Monday, March 10, 2014

Mary's First Sorrow: The Prophecy of St. Simeon

"And behold, there was in Jerusalem a man named Simeon, and this man was just and and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him, and it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by inspiration of 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 received him into his arms and blessed god, saying 
"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 of revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for thy people Israel."
And his father and mother were marveling at the things spoken concerning him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts be revealed." (St. Luke 2.25-37).

 The curious thing about this sorrow endured by the Blessed Mother is that it is a part of the 4th Joyful Mystery. Within that same moment in the life of Mary and her son, Jesus, is joy and pain, mixed together in an alchemical dance. The moment when Jesus is presented in the Temple as a fulfillment of the Mosaic law, as Jesus was a fulfillment of that earliest covenant made with Abraham, the prophecy comes that points to the ultimate destiny of this child in his mother's arms: He will die.

Even the canticle sung by Simeon before this rejoices in the glory that will descend upon the nation of Israel, with little hint of what is to come. Only when he turns to Mary does he hint at a darker future, one that will be painful, at least for a time.

The sword that pierces her heart will be that lance that the Roman soldier uses to pierce the side of Jesus as he hangs on the cross, it will be all the pain that Jesus will endure as he is scourged, mocked, endures the road of sorrows to Golgotha. Through it all, there is Mary, his mother, enduring the pain in her own way.

And that is the point, she had to endure it in her own way, not in the way her Son did. Any parent would willingly take on the sorrows that plague her child. The Blessed Mother would have taken up the Cross herself instead of her Son, to keep Him free and alive. That would be the easier course for any parent. But Mary had to endure a greater pain, the pain of watching her Son go through such sorrow. Imagine the heart-rending agony she must have felt, keeping in the screams that struggled within her. Instead, she had to accept the path laid out for her Son, to carry His Cross to Golgotha and to die on it.

And we return to that moment, when she holds that tiny child, bundled up. Did she know what St. Simeon's words meant? Did she feel a chill pass through her, knowing that, for her, her earthly life would be marked by such unremitting anguish? See her standing there, holding her child, filled with the normal doubts and fears of any parent, and now carrying the burden of prophecy.

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.

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