Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known ( I Cor 13:12)
Do you sometimes stop and wonder what God knows about you, or do you spend time to think about the things of heaven? As I write this on the Feast of Candlemas, one of my favourite paintings, that of Rembrandt's very last work, done in 1669, of 'Simeon's Song of Praise'; the image of a very old Simeon holding the Child Jesus' is filling my imagination. It was Neil MacGregor's excellent series 'Seeing Salvation ' that broke open this picture for me, because how he described it, and my own spiritual journey, really meshed to make the picture a constant source of inspiration and deep encounter, truly the 'Word made visible' as Augustine puts it!
Why cite this now? Just look at our readings for this Sunday, images abound; in the Gospel not only do we have the dark side of family life, Luke's portrayal of Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry being rejected by his own kith and kin and narrowly escaping death-but we have an evocation of the very mystery of life itself in those haunting words of God's call to Jeremiah:
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you".(Jer 1:5)
That phrase is so total, so absolutely moving in its intensity of love, "I knew you before I formed you" a reminder that for us God is the source and end of all that we are. Echoes of that call sing to us in psalm 71:
"On you I have depended since birth;
from my mother's womb you are my strength;
my hope in you never wavers".(Ps 71:5)
This is a song of the depths of the heart, of those moments when we are caught up beyond ourselves to actually wonder at where we are, how we have gotten to this moment and what God knows about us. That is why the Rembrandt picture haunts me in a delightful way, for there I see the end of life and the beginning of life-caught up in the light of God. The gaze of the old Simeon is a half gaze because it is also inward into his own heart, as well as outward to the child, whose light and loving presence glows with an intensity that can only be from God, this is the gaze I sense on me even in my darkest moments.
I believe in a God whose care for me started in creation and will never end, who knows the number of the stars and the smallest hair on our head, who utterly loves the little sparrows and the little foxes in the vineyard and cares for the lost sheep. This is the God who never deserts us, who gave himself utterly into our hands -as a baby, to do with what we would, but who in return gives us only the 'far more excellent way' of life that Paul writes about in his sublime hymn of love.
As I think and muse on these words of love, I can and I hope you can too discern a constant truth! I can see in them not only in life lived now but a life in the time to come! It is true; if I do not have love, then I truly am nothing; but I have everything for no matter how dark, how difficult the journey, how destructive the relationships of our world with its cruelties, at its heart summed up in the gaze of Simeon and the Child is the triumph of love.
This is Simeon's gaze of God and God's gaze of us all:
"At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,but then face to face.At present I know partially;then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.So faith, hope, love remain, these three;but the greatest of these is love".(I Cor 13:13)
It is by love we were made, it is in love we live, it will be for love that eternity sings our song.
From TS Eliot's A Song For Simeon
"According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints' stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation".
From Deus Caritas Est
Benedict XVI -Dec 25 2005
"Faith, hope and charity go together. Hope is practised through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God's mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness. Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory. Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light-and in the end, the only light-that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world-this is the invitation I would like to extend with the present Encyclical.
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