Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
Homily: Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
The older we get, the worse our eyesight becomes, and the dimmer our vision is. What I once could see in dim light with ease, I can no longer make out even with my glasses on. As someone who has moved into the second half of his expected lifetime, and as my own eyesight is already on its inevitable decline, I am prompted to say that good sight is wasted on the young!
While the gospel does not mention his age, that upright and holy man Simeon was probably an old man, who, in his final years, was patiently awaiting the coming of the Lord. His physical sight would have been poor, and we can easily imagine him struggling to make out the various features inside the candle-lit Temple, where he first encountered the family of Jesus. Unfamiliar faces would have been difficult to make out, and even familiar sights would have become dimmed and faded for him.
Yet, Simeon was a man who had the gift of a different light by which to see. His sight did not rely on an outward light that could show up how things appeared; instead, he had learned to look inwardly to a light that revealed meaning and purpose. Simeon was a holy man who did not see by facts, but by truth. He had the sight of faith and hope.
We are told in the gospel that Simeon’s sight was focused on the promise of the Lord that God’s people would find their comforting in the coming of the Christ, the anointed Messiah. He had learnt to see the signs around him, which would reveal the revelation of this promise to him. It was not anything about the physical appearance of Jesus that prompted Simeon’s joy. It was the attentiveness to grace that allowed him to see his Saviour as an infant child.
This vision of Simeon’s was not simply a revelation for him to personally experience, but the light by which all nations and people could see. The light of Jesus – the Child-Saviour – was not the dazzle of celebrity that would stop people seeing well, but a more diffused and penetrating light by which people could see their own lives. As he said to Mary: “You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many…” The light of the Christ (the Messiah) that Simeon saw in Jesus was a light for others, not for himself. Jesus would die to enlighten others, not himself.
Simeon stands before Jesus on behalf of all of us, and he shows something of how we can learn to see more clearly in the light of God among us. But he also turns to us and asks the question: by what light do we seek to see in the world? Do we see by the light of our culture, and those who influence what is deemed acceptable and enlightened? Or do we see by the light of the Incarnation, and that way in which God enlightens the purpose of our lives in this world?
What does it mean to turn on the external lights that shine on our outward appearances, but turn off the inner light by which our souls are illumined? Simeon is that man by which we can learn to see and live according to the light of grace, and the vision of faith and hope. His was a God-given light, by which the glory of all God’s people is revealed.