearer of God. Wherever Mary is, she bears with her, Jesus, the Son of God, who said I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. When there is life in God, there is hope in God. The presence of our Lady assures us of the presence of God because she bears Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. St James failed in spreading the Gospel in Spain and our Lady appeared to him on a pillar to give life to his dying hope. St Joachim and St Ann had a dead womb until God put life in it by giving them Mary. When we have done everything in our power and still have nothing to show, when we are discouraged, we ask God to send our Lady to our lives to remind us he is the God of life. When our Lady comes, she brings the God of power. If we are burdened by guilt, regret or shame for what we have done before, we ask God to send our Lady so she can bring the God who heals. If we see no more meaning in life, if we want more in life, we ask God to send our Lady, so she can bring the God of life to raise us to new life.
Catholics do not worship Mary because she is a human being. But she is the Bearer of God. And just as the Hebrews venerated the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, Catholics venerate the Bearer of the New Covenant, Mary. Her Son is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who comes to us in this mass in the form of Bread and Wine. This is the One to whom we ask at the consecration to transform what is dead in us and give it life. He is the Savior of the World, the God who heals, the God who sees and the God who provides, to whom, nothing is impossible, who does great things for us, because holy is his name.