by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

At Bethlehem He had been an exile; at the Circumcision, an anticipated Savior; now at the Presentation, He became a sign to be contradicted. As Jesus was circumcised, so Mary was purified, though He needed not the first because He was God, and she needed not the second because she was conceived without sin.

Then, after their purification had been completed in accordance with the Law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord [as prescribed in the law of the Lord.  [Luke 2:22]

The fact of sin in human nature is underlined not only by the necessity of enduring pain to expiate for it in circumcision, but also by the need for purification. Ever since Israel had been delivered from the bondage of the Egyptians, after the first-born of the Egyptians had been slain, the first-born of the Jews had always been looked upon as one dedicated to God. Forty days after His birth, which was the ap. pointed time for a male child according to the Law, Jesus was brought to the temple. Exodus decreed that the firstborn belonged to God. In the Book of Numbers, the tribe of Levi was set apart for the priestly function, and this priestly dedication was understood as a substitute for the sacrifice of the first-born, a rite which was never practiced. But when the Divine Child was taken to the temple by Mary, the law of the consecration of the firstborn was observed in its fullness; for this Child's dedication to the Father was absolute, and would lead Him to the Cross.

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 Iamb 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 Iamb 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 fulness 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 First-born of a restored humanity. A new race began in Him.

The character of the man in the temple whose name was Simeon and who received the Child, is described simply as:

This man was upright and devout, one who watched and waited for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit:

It had been disclosed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord's Messiah. [Luke 2:26]
His words seem to imply that as soon as one sees Christ, the sting of death departs. The old man, taking the Child in his arms, exclaimed with joy:
This day, Master, Thou givest Thy servant his discharge in peace; now Thy promise is fulfilled.

For I have seen with my own eyes the deliverance which thou had made ready in full view of all the nations: a light that will be a revelation to the heathen, and glory to thy people Israel. [Luke 2:29-33]

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 Messiah 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.


Simeon's hymn was an act of adoration. There are three acts of adoration described in the early life of the Divine Child. The shepherds adored; Simeon, and Anna the prophetess, adored; and the heathen Magi adored. The song of Simeon was like a sunset in which a shadow heralds a substance. It was the first hymn by men in the life of Christ. Simeon, though addressing Mary and Joseph, did not address the Child. It would not have been fitting to give his blessing to the Son of the Highest. He blessed them; but he did not bless the Child.

After his hymn of praise he addressed himself only to the mother; Simeon knew that she, and not Joseph, was related to the Babe in his arms. He saw furthermore that there were sorrows in store for her, not for Joseph. Simeon said:

This Child is destined to be a sign which men reject; and you too shall be pierced to the heart. Many in Israel will stand or fall because of Him. [Luke 2:34]
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 stumbling block, a sword that would divide evil from good, and 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 to- ward 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 sorrow flash in front of her eyes. Every pulse that she would feel in 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 this 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 to light or darkness. Before everyone else they can be "broadminded;"  but His Presence reveals their hearts to be 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.

This could never be so if He were just a humanitarian teacher. Simeon knew this well, and He told Our Lord's mother that her Son must suffer because His life would be so much opposed to the complacent maxims by which most men govern their lives. He would act on one soul in one way, and on another in another way, as the sun shines on wax and softens it, and shines on mud and hardens it. There is no difference in the sun, only in the objects on which it shines. As the Light of the World, He would be a joy to the good and the lovers of light; but He would be like a probing searchlight to those who were evil and preferred to live in darkness. The seed is the same, but the soil is different, and each soil will be judged by the way it reacts to the seed. The will of Christ to save is limited by the free reaction of each soul either to accept or reject. That was what Simeon meant by saying:

The secret thoughts of many will be laid bare. [Luke 2:3]

An Eastern fable tells of a magic mirror that remained clear when the good looked upon it, and became sullied when the impure gazed at it. Thus the owner could always tell the character of those who used it. Simeon was telling His mother that her Son would be like this mirror: men would either love or hate Him, according to their own reflections. A light falling on a sensitive photographic plate registers a chemical change that cannot be effaced. Simeon was saying that the Light of this Babe falling on Jew and Gentile would stamp on each the ineffaceable vestige of its presence.

Simeon also said that the Babe would disclose the true inner dispositions of men. He would test the thoughts of all who were to encounter Him. Pilate would temporize and then weaken; Herod would mock; Judas would lean to a kind of greedy social security; Nicodemus would sneak in darkness to find the Light; tax collectors would become honest; prostitutes, pure; rich young men would reject His poverty; prodigals would return home; Peter would repent; an Apostle would hang himself. From that day to this, He continues to be a sign to be contradicted. It was fitting, therefore, that He should die on a piece of wood in which one bar contradicted the other. The vertical bar of God's will is negated by the horizontal bar of the contradicting human will. As the Circumcision pointed to the shedding of blood, so the Purification foretold His Crucifixion.

After saying that He was a sign to be contradicted, Simeon turned to the Mother, adding:

And you too shall be pierced to the heart. [Luke 2:3]

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."