Simeon and Thomas

As we approach the first Sunday after Pascha, what we in the East call Thomas Sunday, I’ve been thinking about the famed Doubting Thomas of the Gospel in contrast with another man who met Jesus much earlier in His earthly life.

On one hand, you have a man who had followed the Lord for three years, had heard promises of the Resurrection, and refused to believe it until “I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20: 25) On the other hand, you have the man to whom it had been revealed “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2: 26)

It is, to me, a stark contrast. Thomas refuses to believe that the Lord is risen from death until he has physically seen and touched the Lord himself. Simeon does not require this; for him, merely holding the Christ child in his arms is enough. In contrast to Thomas’s demand to put his finger in the nail holes, Simeon tells the Lord that he can be dismissed in peace. Seeing the Christ child was all of the Lord’s salvation that Simeon needs. He can depart in peace because he has seen this Child who is “destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword shall pierce through your [Mary’s] own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Simeon is an old man near the end of his life. He has lived as long as he has with the promise of the sight of the Christ. He has seen what he was promised. He can depart in peace. He does not need to see the miracles that will come or the Lord’s glorious Passion. He has seen the Lord’s faithfulness to the people of Israel. He has seen the infant Light of the World, and it is enough. His soul is satisfied.

Thomas is not so easily appeased. Three years with the Master was not enough. The witness of his brother apostles (and the myrrh-bearing women) was not enough. The future evangelist to India is not satisfied by merely hearing the Lord has been raised from the dead. No, he wants to see and to touch for himself. He wants hard, tangible proof. And the Lord gives it to him. The Lord greets him with the offer to “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:27) Thomas is one of the privileged few Christians who had the opportunity to touch the Risen Lord’s hands and know that this Man truly is the Son of God come down to earth, crucified, died, buried, and risen. In the approximately two thousand year history of the Church, few Christians have had that opportunity.

And Thomas, to his credit, is chastened by this moment. The Lord greets his lack of faith with mercy, with a moment of proof, and Thomas is humbled by this moment. He acknowledges Jesus to be “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) His doubt is no more; he believes and accepts that this truly is the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world to save sinners. This is the man who will go out after the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to preach the Gospel, going ultimately to India. He has seen the Lord’s salvation. He has seen the Lord’s mercy. He has touched the proof. He believes.

But the Lord’s response to him has always touched my heart. Christ replies to Thomas’s profession of faith that “because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” (John 20:29) I’ve heard it said, and I believe this, that this is Christ’s reference to all Christians who will come after the Ascension. This is a reference to the men and women whom Thomas and his brother apostles will evangelize and all those who will follow after those first Christians. It is a reference to people like St. Helena, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Sts. Vladimir and Olga, St. Nicholas, St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Kolkata, and so many more. It is a reference to you and to me. We have believed in the Resurrection of Christ without having seen His physical body or touched His wounds. We have not put our fingers into the nail holes, but still we believe. And I dearly love that on that night eight days after the Resurrection, Christ thinks of us, makes mention of all of us who will come after those first apostles.

Both Thomas and Simeon are given to us to encourage us. Simeon believed in the hope of a promise he had received from the Holy Spirit. He saw the Christ child, and he was satisfied. He had seen but a taste of the goodness of God’s promise; it was enough. Thomas doubted the Resurrection (after all, who had ever seen a man come back from the dead of his own power before?) until he had seen it for himself. But when he saw the truth of the Lord’s promises and the Lord’s mercy to his doubt, he embraced both the truth of who Christ was and the Lord’s abundant mercy towards us. I think that St. Thomas is intended to encourage and support us in our moments of doubt. May we also embrace both the truth of who Christ is and the Lord’s abundant mercy towards us. And may we cry out with him, “My Lord and my God!”

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Bethlehem, Make Ready

Christmas music is on the radio. Christmas trees are in houses. Santa is at the mall.

And it’s November 30. When my students ask me if my Christmas tree is up, I say no. It’s not going up until December 23. (I tell them that it’s because that’s the last day of school before break, so putting up my tree while listening to The Muppet Christmas Carol soundtrack and sipping hot chocolate is the perfect start to break for me.) They ask why I didn’t put it up last weekend or some time this week.

Because it’s November freaking 30. It’s not winter yet. We had a predicted high of 58 degrees today. Yes, the next few days will cool off, but it’s too warm for Christmas in my mind. It’s too early for Christmas. Besides, before we can have Christmas, we need to prepare for Christmas.

Preparing for Christmas isn’t just about shopping or baking or cleaning your house. You also need to prepare yourself for Christmas. On Sunday, I put out three “Christmas” decorations. I put out my Nutcracker music box/snow globes that are more about winter than Christmas for me, and I set up the Nativity scene. Jesus is NOT in the manger yet; he’s chilling in my jewelry box. The Magi are looking through a stable window because they have a long way to come. It’s a long trip from Persia to Bethlehem; we aren’t at Bethlehem yet. But like Bethlehem, we need to prepare ourselves for the coming of our King.

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It’s the feast of St. Andrew today. One thing that I’ve always enjoyed about the Fast of Philip/Advent is the way that the Church gifts us with the feasts of certain Saints who point us towards Christ in a special way in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Andrew invites each of us as he invited his brother, Peter, to come and see the Lord. (John 1:40-42) Several Old Testament prophets have their feasts in the next few weeks; each stands as a reminder of God’s love for people. St. Barbara (December 4) reminds us of the sacrificial nature that our love for God ought to have. St. Nicholas (December 6) reminds us that we are called to give of ourselves both to God and others. (He always reminds us to punch heretics in the face.) A few days later, the Conception of St. Anna reminds us of the faithfulness of God’s promises to us.

And so on…there are many feasts to point us to the coming of Christ. I love the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (the patroness of the Americas) for many reasons. St. Lucy whose feast falls eight days before the Winter Solstice in a season of long nights and darkness reminds us that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. (John 1:5) These feasts are here to remind us to focus our gaze on Bethlehem.

I’ve been feeling a bit like Ebeneezer Scrooge this week because I’m not ready for Christmas trees or music despite the fact that the secular world is. But perhaps that’s the point. It isn’t just the calendar or the weather. I’m not ready for Christmas. I have work to do before my heart will be ready for Christmas. As I said earlier this month, during the Fast of Philip, I’m focusing on how the Lord can satisfy all of my needs and is in fact all that I need. I can still grow in that area. (Okay, I’ll always have room for growth in that area.) But I’m not ready for Christmas. I still have spiritual prep for Christmas. My personal Bethlehem is not ready for Christ. I need to make myself ready to welcome Christ.

When Christmas is actually upon us, I will put up the tree and set up the Christmas decorations. First, I’ll prepare myself spiritually, and then I’ll decorate my home. Bethlehem has to be ready before the king can come. Similarly, I must be ready. I must make my heart ready in order to welcome the King of Kings into my heart this Christmas and every day of my life.

Make ready, O Bethlehem, for Eden is opened.
Prepare, O Ephratha, for Adam and Eve are renewed.
Salvation enters the world and the curse is destroyed.
Make ready, O hearts of righteous men,
Instead of myrrh, bring songs as an offering of wisdom.
Receive salvation and immortality for your bodies and souls.
Behold, the Master Who lays in a manger
urges us to complete our spiritual songs.
Let us cry to Him without ceasing: O Lord, glory to Thee.

-Vespers for December 23

Be.

In the fall of 2012 as my beloved Detroit Tigers were making an epic playoff run, I discovered the song “Hall of Fame” by The Script featuring will.i.am.

At the time, the song was about sports for me. But this past fall, I encountered the song in a different context. What if this song could be used to remind young people about the importance of the Saints?

I’ve always been struck by the lyrics of the whole song, but the rap has especially struck me.

Be students, be teachers
Be politicians, be preachers

Be believers, be leaders
Be astronauts Be champions
Be true seekers

Be students, be teachers
Be politicians, be preachers

Be believers, be leaders
Be astronauts, be champions

To me, the main message of that is BE. Do something with your life. Make something out of yourself. God has put you on this earth for a relatively brief time. Use that time wisely.

I wanted my students to meet the great Saints. I wanted them to get to know the people who “burned with the brightest flame” as the song says. So, using Hebrews 12:1-2 as my theme, I gave them a research project to research Saints of the twentieth century.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

I wanted them to meet Gianna Molla and Chiara Luce Badano. I wanted them to meet Josemaria Escriva and Pier Giorgio Frassati. Who were these people?

Some died young. Some lived long lives. Some were priests or nuns or even Popes. (Blessed be God who gave us such holy Popes during the 20th century!) Some were missionaries. Some were mothers. Some were martyrs. All of them loved Jesus.

I wanted them to see that they can be saints too. They can be holy. They too can put their hearts near the heart of Christ.

If I could teach these children one thing, it would be that they can saints. We are all called to be saints. Christ desires that we become holy. Christ desires that we join Gianna and Josemaria in the Hall of Fame.

In addition to their essays, I asked my students to present their Saints to their peers. I wanted them to share these people with one another so that they could come to know these holy men and women. However, in addition to their presentations, I made a video for them featuring photographs of and quotes from their Saints as well as other favorites of mine. I used “Hall of Fame” as the background music on the video.

I showed them the video yesterday, and today one of my students asked me if we could listen to “your saint song” again. She told me that she thought it was a good reminder that they can be Saints, that they’re called to the hall of fame; they’re called to heaven.

That was my point. We are called to run after Jesus like the Saints who have gone before us have. We are called to be holy. We are called to be students, to be teachers, to be preachers, to be politicians, to be believers, to be leaders, to be astronauts, to be truth seekers…we are called to be Saints.

“Life holds only one tragedy: not to have been a saint.”

-Charles Peguy

“I know of nothing else that can save this civilization except saints. Please be one.”

-Dr. Peter Kreeft