We wanted to share with you some thoughts on today’s Feast of the Presentation from Venerable Fulton J Sheen excerpted from his book Life of Christ:
We find here another instance of how God in the form of man shared the poverty of mankind. The traditional offerings for purification were a lamb and a turtledove if the parents were rich, and two doves or two pigeons if they were poor. Thus the mother who brought the Lamb of God into the world had no lamb to offer–except the Lamb of God. God was presented in the temple at the age of forty days. About thirty years later He would claim the temple and use it as the symbol of His Body in which dwelt the fullness of Divinity. Here it was not the Firstborn of Mary alone Who was presented, but the Firstborn of the Eternal Father. As the Only begotten of the Father, He was now presented as the Firstborn of restored humanity. A new race began in Him…
Simeon was like a sentinel whom God had sent to watch for the Light. When the Light finally appeared, he was ready to sing his Nunc Dimittis. In a poor Child brought by poor people making a poor offering, Simeon discovered the riches of the world. As this old man held the Child in his arms, he was not like the aged of whom Horace speaks, He did not look back, but forward, and not only to the future of his own people but to the future of all the Gentiles of all the tribes and nations of the earth. An old man at the sunset of his own life spoke of the sunrise of the world; in the evening of life he told of the promise of a new day. He had seen the Messias before by faith; now his eyes could close, for there was nothing more beautiful to look upon. Some flowers open only in the evening. What he had seen now was “Salvation” –not salvation from poverty, but salvation from sin…
…He saw furthermore that there were sorrows in store for her, not for Joseph. Simeon said:
Behold, this Child is destined for the fall
And for the rise of many in Israel,
And for a sign that shall be contradicted.
It was as if the whole history of the Divine Child were passing before the eyes of the old man. Every detail of that prophecy was to be fulfilled within the lifetime of the Babe. Here was a hard fact of the Cross, affirmed even before the tiny arms of the Babe could stretch themselves out straight enough to make the form of a cross. The Child would create terrible strife between good and evil, stripping the masks from each, thus provoking a terrible hatred. He would be at once a touchstone that would reveal the motives and dispositions of human hearts. Men would no longer be the same once they had heard His name and learned of His life. They would be compelled either to accept Him, or reject Him. About Him there would be no such thing as compromise: only acceptance or rejection, resurrection or death. He would, by His very nature, make men reveal their secret attitudes toward God. His mission would be not to put souls on trial, but to redeem them; and yet, because their souls were sinful, some men would detest His coming.
It would henceforth be His fate to encounter fanatical opposition from mankind even unto death itself, and this would involve Mary in cruel distress. The angel had told her, “Blessed art thou among women,” and Simeon was now telling her that in her blessedness she would be the Mater Dolorosa. One of the penalties of original sin was that a woman should bring forth her child in sorrow; Simeon was saying that she would continue to live in the sorrow of her Child. If He was to be the Man of Sorrows, she would be the Mother of Sorrows. An unsuffering Madonna to the suffering Christ would be a loveless Madonna. Since Christ loved mankind so much that He wanted to die to expiate its guilt, then He would also will that His mother should be wrapped in the swaddling bands of His own grief.
From the moment she heard Simeon’s words, she would never again lift the Child’s hands without seeing a shadow of nails on them; every sunset would be a blood-red image of His Passion. Simeon was throwing away the sheath that hid the future from human eyes, and letting the blade of the world’s first sorrow flash in front of her eyes. Every pulse that she would feel i the tiny wrist would be like an echo of an oncoming hammer. If He was dedicated to salvation through suffering, so was she. no sooner was t his young life launched than Simeon, like an old mariner, talked of shipwreck. No cup of the Father’s bitterness had yet come to the lips of the Babe, and yet a sword was shown to His mother.
The nearer Christ comes to a heart, the more it becomes conscious of its guilt; it will then either ask for His mercy and find peace, or else it will turn against Him because it is not yet ready to give up its sinfulness. Thus He will separate the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff. Man’s reaction to this Divine Presence will be the test: either it will call out all the opposition of egotistic natures, or else galvanize them into a regeneration and a resurrection.
Simeon was practically calling Him the “Divine Disturber,” Who would provoke human hearts either to good or evil. Once confronted with Him, they must subscribe either to light or darkness. Before everyone else they can be “broadminded”; but His Presence reveals their hearts t one either fertile ground or hard rock. He cannot come to hearts without clarifying them and dividing them; once in His Presence, a heart discovers both its own thoughts about goodness and its own thoughts about God…
After saying that He was a sign to be contradicted, Simeon turned to the mother, adding:
As for thy own soul, it shall have a
Sword to pierce it.
She was told that He would be rejected by the world, and with His Crucifixion there would be her transfixion. As the Child willed the Cross for Himself, so He willed the Sword of Sorrow for her. If He chose to be a Man of Sorrows, he also chose her to be a Mother of Sorrows! God does not always spare the good from grief. The Father spared not the Son, and the Son spared not the mother. With His Passion there must be her compassion. An unsuffering Christ Who did not freely pay the debt of human guilt would be reduced to the level of an ethical guide; and a mother who did not share in His sufferings would be unworthy of her great role.
Simeon not only unsheathed a sword; he also told her where Providence had destined it to be driven. Later on, the Child would say, “I came to bring the sword.” Simeon told her that she would feel it in her heart while her Son was hanging on the sign of contradiction and she was standing beneath it transfixed in grief. The spear that would physically pierce His heart would mystically be run into her own heart. The Babe came to die, not to live, for His name was “Savior.”
-From Life of Christ, by Fulton J Sheen