The feast of the Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Our Lady puts before our eyes the touching figure of the old man Simeon. St Luke tells us that he had received from the Holy Spirit the assurance that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. As a God-fearing Jew who had read and meditated the numerous prophecies concerning the coming of the Anointed One, many of which were startlingly precise in predicting the time of the Messiah’s coming (see in particular Daniel, ch 9), Simeon knew that he was living in the age during which He might actually come. He had also meditated at length on the wretched state of his people, handed over to pagan control for too long, direly in need of the Saviour. So he prayed, and he prayed. He apparently had developed a profound degree of union with the Holy Spirit who communicated with him.
When Mary and Joseph bring the Infant Lord to the Temple, Simeon is pushed by the Holy Spirit to go there. And lo and behold, he finds himself in the presence of the longed-for Messiah! For the moment he is just a babe. But Simeon is a man of prayer, and men of prayer are humble. And so Simeon has no difficulty in recognising the Saviour under the humble traits of infancy. He takes Him in his arms, he blesses God, and rejoices in the delightful moments during which he is able to cuddle the Babe whom all nations were longing for.
Simeon, in his longing for God, and in his patience in waiting for Him, is the image of the faithful soul who truly seeks to be united with the Lord. Prayer, and lots of it, had deepened the well in his heart, had increased his capacity for God. With Simeon, God used a tactic He often uses with souls who truly seek Him. He makes him wait, and a very long time, for a treasure it is worth waiting for.
St Augustine, in his commentary on psalm 83, writes: “Desiderium differtur, ut crescat, crescit, ut capiat. Non enim parvum aliquid daturus est Deus desideranti, aut parum exercendus est ad capacitatem tanti boni. Non aliquid Deus quod fecit daturus est, sed seipsum qui fecit omnia. Ad capiendum Deum exercere, quod semper habiturus es, diu desidera”. Which we could translate this way: “The fulfilment of desire is differed so that it might grow; it grows so that it might take hold of what it longs for. God is not to give some small object to those who long for Him; and therefore one is not to be tried only a little in order to become capable of perceiving such a great good. God is not going to give something of what He made, but Himself who made all things. To become capable of God exert yourself; what you are to have forever, desire it for a long time”.
These amazing words have always inspired me. They were a veritable lifeline during some very difficult years of my life. They gave me consolation when there was none. Wait for the Lord, wait for Him a very long time. Wait for Him like holy Simeon, and even as death approaches, never for a moment doubt that He who has promised will come through.
In the lives of individuals, in the lives of communities, in the life of the Church, there are of necessity times of trial. The most valuable secret to have, and which Simeon reveals to us is this: wait for the Lord. And the most important virtue is this: Patience. “Patience obtains all things”, says St Teresa, for God alone suffices, and if you are waiting for Him, it is because He is already there, but it is still dark. Soon, the sun will rise, and the light, symbolised by the candles we bless and carry today, will rise in our hearts.