02 February 2014

The example of Simeon, the way to a happy death

Today, when the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph her spouse brought the Christ Child to the Temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Father Almighty, Simeon lovingly and gratefully took the Babe in his arms and declared him to be a "light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel" (Luke 2:32).

Many  years later, the Lord Jesus said of himself, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life;" "I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness;" and, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (John 8:12; 12:46; 9:5).  Saint John the Evangelist said of Jesus, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:4-5).

Having waited so long with great expectation for the coming of the Messiah, Simeon knew the words of the prophet were at long last fulfilled: "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.  For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and think darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you" (Isaiah 60:1).

Over the centuries many artists have beautifully portrayed this light that shines in the darkness, and none perhaps so well as Caravaggio:

The only light in his painting comes from the Child, the Light of the World, "the one Morning Star who never sets" (Exultet).  His light illumines the faces of those who look upon him and as they bask in his light they are filled with joy and peace.  So it was with Simeon, and so it is with us.

In his reflections of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, Saint Bonaventure urges us to "behold the devotion of this old man to comprehend and hold onto this little child.  And by his devotion he exposes himself totally to Christ" (Commentary of the Gospel of Luke, 2.65).  As the Lord Jesus revealed himself to Simeon, so did Simeon reveal himself totally to Christ.  He held nothing back, but exposed his entire being to him whom he knew to be the salvation of God (cf. Luke 2:30).

The wizened and just old man was able to say with great serenity, "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word" (Luke 2:29).  I wonder: Knowing what Simeon knew, that "he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord" (Luke 2:26), how many of us would be able to say in the same serenity, "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace"?  How many of us would be able to say, without regret, "Let me now die in peace"?

Most of us would likely have a very difficult time uttering those same words, though they should come easily to each of our lips!  We too often forget that "when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible becomes light" (Ephesians 5:13).  Though illuminated by Christ when, through the waters of Baptism, we were made sharers in his Death and Resurrection, we still too often seek to hide things from him, we fail to acknowledge and confess our sins, and we futilely seek to hide from his light.

We cannot hide our sins, our failures to love both God and neighbor, from him.  We would do far better to follow the example of Simeon and expose ourselves totally to Jesus, the Christ of God, so that we, too, may one day be let go in peace.

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