Monday, February 21, 2011

St. Simeon Salus, Eccentric




"It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire." - Matthew 18:8
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I love the holy fools, many of whom were pretty nuts - but somehow theologians are loathe to admit that - I guess because there can be no disorder in perfection.  I'll buy that - but our ways are not God's ways.  Humanly speaking, the uber-righteous Christians appear to believe that every one should be completely healed and well adjusted at some point in their quest for a balanced life of Christian discipleship, happiness, and prosperity.  Obviously, in their opinion, crazy people need to be healed, victims of abuse and torture need to get over it, and so on, and so on, and so on.  The fact that some saints walked around bearing the stigmata, or that Christ's wounds remained present on his glorified body doesn't seem to impress them.  In their opinion, wounded, sinful human beings need to be made completely whole in order to be acceptable to the theologically elite.
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Saints such as Simeon Salus seem to refute such concepts... depending upon what interpretation of his life one reads of course.
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A quick glimpse of the Saint's life.
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For many years Simeon lived as an ascetic, monk, hermit in the Palestinian desert.  (BTW -see how that works?  Hermit is the last 'level' for those of you who like status - the saint starts at the beginning, having first been trained in the ascetic and monastic life - then the monk could apply for his hermit 'certificate'.)  Anyway.  Simeon left the desert after 29 years or so, and returned to his village. 
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The 'former' monk walked into the village dragging a dead dog.  He was immediately mocked for being a fool, a crazy man.  Thus he lived amongst the outcasts, the poor, and the harlots.  He kept very bad company.  He ministered and cared for those who needed acceptance the most - and he shared their shame.
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Soon, a few local Christian suspected his sanctity, although most thought he was either a hypocrite or genuinely out of his mind.  The respectable few who admired his sanctity were often disappointed when they witnessed so many eccentricities and inconsistencies in his behavior - throwing nuts at women in church for instance.  The saint loved humility so much he was convinced one can only attain it perfectly by loving  humiliations.  Thus he took the last place even amongst those whose lot he shared - the wounded, the lame, the outcast and the sinful. 
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An early biographer, Leontius of Neapolis wrote:  "Symeon played all sorts of roles foolish and indecent, but language is not sufficient to paint a picture of his doings. For sometimes he pretended to have a limp, sometimes he jumped around, sometimes he dragged himself along on his buttocks, sometimes he stuck out his foot for someone running and tripped him. Other times when there was a new moon, he looked at the sky and fell down and thrashed about.
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While the saint was there (his village in Emesa), he cried out against many because of the Holy Spirit and reproached thieves and fornicators. Some he faulted, crying that they had not taken communion often, and others he reproached for perjury, so that through his inventiveness he nearly put an end to sinning in the whole city.
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To the Deacon John, the only one who knew his holiness:  I beg you, never disregard a single soul, especially when it happens to be a monk or a beggar. For Your Charity knows that His place is among the beggars, especially among the blind, people made as pure as the sun through their patience and distress. . . . [S]how love of your neighbor through almsgiving. For this virtue, above all, will help us on (the Day of Judgment)." - Source
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Rev. Alban Butler writes of St. Simeon:
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He was a native of Egypt, and born about the year 522. Having performed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he retired to a desert near the Red Sea, where he remained twenty-nine years in the constant practice of a most austere penitential life. Here he was constantly revolving in mind that we must love humiliations if we would be truly humble; that at least we should receive those which God sends us with resignation, and own them exceedingly less than the measure of our demerits; that it is even sometimes our advantage to seek them; that human prudence should not always be our guide in this regard; and that there are circumstances where we ought to follow the impulse of the Holy Spirit, though not unless we have an assurance of his inspiration. The servant of God, animated by an ardent desire to be contemptible among men, quitted the desert, and at Emesus succeeded to his wish; for by affecting the manners of those who want sense, he passed for a fool. He was then sixty years old, and lived six or seven years in that city, when it was destroyed by an earthquake in 588. His love for humility was not without reward, God having bestowed on him extraordinary graces, and even honoured him with the gift of miracles. The year of his death is unknown. Although we are not obliged in every instance to imitate St. Simeon, and that it would be rash even to attempt it without a special call; yet his example ought to make us blush, when we consider with what an ill-will we suffer the least thing that hurts our pride. - Source

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No one would take on this vocation on their own or without counsel, yet oddly enough, providentially some people find themselves in a similar predicament.  Some souls struggle with compulsions, anxiety disorders, sexual disorders, personality disorders, alcoholism, drug-addiction, eating disorders, clinical depression, bi-polar depression, as well as so many other physical disabilities.  Many, many people just don't get over it and the majority of are never healed - they live with it however.  And as the saints demonstrate, the grace of God, merciful love, enfolds them.  Even with those who find healing, their wounds remain as a kind of stigmata - a sort of sharing in the sufferings of Christ, a sharing in the sacred stigmata of Christ.  Those who are well do not need a doctor - hence it is our wretchedness, our misery that most attracts Christ.
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If we think we are standing we need to be careful lest we fall.  If we believe we are wise, we best become a fool.  As St. John of the Cross says, "salvation is so uncertain '.  Little Therese understood this humility of heart, which is why she took her place 'at the table of sinners'. 

11 comments:

  1. This is a beaut, Terry. How right you are: some never "get over it"...Interesting, isn't, in the name of individual liberty, people insist upon *cures*..Fr. Keep was the pastor to the Visitandines in England. He had this to say:

    "From time to time there have arisen stigmatics in the Church, not only Saint Francis of Assisi but quite a number of other people who have borne in their bodies very painful wounds like those of Christ. These are a very striking sign of sharing in the Passion of Our Lord. I have never heard of a stigmatic complaining about his wounds, although they were often extremely, unbearably painful and crippling and prevented those who had them from doing all that they otherwise would have done. But they did not complain. One does not complain at receiving the extraordinary great privilege of sharing the wounds of Christ.

    We are all stigmatics. The things you or I complain about, the pains, the frustrations, the distress, all sufferings—these are the wounds of Christ. And we live in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and are signed, and even sign ourselves, with the Sign of the Cross. (March 7, 1971 Conference)

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  2. +JMJ+

    I once discussed St. Anthony of Egypt with a Psychology major, focussing on the modern theory that St. Anthony's visions of demons were not real, but merely "hypnogogic halluncinations" or some other "perfectly logical" explanation. She said that it didn't matter to her whether they were real or not, because mental illness is just as much of a cross as demonic visions--and God can make one a saint either way. A few months later, I learned that she had a severe mental illness of her own, which she had unsuccessfully tried to hide from everyone. And although I wish I could end the story here . . .

    This girl ultimately decided to stop being a practicing Catholic. A short time later, she informed the kitchen that she needed specially prepared meals for her celiac disease. (She had not been properly diagnosed, but she believed she had the symptoms.) I remember asking her how much gluten it took to make her sick, and she said about as much as there is in a Communion wafer.

    More recently, I made the "mistake" of saying within earshot of a committed Protestant man who is also a devout J.D. Salinger reader that Holden Caulfield reminds me very much of St. Christina the Astonishing. As it was in the context of whether or not Holden was seeking sanctity, the man was appalled. He said that mental illness has been confused with sanctity in the past, but that we shouldn't keep making that mistake today, knowing what we do about the former. It wasn't a judgment on St. Christina's faith as much as it was a critique of how the Catholic Church has chosen to interpret her actions. (I wonder what he would say about saints who have borne the stigmata . . . No, I'm never going to ask.)

    We Catholics have that rather embarrassing tradition which assures us that the love of God can make people do "crazy" things--and perhaps even be a little crazy. And I've seen firsthand how disappointment with God can manifest itself in some kind of mental illness as well. (Admittedly, I'm no more qualified to diagnose my former friend than she was to diagnose herself.) I think the Church's way of blurring the lines between mental illness and sanctity might not be the most clear-eyed approach in the world, but the one closest to the point you make here--which is that God is drawn to our wounds . . . and sometimes asks us to bear His as well.

    (Pardon the long-winded comment. Yes, I know I have my own blog.)

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  3. Anonymous1:58 PM

    This is very illuminating I've struggled w/ depression for a good part of my adult life, and have been told to "get over it", "name it and claim it", "stop the self-indulgent b.s." -- you get the idea. But it's very real, painful and persistent... however, the notion that I'm privileged to share in Christ's Passion in this way takes a great load of my mind! Also a very humbling thought for those of us who are in this situation. Thank you so much, and God bless.

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  4. Anonymous4:53 PM

    I love these types of saints too, Terry!

    sometimes I wonder whether one of these crazies or outcasts we see on the streets or in our parishes are really these hidden saints in disguise. Wouldn't that be cool...

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  5. Really beautiful, Terri.
    I've heard that "get over it," therapy ad nauseum from people who are degreed to counsel, but are not competent to. Not everyone is as I've learned the hard way. The other extreme is 'there's no hope for you.' You'll never get over it you're the "classic case" of those who will never be healed. Well,turns out that wasn't true either.
    ..Was it Maria who said we're all stigmatics? So true. Yet,we leave open always the hope that Christ can heal us if He so wills. My scars don't define me..but after many,many years of struggle I have finally learned not to hide them either..They have become the weakness that I glory in, so Christ may be made strong in them.
    Lord, help us to love those bound in sorrow and suffering and be the love of Christ to them.
    +PAX

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  6. Wasn't me who said " we are all stigmatics". It was a Fr. Keep, someone way wiser than I. I agree, Carol, this was a truly beautiful posting, Terry. You know how Hardon says that in God's mysterious providence, he allows sin. I think sometimes that the the *stignata*, if you will, the He does not remove, helps us pariticpate in each other's redemption. If He took all of our crosses away, how would we ever get to heaven?

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  7. +JMJ+

    I haven't done this in a while, so . . .

    Hi, Anonymous 1 and Anonymous 2! =D

    (Terry: captcha is "whaevacc". LOL!)

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  8. This post has made me experience at one-ness with fellow humans/Catholics. Haven't felt that in a while, especially on blogger as I kept measuring my sanctity by my life's improvements, be they physical emotional or material. My acceptance of suffering is changing, my expectations of life too, but to the outside world, perhaps nothing 'spiritual' is apparent. God never sleeps.

    If I can't be a liturgically elite latin perfected catholic adherent, I can maybe attain a raving looney's eternal rest, one day. (By the grace of God and the obedience of my will, to the best of it's abilities).

    Amen, bring on the insanity!!

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  9. I have tears in my eyes. Good tears.

    :)

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  10. I almost got tears in my eyes too. Very touching. thank you Mr. Terry.
    I remember Little Therese once wrote in her autobiography:
    "I want to love You (God) even unto folly."

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  11. Thank you for this.

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