“Here is my secret. It is very simple: one sees well only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes.”
In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella The Little Prince, a wise fox whispers this secret into the Prince’s ear. He does so after the two begin a friendship bound for the pain of separation. In the midst of love and loss, the simple secret unveils the power of love’s vision. One sees what is most hidden and most essential with the heart.
Christmas is a time in which we encounter the mystery of the hidden God. The source of all creation, the Infinite, is hidden in the Infant. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us in an ordinary state, as a poor child. For all those who come before Him in worship, there are still those who turned Him away and saw only a child.
Those who saw only with natural eyes mistook Christ for another man, for no matter the man or woman, all begin in common estate. This commonality between infants renders a type of anonymity, and it can tragically result in mistaken identity, as seen recently in Bogota. Jesus entered into a common, hidden life in which his true identity—apart from revelation—could not be deciphered. He fulfills the words of Wisdom:
I too am a mortal, the same as all the rest […] And I too, when born, inhaled the common air, and fell upon the kindred earth; wailing, I uttered that first sound common to all. In swaddling clothes and with constant care I was nurtured. For no king has any different origin or birth. (Wis 7:1,3–5)
However, despite our Lord’s common appearance, Simeon sees more than just another Jewish boy being carried into the temple. At the presentation, this priest in the waning light of his life sees a light not seen before—a light for the people of Israel. While awaiting the consolation of Israel, Simeon enters the temple in the Spirit. He is filled with the Love of God, and it is with this Love that he sees the Lord.
Upon seeing and recognizing who is in the arms of Mary, Simeon takes Jesus into his own arms and blesses God. His praise resounds to this day in the Church’s night prayer:
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
Simeon is a man who asks for death while holding life in his hands, his Savior. There is life and death, reception and departure present in this presentation. As the light of his eyes dim, the fire of charity burning in his heart illumines the reality confronting him. St. Bede explains the mystery:
To see death means to undergo it, and happy will he be to see the death of the flesh who has first been enabled to see with the eyes of his heart the Lord Christ.
Confronting his own death, Simeon shows us the secret of the The Little Prince’s fox. While Simeon was in the Spirit, he received the Christ child into his arms from the arms of Mary, who pondered all these things in her heart. Simeon asks to depart in peace having seen with the eyes of the heart what is most essential, our Lord Christ.
Image: Giovanni Bellini, Presentation at the Temple