January 5—St. Simeon Stylites
One winter’s day, about the year 401, the snow lay thick around Sisan, a little town in Cilicia. A shepherd boy, who could not lead his sheep to the fields on account of the cold, went to the church instead, and listened to the eight Beatitudes, which were read that morning. He asked how these blessings were to be obtained, and when he was told of the monastic life a thirst for perfection arose within him. He became the wonder of the world, the great St. Simeon Stylites. He was warned that perfection would cost him dear, and so it did. A mere child, he began the monastic life, and therein passed a dozen years in superhuman austerity. He bound a rope round his waist till the flesh was putrefied. He ate but once in seven days, and, when God led him to a solitary life, kept fasts of forty days. Thirty-seven years he spent on the top of pillars, exposed to heat and cold, day and night adoring the majesty of God. Perfection was all in all to St. Simeon; the means nothing, except in so far as God chose them for him. The solitaries of Egypt were suspicious of a life so new and so strange, and they sent one of their number to bid St. Simeon come down from his pillar and return to the common life. In a moment the Saint made ready to descend; but the Egyptian religious was satisfied with this proof of humility. “Stay,” he said, “and take courage; your way of life is from God.”
Cheerfulness, humility, and obedience set their seal upon the austerities of St. Simeon. The words which God put into his mouth brought crowds of heathens to baptism and of sinners to penance. At last, in the year 460, those who watched below noticed that he had been motionless three whole days. They ascended, and found the old man’s body still bent in the attitude of prayer, but his soul was with God. Extraordinary as the life of St. Simeon may appear, it teaches us two plain and practical lessons: First, we must constantly renew within ourselves an intense desire for perfection. Secondly, we must use with fidelity and courage the means of perfection God points out.
Reflection.—St. Augustine says: “This is the business of our life: by effort and by toil, by prayer and supplication, to advance in the grace of God, till we come to that height of perfection in which with clean hearts we may behold God.”