In this Sunday’s gospel, we hear about the Holy Family’s encounter with Simeon. It seems that Simeon immediately approaches them as they enter the Temple, not stopping to ask whether he has the right family, and straightaway takes Jesus in his arms, giving thanks to God. What was it that enabled Simeon to recognize that the infant Mary had in her arms was the promised Messiah? Would it have been possible for any of us to recognize the Holy Family for what they were? Would we be able to recognize them now?
The Gospel gives us three details about Simeon that might help us understand why he was able to recognize Jesus. Let’s look at each of them in turn and see how they might apply to us today.
Simeon was righteous and devout. We could perhaps say “virtuous and prayerful.” That is, Simeon actively cooperated with God’s grace and listened to His voice, which made it possible for the Lord to direct and guide him. We are all called to pray and be holy; God gives each and every one of us the possibility of being righteous and devout like Simeon.
Simeon was looking for the consolation of Israel. Not only did Simeon strive to live close to God, but he was familiar with God’s Word and His promises to Israel. He was able to interpret the events of his day in the light of Scripture, preparing him for the fulfillment of prophecies – like, for instance, “the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple” (Malachi 3:1). By prayerfully reading the Bible and listening to what the Church teaches us about it, we too can read the signs of the times and prepare for Christ’s coming in glory.
Finally, The Holy Spirit was upon him. Far more important than Simeon’s openness to divine grace was God’s action. Without the Holy Spirit, Simeon would have striven in vain to become righteous, let alone find the Messiah. The Spirit is also upon all of us, who have received Him in Baptism and Confirmation and He can guide us just as He guided Simeon, if we faithfully open our hearts to Him in prayer and frequently receive the Sacraments.
But would we have recognized Jesus as the Messiah like Simeon did? Would God have revealed to us who God’s human family was? We will never know. But perhaps these are the wrong questions anyway. Maybe we should instead be asking ourselves: Would we have been, and are we, open to God revealing Himself to us? Do we listen to His voice? And even if we would not have recognized Jesus then, do we recognize Him now? Jesus is present in each and every one of our brothers and sisters. He is present in every tabernacle and on every altar at Mass. He is present within each of us, where the Holy Trinity has dwelt since our Baptism. With the help of our mother Mary and our heavenly patron Joseph, who are always at His side, let us seek Jesus where He has promised that we will find Him, striving to be faithful to prayer, growing more familiar with His Word, and opening ourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit, so that we may not fail to recognize Him wherever He is present to us.
Merry Christmas and a blessed Feast of the Holy Family!
Andrew Sheedy – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta
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