The Prophet Who Took the Baby Jesus in His Arms

Today is the feast day of the prophet Saint Simeon who, like John the Baptist, proclaimed not the coming of Christ, but that the Messiah has now come; and this one here, whom I hold, or whom I point my finger at, is He.

Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Twelve Apostles, ran from the Jordan River where John had just baptized Jesus,  to tell his brother Simon “We have found the Messiah!” Imagine his excitement! Imagine hearing such a proclamation! Imagine announcing it!

So, it was with the holy man Simeon. God had promised him that he would not die before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He saw Him. Perhaps he was the first one after Mary and Joseph to hold the divine Child. I like to think that he was.

“And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, He also took him into his arms, and blessed God, and said: Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And his father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed” (Luke 2:25-35).

There is so much to reflect on in these verses.

Jesus is referred to as “the Consolation of Israel.” I think of Our Lord weeping over Jerusalem and His people as the time of His passion approached: “If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace; but now they are hidden from thy eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, and thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and straiten thee on every side, And beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee: and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone: because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation” (Luke 19: 42-44).

“Thy salvation,” “a Light to the Gentiles, “the glory of thy people Israel.” Jesus means “Savior.” He is “the Light of the World.” This is what He said to the blind pharisees immediately after forgiving the woman taken in adultery. The pharisees walked in darkness: “Jesus spoke to them, saying: I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Lastly, the holy man returns the Child to his mother and looking directly into her most pure eyes he is given another vision. His voice trembles perhaps. For what he sees is gloriously awesome and painfully terrible. This Child shall be the salvation of many in Israel and He shall also be the cause of the fall of many. For those who believe, resurrection unto eternal life, for those who do not, damnation. Therefore He will be and even now is (for Herod will soon send soldiers to kill this Baby) a sign that shall be contradicted. Thus it was then and will always be to the end of the world. No one can avoid the challenge of Faith in Christ. Even to those who have not heard the gospel, and live in darkness, He is still a sign of contradiction, for it is because they did not cooperate with actual grace or the interior light of God’s image within them as it illumines their mind by the natural law. For if they had followed the light of actual grace, as Saint Thomas teaches, a missionary would have been sent to them, or an angel, even, to instruct them in the explicit knowledge of the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption wherein they would find “peace . . . in the knowledge of God and of Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2).

At that hour of the ultimate contradiction, when the Jews had Him crucified, and the priests mocked Him as He hung on the Cross, there was the fulfillment of Simeon’s final words to Mary: “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed”

What thoughts? Mary, too, having one heart with her Son, pierced through with such a terrible sword as she stood beneath the Cross, she would be, together with Him, a sign of contradiction. I think it was also a warning to the heretics to come who would reject His mother’s unique prerogatives, or, in a sense worse than that, snub her as do lukewarm Catholics who have no devotion to her, that Jesus said: “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

St Simeon Presenting The Infant Christ In The Temple, painting by Jan van Bijlert or Bylert (source).