Distance runners and songwriters will appreciate the readings from this Sunday’s mass celebrating the feast of the Lord’s presentation. They’re about the process of purification. Done right, it can result in a pain that “hurts so good.” Runners get this feeling during a particularly strenuous trek. All of us have a chemical inside us that’s released in response to physical stress.  It not only helps blunt pain, but it increases the release of dopamine, making this physical stress more pleasurable.

If you believe John Mellencamp, the same thing happens when you love someone. In his song, “Hurts So Good,” he sings “Please don’t ever take the heat off me ‘cos it would hurt even more if you’d ever leave.”

If you can understand hurting so good in those instances, it may help in understanding the process of purifying ourselves for God.  In this Sunday’s first reading, Malachi explains that kind of love even more poetically than Mellencamp:

“For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.”

But God so loved us that he wanted to teach us the meaning of this kind of love. And like the best teachers, he demonstrated it by living it, as our second reading from the Book of Hebrews states:

“He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way,
that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God
to expiate the sins of the people.
Because he himself was tested through what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.”

So the next time the pain of life makes you feel like you can’t go on, remember what Simeon prophesied to Mary, mother of our Savior and the purest of God’s creatures, in Luke’s telling of the presentation of the Lord:

“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

What Jesus revealed is the truth, and we know how that can hurt. He calls us to purify ourselves and our families in that truth.