I don’t normally (read, ever) blog on Sundays. But today is the Feast of the Presentation, and it has a speh-cial place in mah little Southern heart.
Why, you may ask?
Well, I will tell you.
Our Lady of Sorrows. And Simeon.
I mean, I do really like that the Church has a day for us to take a boatload of candles to Mass to be blessed. It just makes me grin inside my heart. I love being Catholic, you guys. Just, so much.
But mostly, Our Lady of Sorrows. And Simeon.
Now, a devotion to the Mater Dolorosa is prolly not all, like, totes on the top of Catholic Chick Monthly’s list of fav devos.
Until life stings.
And once, when life was stinging pretty bad, my sweet friend Gina introduced me to a novena so exquisite (and powerful), it soon became my most beloved.
This novena is an achingly beautiful reflection on the moments of Mary’s life that we have traditionally called her Seven Sorrows.
The first of the Seven Sorrows: the Prophecy of Holy Simeon.
As in, “Your own soul too, a sword shall pierce.”
Since I was a little kid, this picture (Simeon’s Moment By Ron Dicianni) has been hanging in our home:
I love this picture. I love it. Simeon has long been one of my very favorite New Testament characters. His written history is so brief, but…WOW. Luke 2:25 is his first mention, and Luke 2:35 is his last. Ten verses, but he plays a prominent role in the first sorrow of the Queen of Heaven, and every night all over the world his prayer ends the Liturgy of the Hours: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace…”
(P.S. If you have the same issues I do with always paying complete and utter attention to the Mass Readings and somehow missed these verses in today’s Gospel, I’d encourage you to dust off the old NAB and visit with them for a little while. Catholics reading the Bible = cuh-razy, I know, but just do it.)
One of the amazing things about becoming acquainted with the Seven Sorrows is having the chance to consider their relation to the Mysteries of the Rosary. The fascinating thing about this First Sorrow is that it’s tucked inside the Fourth Joyful Mystery. It’s the only one – the other Sorrows fall in-between Joyful Mysteries or are part of Sorrowful Mysteries. For instance, the Second Sorrow is the Flight into Egypt, between the Presentation and the Finding in the Temple. But this First Sorrow exists right in the center of Joy.
In the novena prayers, there is a little reflection on each of the Seven Sorrows. For the first Sorrow, it reads:
“I grieve for thee, O Mary most sorrowful, in the affliction of thy tender heart at the prophecy of the holy and aged Simeon. Dear Mother, by thy heart so afflicted, obtain for me the virtue of humility and the gift of the holy fear of God.”
When I was first doing the novena, this prayer made me recall St. Josemaria’s meditation on the Presentation. After considering that Mary Immaculate would humbly submit to obeying the laws of purification, St. Josemaria goes on to discuss in his usual matter-of-fact manner those of us who are actually in need of it:
“Purification! You and I certainly need purification! -Atonement, and more than atonement. Love. -Love as a searing iron to cauterize our souls’ uncleanness, and as a fire to kindle with divine flames the wretchedness of our hearts.”
As always, Mary is our model – both in her humility and the rightly-ordered fear of God she shows by freely offering these pure, deeply loving acts of atonement.
And Simeon…Simeon models both of these as well. Luke 2:25, 27 introduces him: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him…Inspired by the Spirit, he came into the temple.”
You know what gets me about this every time?
He was listening.
I mean, come on, he HAD to have been listening. The Holy Spirit was upon him. This is before the Sacrament of Confirmation was instituted, peeps – the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon and maybe this is a wild guess but it seems to me like probably this meant Simeon had become well-practiced in the art of actually LISTENING for God’s voice. He knew how to catch the still, small whisper. It says, “Inspired by the Spirit,” not “dragged by the Spirit” or “suddenly yanked from a deep slumber by the Spirit” or “zapped by the Spirit”. He was listening. And looking. It SAYS he was looking, “looking for the consolation of Israel.” And he had faithfully been doing that, it seems, for a very long time. This man had been promised he would see the Messiah, in person, before death…and he believed it. The Jews had been expecting the Messiah for generations, but Simeon wasn’t being skeptical, he was being expectant.
Being expectant in the service of God is an art. I’m also convinced it’s part of being truly obedient. We can do what God says, but is our attitude more a spiritless but dutiful employee who wants to not get fired, or is our attitude a confident child serving joyfully in the waiting spaces of trust? Simeon’s response shows which of those attitudes he had chosen. As the Liturgy of the Hours said this morning: “Jesus, desire of the nations, Simeon, the just man, rejoiced at your coming.”
When the Desire of the Nations came, this man’s heart leapt from its humble attitude of joyful hope, and overflowed in adoration.
“Lord, now let Your servant go in peace,
Your word has been fulfilled;
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which You have prepared in the sight of every people,
a light to reveal you to the nations,
and the glory of Your people Israel.”