A Sword Will Pierce Your Own Soul (Feast of the Presentation of the Lord)

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34, 35)

Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis.” (“God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with.”) –St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Put yourself in the place of Mary and Joseph for a moment, officially and proudly bringing your firstborn, Jesus, to be presented and consecrated at the Temple. In the midst of this joyful occasion, two figures approach, speak prophetic words over the child and give blessings to the Holy Family. But, there is a tinge of darkness and impending sorrow and suffering in one of the utterances. This child will bring a contradiction, a dividing line between those who will embrace his Good News of the Kingdom of God, and those who will not.

But, the most devastating comment of all is spoken by Simeon to Mary, the young mother, with her arms affectionately cradling her 40 day-old infant—the same infant who was visited by shepherds and angels just days ago, and soon to be visited by kings: Jesus, “God saves,” Immanuel, “God with us.” “And a sword will pierce your own soul [heart] too.” Imagine the chilling shock, great joy turned to gut-wrenching dread.

There is no mention of Mary’s reaction. I can only assume she added this jarring prophecy to the other strange, puzzling and wondrous events she kept hidden in her heart, events which must have been eventually recollected to St. Luke by the Blessed Virgin herself.

Joseph Ratzinger summed up this prophecy of Simeon with these words, “The theology of glory is inseparably linked with the theology of the Cross. The Suffering Servant has the great mission to bring God’s light to the world. Yet it is in the darkness of the Cross that this mission is fulfilled.”

Mary’s heart was indeed pierced by a sword as she compassionately walked with the Savior in his journey of encountering and embracing contradiction, suffering and death—and resurrection and ascension and glory. The heart of Mary is an icon of the heart you and I are also called to have, a heart pierced by compassion for the suffering of others, a heart broken with sorrow for those who have lost their way in the darkness, a heart aching for true peace and good will toward all people, and a heart hopeful for the final reconciliation of the entire created order.

About the author

Dr. James R. Hart served as President of the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies from 2007-2024. Dr. Hart was a member of the first IWS doctoral class, the Alpha class, and served as Dean of Students during his matriculation. After graduating from IWS, Dr. Webber appointed him as the Dean of Administration, and then Provost in 2006. In June of 2007, he was inaugurated as the second president of IWS. Dr. Hart holds a B.M. in Sacred Music from Oral Roberts University, an M.M. in Trumpet Performance from the University of Tulsa, and a D.W.S. from the Institute for Worship Studies. He was critical to the formation of IWS in Florida and has held administrative responsibilities since its inception in 1999. He is a professional trumpeter, choral director, and worship leader, and a published composer/arranger, songwriter, and author. He has been involved in worship leadership in various contexts around the globe for over 40 years and has taught in the areas of worship, theology, and music in various conferences, colleges, and seminaries. Dr. Hart and his wife, Carol, have three daughters and three grandchildren.