AT some date, after the sojourn of the Holy Family in Egypt had lasted for a considerable time, though how long that time may have been cannot be certainly settled, the death of the wicked persecutor Herod put an end to the Providential necessity for their absence from their home. St. Joseph, it seems, would naturally have settled in Bethlehem, and perhaps our Blessed Lady's love for the spot where our Lord had been born, and for the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, may have had some influence in making him wish this. They would probably have had far fewer friends in Bethlehem than in Nazareth, and their great love for retirement, in which they would be more free from interruption and criticism as to their behaviour towards our Lord, may thus have come in to add another motive to their wish. But it was decreed by Providence that our Lord should be called a Nazarene. And for the execution of this decision it was necessary that he should be brought up in His Mother's home at Nazareth. The fear of Archelaus was the moving cause which made St. Joseph alter his plan, and thus we now find ourselves at the beginning of that longest period of the Life of our Lord which we commonly call the Hidden Life, and which was spent by Him in Nazareth.
We all know that this part of our Lord's Life is the part concerning which the Evangelists have been guided to say the fewest possible words. A short passage in St. Luke, which bears evident internal signs of having been communicated to him by our Lady herself, contains all that we are told concerning this time, if we except a few words put into the mouth of the people of Nazareth, when the account is given of their low estimate of our Lord Himself, and in which He is called the carpenter, and the carpenter's Son. This is the most obvious example in the Gospel narrative of the Divine method by which so many things on which we should like to feed our thoughts, are either passed over in complete silence, or mentioned only with the utmost brevity. Those who study the Life of our Lord in the spirit in which the Gospels are written, do not find that these few words are so easily exhausted in their meaning and significance as to make them feel that they have a right to ask for more.
If we ask ourselves for something which may help us in the object of this work, which is to set before ourselves some considerations to guide us as to the successive stages of the immense and continual ascensions of our Blessed Lady to graces and blessings ever higher and higher, we find a great deal on which we may dwell which is to some extent fresh, but we find also that we have reached a point in her life at which her advance in grace and consummate perfection consisted in great measure rather in the intense use of the gifts already received than in that of occasions altogether new. This must be always remembered in giving ourselves an account of her marvellous history, that there may have been certain points therein at which her sphere of action was enlarged, and that in this sense her graces expanded in new manifestations, but that these did not imply any cessation in the constant exercise of virtues which had come into play at an earlier period of her career. She used all her first graces continually, as long as there was any field for them. But she used also, as time went on, other graces which were then brought out, if we may so say, for the first time.
Thus it was that our Lady's perpetual contemplation of God and His excellencies, her direct study of our Lord as He manifested Himself to her in the successive mysteries of the Infancy, her most diligent and rapturous exercise of praise and gratitude, her careful ministrations to our Lord as entrusted to her, her most fervent intercessions for the success of the great work of Redemption in the classes of souls which were brought before her in the providential arrangement of the history, were occupations of her soul which were never laid aside. She was as diligent in these at Nazareth as she could be in Egypt or at Bethlehem. The successive scenes in which she was placed by Divine Providence did not supersede those which preceded them in her large-hearted mercifulness and her gratitude to God. Thus, when we see reason for chronicling something as new in the
advance of her grace or of the occupations suggested to her in the providential course of events, we do not mean that she laid aside her former interests or activity in other regions of God's service, but only that the onward course of her life was most beautifully ordered, so that new duties and labours were put before her most faithful soul, as those which were in keeping with the particular stage of her career at which she found herself for the time being. No grace that she had ever received passed away unfruitful from the soul of Mary, and her interior activity became ever wider and deeper, instead of merely transferring its industry into new fields in which it might display itself.
Thus it must not surprise us if we have but little new to say about the Hidden Life, which must notwithstanding have been a time of immense progress on the part of this Blessed Mother. It is most true that there were but few external incidents to record. One day in such a life must have been externally very like another. When there are no landmarks to catch the eye of the voyagers over a boundless ocean, the objects that meet their gaze day after day are so absolutely identical that they might think that they were making no progress, while all the time the great ship might be flying through the waters towards her destination at immense speed. Thus during this tranquil time of not far short of thirty years, when there are so few incidents to recount, the advance of Mary by means of the graces and offices which had now become familiar to her can be known only to God. It was not a time without its special occupations either for our Lord or for His Blessed Mother, and the consideration of these and of her part therein must suffice us in the present chapter.
The greatest of all the differences between this period and those which have preceded it is one which is the result of the commonest of all causes,, and in this the Life of our Lady cannot have been in any way exceptional. The great epoch to all young mothers is that at which their child begins to be able to converse with them, to express his thoughts in words of his own, to take part in conversation, to understand the world around him, and to begin that long process, as it is with us in our present condition, in which the education of the mind and intelligence consists. We have supposed that our Lord did not begin to speak at the moment of His Birth. But we must be certain that He was then as ever perfect Man in the command of all His faculties, and that if He did not manifest this to all around Him, it was because it was more fitting for Him to be like all other infants in this respect also, as far as was possible for Him so to be. Some contemplatives delight in thinking that to His Mother at all events He relaxed this rule so far as to con verse with her freely from the beginning. It is enough for us to know that this might have been so. Others have supposed that Mary was always allowed to understand in a certain measure, at all events, the movements of His Sacred Heart, and that He communicated to her in some marvellous manner all, or a part of, that which was passing therein. They suppose that this gift to her was continued ever afterwards during the Life of our Lord, although it might have been interrupted occasionally for some particular purpose of God.
But we are on indisputable ground when we say that at some point of the Infancy our Lord must have begun, like other children, to converse with His Blessed Mother and with St. Joseph, and that His conversation must have been from the very first most tender and loving with them. They knew Who He was, and therefore there could have been nothing in all their converse with Him that was inconsistent with the most perfect reverence and devotion on their part. But at the same time there could not have been in Him any keeping back of the affection, the gratitude, the obedience, the loving openness and familiarity which was due from Him to His Mother and to him who was in all earthly matters His father and in the place of God. Few as are the words of our Blessed Lady recorded in the Gospels for us, they are quite enough to show us that she conversed with her Son as His Mother might naturally converse, and we have the whole that has come down to us as to the relations between Him and His Apostles, to prove that He exacted from them none of the ceremonial of homage and silence which is to be found in earthly courts.
If our Lord had been only one of the great saints of God, such as St. John Baptist or others, His conversation with His parents from His earliest years must have been treasured by those with whom He lived as the greatest privilege of their lives, one which gave them unexampled opportunities of advancing in the knowledge of the ways of God, and in particular, of the great dispensation of His Wisdom and Mercy in the Incarnation. But our Lord was far more than any of His Saints in Divine Wisdom and intelligence, and the blessed pair with whom He dwelt for these long years of the Hidden Life were more fitted than any others could be to derive both grace and enlightenment from any conversation which He might hold with them concerning the designs and ends of God in sending Him into the world. For it is reasonable to think that He was always desirous to communicate such truths to souls that were fit to receive them. This is one of the meanings of His saying that He was the Light of the World. When He went forth to preach among the people, to deal with their rulers and teachers, and even when for so many months together He made the Twelve Apostles His close and intimate companions, He met with darkness on every side, with hearts in many cases shut against the light, because their deeds were evil, in other cases with hearts only very partially open to the streams of light which He had to impart. It must have been one of the greatest of the trials of the Sacred Heart to have so much to communicate concerning God, to know the intrinsic value of the truth and the benefits which it laid open to souls, and yet to find even in those who were the least unready to receive it so much positive unreadiness and unfitness.
So it must have been during the three years of the Public Life, but so it was not during the Thirty Years of the Hidden Life. Our Lord never showed any reluctance to communicate truths concerning God, except to those who could not receive them.
His own words to the Apostles about calling them His friends because He had revealed to them the secrets of His Father, about the many things which He had still to tell them which they could not yet receive, about the office of the Holy Ghost in re calling to their minds what He had said to them, and the like, show how much He delighted in making such revelations. But in Mary, and in a less degree in St. Joseph, there was no impediment to the revelation of what St. Paul calls the "whole counsel of God." Yet if some great saint had been allowed only for a few weeks to be in constant companionship with our Lord, and had during that time been in the habit of familiar conversation with Him on such subjects, we should be prepared to find in that privileged soul treasures of wisdom and know ledge such as would raise him to the highest rank among the Cherubim. But such was the privilege of our Blessed Lady for the whole time of the Hidden Life, beginning from the moment, when ever it was, at which our Lord began to converse with her. There is therefore very good reason for the contemplations of such writers as the famous Maria de Agreda, who tells us that during this period of the Hidden Life our Blessed Lady became the first disciple, so to say, of our Lord, Who unfolded to her in the course of that happy time the chief features of the Divine plan of the Kingdom which He was to found.
That it should so have been will seem, to devout and thoughtful souls, the most natural thing in the world, when we remember the immense graces which our Lady had received from the first, her wonderful insight into the ways of God, as shown in her Canticle, the deep study which she had made of Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, as well as the large share she had and was to have in the execution of the Divine dispensation for the redemption of the world. We are told in Genesis that God said of Abraham, " Can I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that He shall be come a great and mighty nation, and that in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed?" 1 Yet Mary, as the Mother of the redeemed, was to become a mightier nation than Abraham, and in her it was indeed true that all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, and she herself was to be called blessed by all generations. Again, St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, "For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom all paternity in Heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened by His Spirit with might unto the inward man, that Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts, that being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, to know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge, and to be filled unto all the knowledge of God." 2 If the Apostle could pray thus so earnestly for the converts of a few years, it is not extravagant to think that our Lord might desire to communicate to His Blessed Mother all the treasures of the Divine counsel.
It would be to the honour of God that there should fully, and which in our Lady's case came, as we believe, direct from the conversations and contemplations of the Hidden Life at Nazareth.
It would be far too great an undertaking for a work like this to endeavour to set out, even if this could be done with any reasonable certainty, the details of these communications concerning the Gospel Law which our Lord may now have made to her. The contemplative to whom reference has been made has several beautiful chapters on this great subject. She tells us how our Blessed Lady was instructed in the Christian Creed, the Commandments in their Christian meaning, the Gospel Law as contained in the Beatitudes, the Sacramental System of the Church, and the like, how she corresponded and cooperated with the know ledge imparted to her, and how she became the companion and assistant of our Lord in the prayers which He was continually pouring forth for the work which He was to begin at the end of this period for the instruction and salvation of the race of mankind. Such are the natural subjects on which our Lord would love to instruct her who was to share so largely in all the fruits of His work, and also to aid so greatly in extending them to others.
Instructions of the kind which is here supposed were to a certain extent general in their character, and they would refer more to the future of the work of our Lord in the world, than to that part of it on which all the future was to be built as on its foundation, what He had already done since the Incarnation, and what He was actually engaged in during these long years of His retirement at Nazareth. It be, as soon as possible, a heart and soul among pure creatures that could understand the immense riches of wisdom and love contained in the Gospel plan, a heart and soul of the largest capacity of intelligence and of praise and gratitude and correspondence equal to its intelligence. It would be an immense consolation and joy to the Sacred Heart, when our Lord could share the joy and delight He felt in the beautiful work committed to Him with her whom He loved with so singular a love, and who could add to His joy and delight in sharing them and reflecting them. It was well that here also Mary should be His companion, and that the gifts of knowledge and intelligence which were afterwards to be distributed so largely to the saints should first of all be communicated to her. And it was a blessing also to the Church, and especially the Church of the Apostles' age, that she should be so full of this knowledge of the ways of God. For the rulers and guides of the Church are always divinely enlightened, and they have in their hands that precious gift of the indefectible doctorate which enables them faithfully to enlighten the Christian people from time to time on all points as to which doubt may arise. But the doctorate itself constantly looks to the instincts and holy beliefs, the sense of the faithful people, pastors and flocks, and especially to the keen clear gaze with which the saints of God contemplate the eternal truths. Mary, of course, was singularly en lightened, and more than all the saints, but she stands at the beginning of the history of the Church as " a mountain of light," representing the Christian instincts and traditions which help her so power- PAGE 174 MISSING FROM ORIGINAL BOOK-
is natural to suppose that He would not leave our Lady without instruction and special enlightenment on these subjects. He may well have taught her positively, what she had already divined in the musings of her own faithful mind and heart, such things as the reason for the Incarnation, or as the time and manner of its accomplishment, or the Providential guidance of herself and of St. Joseph all through their lives. He may have explained to her the Divine reasons for the Birth at Bethlehem, the decree of Augustus, the summons of the Wise-Kings from the East, the permission of the slaughter of the Innocents, and the Flight into Egypt. She may have learnt from Him the meaning of all His teachings from the Crib, His love for poverty and humiliation and pain, and the blessing which she had in sharing all these things with Him, and also the peculiar grace which had been bestowed upon her in the prophecy of Simeon and the sword of grief of which it had spoken. Let us add a few words as to her intelligence as to that beautiful part of our Lord's work which we may consider, in a certain sense, proper to this time.
Our Lady could not but have been aware that our Lord came to found a Kingdom in the world. Indeed it was this His kingly character and work which had been specially set before her by the Angel at the Annunciation. The Kingdom was indeed the Kingdom of Heaven, but it was to have its external state and greatness and power, it was not merely to transfer men as quickly as possible to another world without creating something stable and most beautiful in this. He Who was to be the Saviour of the Jews and of the Gentiles, of those who had been represented before Him by the Sages from the East, and by the Idolaters in Egypt, as well as by the Jews whether of Palestine or of the Dispersion, was to leave behind Him the elements of a society in which He was to reign, the true House of Jacob, and in which His Kingdom was to have no end, as long as the world lasts. We who live at the end of so many centuries since the time of our Lord's sojourn upon earth, can see at least some of the chief principles of the society which was to be founded and ruled by Him. We can see that His own life was meant to be in a great measure its model and its foundation, that every feature of strength and stability which belongs to it is traceable to some feature in His own life, in which He had left a blessing behind Him for those who were to be His subjects in successive generations. The reason why men are inclined to wonder as they do at the comparative inactivity of our Lord during this part of His stay in the world, and at the great length of time which He spent in doing nothing that seems to them extra ordinary, must be that they do not appreciate the importance of common life, or of the work which our Lord had to do in the world to lay the foundations of Christian society.
Our Lady must have shared His thoughts and been instructed in them, and it would not be much to suppose that, with all the immense advances of grace and wisdom which must have been the fruit of her faithfulness in cooperating with graces already received, she might have been even otherwise enough enlightened to see that what was going on in the holy House was the consecration, by the touch and presence of the Incarnate God, of the elements and principles out of which Christian society was to be formed and on which it was to be built. This had already been done as to the several parts of which the Christian home is made up. That is, our Lord had consecrated the relations between parents and children by becoming a Child, between husbands and wives by being born of a virgin wife, He had blessed and hallowed poverty and common life, from His first entrance into the world, He had honoured law by obeying the mandate of Caesar, He had blessed labour by living on the work of His foster Father in Egypt. But in the Hidden Life all these elements are brought together, and they form the chief and essential features in that Life, as it was led for thirty years. There is the home of the artisan, there are the parents and the Child, the husband and the wife, there is the thrifty and laborious poverty of persons content with their station in life and with no ambition to rise above it. As we shall see, there is room in that life for the school and other elements of education. There is even room for the doctrine of those Divine vocations which warn parents that their children do not belong to them but to God. The life of the whole is obedience, and it is lit up by the constant practice of prayer and communion with God.
If all these things in the Hidden Life were so because our Lord wished to consecrate by His own touch and practice that holy common life of the society which He was to found, it seems natural to think that His Blessed Mother, who was to so great an extent one with Him and a partner, as far as that was possible, in His work, should have been enlightened to understand all this work of His and to bear therein her own conscious and deliberate share. If her heart was not united to His own by some wonderful gift which enabled her to read and follow all that went on therein, at least it was gifted by the instincts of the same Holy Spirit Who directed all the movements of the Sacred Humanity. It was the most faithful of created souls to that Divine guidance, while at the same time it was her vocation to be the companion of all our Lord's thoughts and intentions, as far at least as it lay within her capacity to understand and to further them by her own. Nor was she merely the saint of saints, the soul that had received more largely than any other of the fruits of His Redemption. She was His Mother who had consented to the execution of the counsel of the Incarnation within her womb, and who was made by her union with Him, in the designs of God, the Mother of His redeemed and the Queen where He was King.
In the light of these considerations we find it most difficult to think that our Lady, in her practice of all the most perfect virtues, in which she imitated our Lord during this long period of the Hidden Life, did not understand fully the great work in which she was bearing a part for the formation of the Kingdom of her Son. We find it difficult to think that this great object did not enter into her prayers and form the subject-matter of her intercessions. At least we can be certain that she followed most lovingly every example of perfection in her Blessed Child, studying Him with ever-increasing wonder as He passed from the age of a child to that of a youth, and then on to fullgrown manhood, which He had long attained before the time came for the ending of His Hidden Life. This Life was broken by one most remarkable incident, in which our Lord seemed for the moment to deviate from the line of conduct which He followed during the remainder of the time, and of which, as far as it regards our Blessed Lady, we may speak fully in the next chapter.
1 Gen. xviii. 17.
2 Ephes. iii. 14, seq.