Saturday morning, I woke up in the Florida Keys. By Saturday afternoon, I was back in St. Louis…visiting with a critically-ill elderly relative in the intensive care unit at a local hospital.
The abrupt transition—from an invigorating experience of paradise to an encounter with a life-threatening bout of pneumonia—provided a bit of a jolt, to say the least. At the same time, I was struck by how the incidents played out in my day, almost like two sides of the same coin.
We were in Florida at the invitation of some snow-bird friends of ours, who are enjoying the winter months of their retirement years in a warmer clime. Such a blessing, to be the recipients of their hospitality! And such a blessing, too, to have come to the point in our lives when we can, in fact, break away from the daily grind…in order to bask a bit in the sun.
Flip the coin, though, and you come to understand that this very same stage-of-life offers some far different blessings. For one thing, it means you might well be spending a lot more of your time performing particular corporal works of mercy: Tending to the sick. Burying the dead. And rarely doing either on a schedule that fits in neatly with your own plans for the upcoming week.
Both sides are blessings, I think – although it can be hard to appreciate that fact when you’re up to your elbows in alligators, as the old saying goes.
It’s also true that you kinda have to reach a certain stage in your life before understand how it all works together in God’s plan. The Kingdom we’re invited to enter is not an “either/or” sort of place. It’s a “both/and” destination.
The wise man Simeon seems to know this. We encounter him in Tuesday’s gospel reading for the Feast of the Presentation.
[Simeon] came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
and you yourself a sword will pierce
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Simeon knows: We are never promised a life without sorrow. And even our glimpses of paradise can come tinged with pain.
Our call is to be ready – and to keep our eyes fixed on the prize – so that we can embrace both sides of life with courage, gratitude, humility…and a full measure of joy.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.