THE day of the birth of any human being into the world is always spoken of as an occasion of the utmost joy, a day to be looked back on with intense gratitude, to be celebrated by a yearly feast, as the true entrance on life, with all its powers, enjoyments, and prospects. But with us in our present condition, whatever may have been the intentions of God in this regard if the blight of sin had not fallen on us from the very first, the existence on which we enter on our first birth is one of so much unconsciousness, so much weakness, so much suffering and danger and incapacity of all true enjoyment, and of the exercise of any intelligence or will in the true sense of the words, that our first days in the world are rather occasions of joy to others than to ourselves, rather on account of the hopes and the promises which are born with us, than of any actual possession of the blessings which are contained in the marvellous gift of life. Thus we think on such occasions rather of that joy of the mother of which our Lord speaks so beautifully, which, as He says, makes her forget all the pains and dangers through which she has passed, the joy that a man is born into the world, than of any delight or happiness of which the child so born is at that moment made partaker. But we can at least imagine that things might have been very different in this respect if there had not been over the children of Adam the doom which now actually hangs over them. We do not know how far the weaknesses and miseries which accompany and precede birth might have been spared to us, either in the case of the mother or in the case of the child, and it is certain that even in these there are considerable differences in different parts of the world and in different conditions of ordinary life. The refinements and luxuries and indulgences of modern civilization entail, both on parents and on children, a number of sufferings which are at least aggravations of the ordinary lot of humanity.
In the case of the blessed Anne, the mother of the future Mother of God, we know that the con caption and the birth of her child had been most ardently desired by her, that she had suffered re preach on the score of her sterility, which was now removed, that she had been made a woman of prayer by what she had gone through. Thus the child born to St. Anne was not only what she might have been if these circumstances had been otherwise, but a child of intense desire and longing, the satisfaction of which must have made her birth the occasion to her mother, not only of any ordinary joy, but of the joy of a long tried saint of God when at last the fruit of her prayer is granted in some marvellous way, after it has long seemed hopeless in the natural course of things that that prayer should be so blessed. Thus we have the best reason for supposing that this Blessed Child was welcomed into the world by the most intense joy of her mother and the blessed Joachim, even if they had no reason for knowing that she was to be all that God had destined in the execution of His great designs for the redemption of mankind. This is the least that can be supposed concerning her birth. But if that happy pair had further obtained any insight into the plan of God for their child, or even if they could merely have surmised something extraordinary to be in store for her from the circumstances under which she had been conceived and born, then we must suppose that their joy and gratitude to God far transcended the ordinary joy and gratitude of earthly parents, even the most grateful and faithful in the discharge of their debt of thankfulness.
It must be thought certain that they must have been very familiar with the prophecies which were the peculiar treasure of their house and family. Fallen as were that house and family in the social scale and in the consideration of the world, that fact could only make the descendants of the holy King more careful in the preservation of the promises made to him and to his seed after him, and among those prophecies they could not have been ignorant or unmindful of that which foretold the Virgin who was to conceive and bear a Son. Thus although all the mothers of Israel in those days desired children, that they might perhaps have a share in the bringing into the world of the promised King, there was con solation and joy also at the birth of daughters, especially in the royal house, because one of them was in the appointed time to become the Mother of the Messias. Thus it is very likely that there was this special element in the joy of St. Anne and St. Joachim, that the child of their prayers and their long delayed desire might be this chosen maiden, of whom Isaias had spoken, referring in his prophecy to the original promise made in Paradise of the woman who was to be the perpetual enemy of the evil one. But if they had received any Divine intimation of the destined greatness of their Child, that would give an altogether new character of deepness and intensity to their joy. And as we read of the mothers of many of the saints, that their children have been no burthen to them while they were carried in the womb, and that their birth has been marked by freedom from ordinary pains and sufferings on the part of the mothers, it is not much to think that there may have been something of this kind about the parturition of St. Anne. It is true that the immunities of the Immaculate Conception do not extend them selves to the parents of our Lady, and to their part in her conception. But it is also true that the common law, that women are to bear their children in sorrow and pain, is not always inflicted in all its seventy on the mothers of children dear to God or on those who have become mothers under special circumstances of prayer and devotion and great purity of intention. So we may suppose that the childbearing of St. Anne was likely to share all such exemptions in a high degree, though it could not have by right the immunities which accompanied the childbearing of Mary herself.
These considerations may help to give us some idea of the depth and intensity of the joy of St. Anne at the birth of her glorious child. But we must remember that the true joy which belongs naturally to such an occasion should be the joy of the child rather than of the mother. It is only because, in ordinary cases, the child cannot understand the blessing which it has received in being born into the world that the mother's joy is that of which we think first. We can imagine that, if it had so pleased God, children might have been born into the world in the state of innocence under conditions somewhat like those which attended the creation of Adam and the formation of Eve, in which cases the new being which they received was accompanied by the power of understanding what had taken place, and of realizing the blessings which had been conferred. It would not have been beyond the congruous harmony of nature in such a case, if the child could understand what a world of beauty and enjoyment that is which breaks upon him when he enters life, what lessons concerning God and His attributes and His character are involved in the simple opening to him of that kingdom of sensible objects which is manifested to his ken, the world of sight and hearing, and of the exercise of the senses, which have the mission of conveying the images of things outside us to the mind, there to become the food of thought and the vehicles of truth. The visible creation in all its beauty and harmony and magnificence and multiplicity is a book in which the intelligence is to read without end, and in every page and line of which there is some revelation of its Maker.
Moreover, such a child would find itself also in another world, of which it forms itself a living and moving part, the world of humanity and of society, with relations and duties and occasions for the play of affection and charity, offices and bounties without end, a world the scene and home of its tenderest loves and closest ties, the noblest duties and the most fruitful services to its Maker. What a change from the confined and dependent existence which it has hitherto led, what a region of hopes and aspirations, of expansion of faculties hitherto dormant, of knowledge about God and itself and its future prospects, which even if possessed before is now acquired in a new way by the experience of life! The book of nature and of Providence open at a new page, an immense stride in intelligence and free action and consciousness of power and responsibility already made, and, by its contrast with the state which had preceded it, bracing up the mind to hopes of future and grander strides yet to be accomplished ! The new existence is as a draught of the most exhilarating nectar, making the soul feel itself the mistress of a new and most glorious empire whose riches cannot be counted and to which there are seemingly no limits. What must be thought about the joy of the first entrance into such an inheritance, if only there could be in the soul at such a moment the consciousness of its gain, the intelligence of its dignity and its hopes for the future! And what would be the thankfulness and self-surrender of such a soul at seeing laid open before it the path of a voluntary and most glorious service to the great Giver of all these blessings, a service which is to be; abundantly furnished by Himself with the means which it requires for success and fertility, and which is to lead to a still higher stage of existence in a region of perfect security and peace and of ineffable bliss, by the side of which all the joys of sense and intelligence that can here be known are as passing shadows!
We have seen reason for thinking that in the case of our Blessed Lady it may have been as with our Lord in.respect of the perfect use of her intelligence and will, which had been granted to her from the beginning. If this were so, then we may sup pose that the soul of Mary, when she entered this world as a child in the arms of St. Anne, may have been able to take in all that is contained in the gift of human existence. The soul of Mary was one most full of intense gratitude and desire to make some offering of its own in return for.what had been given to it. Thus she may have poured herself out in affections of interest, joy, gratitude, and oblation. She may have entered this world, not in ignorance of all that was laid open to her therein, but as a Queen entering her palace, and delighting herself in all its treasures and in all the opportunities of beneficence which they afforded to her. All the more, if she under stood, as is very likely to have been the case, that she was now made the recipient of still higher graces and favours than those she had received before, and of which we suppose her to have made diligent and faithful use during her life in the womb which was now coming to an end. For certainly the new existence which now dawned upon her required greater graces, as it furnished greater opportunities, and imposed more multifarious duties and a great range of relations as the occasions of those duties. Thus it is reasonable to think that the birth of our Lady was among other things the occasion on which a still higher measure of grace was poured out upon her. This gradual increase in the great magnificence of God, drawing more and more largely on the unbounded plenitude of His resources, was to be the rule of all His dealings with the blessed soul of Mary. Thus the increase of her gifts, at this the first stage in her life since her Immaculate Conception, and consequent enrichment in the order of grace, was to be the precursor of many further advances of the like kind as the various mysteries of her wonderful life succeeded in due order.