“When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate of the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He 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 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.”
Every summer, my parents would send my siblings and me to two weeks of Catholic sleep away camp in the mountains of Pennsylvania. We did all the normal camp things: boating, swimming, getting too much sun and too many bug bites, etc. We also did many non-typical camp things: Eucharistic Adoration and processions, as well as daily mass and prayer opportunities. As I got older, I also worked as a counselor at the camp, and in doing so was introduced to the beautiful words of Simeon in the Liturgy of the Hours, which the counselors would pray together after our campers were asleep. While we didn’t sing the words Simeon prophesies for Mary, as I type this reflection, I can hear the haunting melody of chanted night prayers in the back of my mind.
Recently I was cleaning my two year old’s room and came across a pile of brightly colored paper onesies that my students had made for me when I was on maternity leave. While there was lots of advice not to drop him (I try not to be offended by their lack of faith), there were several really heartfelt notes from students, including assurances that I would be a great mom and they were so excited to see what this new part of my life would look like. No dire prophecies of swords piercing me or my son being a sign of contradiction.
Every parent reading this knows that Simeon’s words spoken to Mary were not just true for her. Being a parent is simultaneously the most wonderful and most heartbreaking job ever. So is being a teacher. To all you brave and caring souls who are teaching for the first year, eleventh year or fortieth year, you know the million ways that this job pierces you yourself. From the phone calls we make about abusive situations to the conversations where students let it slip that they don’t have enough food on the weekends, there are countless days where you want to sit in a heap and just cry. Like Mary, we keep all these things, all these precious students in our hearts, and it hurts.
As we begin this Holy Week, my prayer for you is that God shows you all the ways you are not alone with your pierced heart full of love for your students. As we walk with Mary through the next week I pray that you feel the love and support of our Blessed Mother, but also that you concretely feel the love and support of your school community as you take on the many times piercing work of being a sign of contradiction in a society that minimizes the amazing work you do every day.
Questions for reflection:
How has teaching pierced me myself this year? Can I give the pain to God? Is there a way I could offer that suffering for others?
How can I support others who are going through times of piercing sorrow? Is there someone God is calling me to reach out to today?
Who has journeyed with my through my times of sorrow? Did I thank them? Maybe I can pray for them today.