By Denise Trull
“Your old men will dream dreams.
“….in those days I will pour out my Spirit….and I will cause wonders …. on earth.” - Joel 2: 28-3
Sunday is the feast of Holy St. Simeon. I have to admit it was somewhat of a surprise, albeit a lovely one, to discover he had a feast day! Why is Simeon mentioned in the Gospel? What is his importance? Why did God want his story to be written there as opposed to other events that happened in the life of Christ, I have often wondered. Simeon’s charism was waiting and simply that — waiting for he knew not what until it “suddenly came to the temple.”
It is hard to be the one who waits. For news. For affirmation. For our turn. For answers to questions that help life to proceed. For a sign. For an apology that might never come. We might anxiously wait for someone we dearly love, who has been gone a long time, a soldier in harm’s way perhaps, and we steel ourselves to their absence, marking time with busy-ness, not daring to think too much about their safety, lest we get paralyzed by too much ache and worry about their return. Waiting is always surrender -- a trusting surrender of our own control given over to God’s providence. It is a most humbling thing. It was Simeon’s vocation. One he surprisingly received in the sunset of his years.
Simeon was an old man. At one time, he probably had a job of some sort. Perhaps he had a wife who died long ago, or some children who had since gone off to seek their fortunes. He had time now and nothing but time. He could no longer lift a tool, or even read a scroll. He had grown weak in those powers of intellect that make difficult decisions possible or help a man to puzzle through texts. He tired easily. He had nothing left but waiting. But waiting for what?
He instinctively found his way to the temple. A place of incense and chanted hymns, and a dedication to praise. A place where the only work needed was prayer and gratitude rising daily to a God who had been faithful to His people Israel. This he could do. He made it a habit. As he came each day, there grew a conviction deep down in his old soul. It is not over yet for me. I am waiting for something of import. I am an old man being asked to dream dreams. I must seek to listen carefully. So, he learned how to pray deeply and well and to keep silent in those quiet afternoons as he shuffled reverently through the porticos of God’s house. Did he ever wonder if he was in the right meeting place? Would he be found? Would he know when he saw it? Waiting. It is excruciating for some of us. For Simeon it was a work of art.
For he did not just wait in idleness. He prayed, he sacrificed his aches and pains as he slowly knelt there day after day. He fasted. Each morning he woke alert for a sign and spent his day looking here and there. And when each evening came without that sign, he did not fold up in disappointment. Sometimes the weight of his call must have crushed down on Simeon — but he did not escape it with distractions. He did not wander away from the temple. He did not use the excuse of old age to abandon his task. He stayed.
People's opinions did not seem to crush him either. I know there were some who ignored the old man who wandered about the temple each day — somewhat like the bent over old people shuffling their painful way around the Stations of the Cross before Mass in our parishes. Do we understand their importance to the Body of Christ? That dreams might be dreamt even now in their old, wise souls? That they might carry messages from God to us if we sit down and talk to them? We will all be so surprised to find out how we made it safely through life because of those old, shuffling, faithful people we sometimes don’t even see anymore, kneeling there, praying for us. Neither did the people in Simeon’s temple even suspect that prophesies were swimming in his brain, stirring like “the ooze of oil, crushed" — by long waiting.
Then came the day of fulfillment as quietly as a whisper. Simeon heard the soft cry of a baby somewhere in the porticos and he followed the sound. He wondered at his own sudden certainty — his old age looking down at this newness. Soft cheeks, big eyes looking up from the folds of a blanket tucked into his mother’s arms. This, he knew, was the glory of his people, Israel! The baby of a poor man and his quiet wife fulfilling the law quite simply and faithfully. How could this be? Long waiting did not ask anymore questions. Simeon had been found. He held the smiling, bundled answer to his heart and kissed his tiny forehead. He was so filled with joy that he raised the baby high above his head, and Mary with an exultant smile, let him! He proclaimed to anyone who would listen that God had heard the cry of his people Israel and would also extend the circle of His light to gather in the gentiles. It was a tremendous revelation! His dream had been dreamt and fulfilled. God had come to His people and Simeon’s was one of the first voices he chose to spread the word. How many people in the temple believed him, this old and shuffling man? How many just walked by and shook their heads as they hurried on to the next thing -- missing God’s message entirely. It never says. But Mary and Joseph looked on him with awe and love -- this man who spoke such wonders, unspoken until now, about their baby son. They stored his words in their hearts, even the harder ones about swords and sorrow. They were in no way surprised that this glory was proclaimed by an old man. They knew better.
What is the importance of Simeon? What is his meaning? Perhaps his story is told simply to help us remember that old age is precious, that babies, both the Holy Child and each of our own children carry the weight of good things and must be protected and gloried in lest we miss the face of God. That those who simply pray and wait are not useless, that love sees truth no matter how hidden under simplicity. That vocation can come at any age. It may come in our youth, but it may shine forth at the end of a long life of searching. It is the sign that God honors and dearly loves the old among us, and they have marvelous things to tell us. Simeon is the patron saint of the old who simply wait for heaven and nothing else. Let’s wait with them and ask them often what revelations they have seen. Let us be there when they are finally able to say with Simeon, “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised.” Let us thank them for all the light they have shed upon us in our lives. All the times they have shown us Jesus.
Holy St. Simeon, teach us to wait as you did. Help us to cherish the elderly and to seek their wisdom. Help us to look down at our children’s faces and suddenly see the face of God shining there in the temple of their baptized souls — this light of revelation.