THE mystery of the Epiphany was followed, as we know, immediately by the Flight into Egypt, which had been decreed by the Eternal Father for designs of His own, in order that His Incarnate Son might fulfill the prophecies, and for other reasons also. We have here mainly to try to enter into the plans of Heaven only so far as they affected our Lady in particular, though of course she was not separated from her Son in the arrangements of Providence. It is easy to see at the outset how much of suffering this decree of Providence must have entailed for her and St. Joseph, as well as for the Sacred Humanity of our Lord, Who chose to suffer as any other child would suffer under such circumstances. The journey must have had its perils and alarms, even when we take into consideration the perfect faith of Mary and Joseph in the Divine protection. That faith did not preclude them from all anxiety, especially that nothing might be wanting on their part to secure the safety of their charge. The sword of Herod was a real danger, and as long as they were on the road to Egypt, till they were outside the boundaries of Palestine, they must have felt great alarm lest they might be recognized by some of the emissaries of the cruel King. There were many other dangers on such a journey, and when they at last reached the land of exile, they were safe indeed from the danger from which they were flying, but not from the many trials and straits of their poor and friendless condition in an unknown land.

These circumstances were the occasion to the Blessed Mother for the exercise of a number of beautiful virtues, of resignation, humility, confidence in God, and self-abandonment to His holy designs. When they had arrived in the land of Egypt they seem to have fixed their abode in the neighbourhood of the city of Heliopolis, where they would find many of their own nation settled, and not far from which was the famous Temple raised by the Egyptian Jews as a kind of substitute to them, in so far as that was possible, for the sacred Temple of Jerusalem. That this should have been done at all proves the devotion of the Jews of the Dispersion to the centre of their religion in the Holy Land. It was among these Jews of the Dispersion, as they are called, that the Holy Family seems to have sojourned for awhile, and we thus see our Lord and His Blessed Mother drawn into personal contact and neighbourhood with a class of their fellow-countrymen who were in many respects very distinct from the Jews of Palestine itself. It was from this class that came subsequently many of the most famous preachers of Christianity in the Apostolic age, such as St. Paul and St. Barnabas, the famous Apollo mentioned in the Acts and the Epistles, and a great many others. Without being in any way separatist from the national faith and worship, they were yet far more familiar with the Gentile modes of thought and habits of life, than the Jews of Palestine. Thus they were more likely than others to be available instruments of the Church when the time came for the Gospel to be freely preached to the Gentiles.

Some of these Jews, probably from the very fact that they did not live in the Holy Land, were even more inclined to exaggerate the difference between Jew and Gentile than others. But still, when once converted, they had many qualities which fitted them peculiarly for the work of evangelizing the heathen. The preparation of the Gentile world for the preaching of the Gospel had been in great measure entrusted by Providence to these Jews of the Dispersion, who had been settled all over the Greek and Roman world, first by the policy of the successors of Alexander and then by the tendency of the Jewish people themselves to spread into foreign countries, without giving up their national religion or habits of life, and without severing them selves from the national centre at Jerusalem, whither they continually sent large sums of money and which many of them frequently visited. It was by a continuation of this Providence that the Jews of the Dispersion and their many proselytes of various grades, who owed their knowledge of the true God to them, were used for the propagation of the Gospel in its earlier age.

We have not the slightest hint to guide us as to any intercourse between the Holy Family, while in Egypt, and this large and prosperous class of Jews already settled there. In truth we have no hint of anything at all concerning the sojourn in Egypt, except the simple fact that they were there, and probably in the part of the country to which we refer, and which was by no means the only part in which the Jews were settled. In Alexandria itself they formed a large part of the population, and had great influence. It is only conjecture that enables us to suppose that the Holy Family may have received some kind hospitality from those of their own nation. But it does not need any conjecture to assure us that the existence of this large body of the children of the chosen nation must have been well known to our Lady and St. Joseph. Our Lord's Sacred Heart indeed was continually watching over them all, as well as the rest of His flock of the holy nation elsewhere, as He was also vigilant in prayer for the poor heathen and idolaters who formed by far the .greatest portion of the population of Egypt. But it is probable that one of the reasons in the Providence of God for which this sojourn in Egypt was ordained, was that our Blessed Lady might become acquainted personally with the circumstances under which so large a body of the holy nation were now living in the land in which their forefathers had been in bondage, in order that her tender and compassionate heart might be moved by their condition and perhaps also by their hospitality to take them into her prayers and make them the subjects of her intercession. She had already gained a large increase, so to speak, of the children of her prayers, by the visit of the holy Kings, which had left behind it in her heart an immense pity for the heathen nations whom they represented, as well as for their own persons. As she passed as a fugitive out of the Holy Land she must probably have heard of the cruel fate of the innocent children at Bethlehem, and her prayers must have risen for them in their suffering and for their afflicted mothers in their bereavement. Now when she found herself among her own countrymen in Egypt, a new portion of the Jewish world set down by Providence in the midst of the heathen, these also would naturally claim their place in her heart and in her prayers. Thus the range of her sympathies and intercessions was continually enlarged by fresh experience, until she came to take into her heart the whole number of various peoples and languages of which the Kingdom of her Son was to be made up.

But if Mary was thus touched by sympathy for these Jews of the Dispersion, in many respects raised so far above the populations all around them in point of religious privileges, what must have been the tenderness and intensity of her compassion for the poor heathen among whom she found herself for the first time ? When St. Paul afterwards found himself for a short time at Athens, we are told that his spirit was stirred within him at seeing the city wholly given to idolatry. 1 The idolatry of Athens was refined and almost pure by the side of the degradation and filthiness of the Egyptian superstitions, and in the midst of these our Lady had to live, not for a few days only, but for a certain length of time, perhaps even for years. She had with her in her arms the Lord of all, and there daily before His very Presence He was insulted by the worship of false gods, the deifications of the lowest vices and lusts, and even the animal creation was elevated to the honours of worship at the hands of men made after His own image. Nothing could be more loathsome than the idolatry of Egypt, nothing more calculated to provoke the indignation of the followers of the true God, Who might have been tempted to call down fire from Heaven to put an end to such abominations. But the sight did not cause such feelings in the Blessed Mother of God. It enabled her to understand more perfectly the infinite love and condescension of our Lord in making Him self the Victim to expiate such detestable foulness and degradation in the race whose nature He had taken on Himself, to see their need of redemption, and what a work it was that her Son had under taken.

Our Lady could understand also that even in that mass which appeared so wholly given up to the worst superstitions, there might be many in whose hearts some love of right and of truth remained unimpaired, some in whom lingered the earliest traditions of the human race about God, some who were stirred by strangely powerful thoughts about the duty which they owed to an unknown but most powerful and merciful Father, some strivings to obey the light that was in them, to listen to the warnings of conscience, some longings for the answer to questions which they could not help asking concerning the future and the unseen. The children who played about the door of the cottage in which her own Treasure was to be found, must have moved her compassion by the traits of innocence and natural virtue which she could discern in them, and her compassion for such must have kindled her prayers to Heaven with fresh fervour. The words of the Canticle of holy Zachary may have come back to her over and over again, speaking of the mission of the " Orient from on high " which had visited them, to enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and guide their feet into the way of peace. Thus, within a comparatively short space of time, our Lord's Presence was brought home to the Gentile world of the far East which visited Him in the persons of the Wise Kings, to the large masses of the Jews of the Dispersion, out of whom so many were to become members of His Church in after years, and also to the degraded heathen population of Egypt. For all of these our Blessed Lady was moved by this arrangement of Providence to interest and exert herself, as the Mother of the Redeemer, Who was as yet an apparently helpless Infant in her arms.

Thus, without more than the simple incidents of her history to guide us, we begin to see how the Providence of God was continually opening wider and wider fields for the powerful intercession of Mary. She had but to correspond faithfully, according to the irrepressible instincts of her sanctity, to the opportunities afforded to her intense and bound less charity, and her heart enlarged itself more and more by the contemplation of fresh objects for thanksgiving to God and of compassion towards men. The sojourn in Egypt must have been a time of immense grace to her, if only on account of the lofty virtues which she was called on to practise, of all the continual and most loving services which she was rendering to her Son, and the advance of her soul from perpetual intercourse with Him. There were also many crosses and many trials incidental on the condition of strangers in such a country. Perhaps also there were many occasions of acts of kindness and sympathy by which the Holy Pilgrims won the hearts of the people with whom they were brought in contact, many examples of virtue intelligible even to the benighted but simple peasants among whom they lived. All these things may have been occasions of grace to our Blessed Lady, who was sure not to let miss any opportunity which might make her more pleasing to God or more useful and helpful to men.

1 Acts xvii. 16.