THE time had now come for an entire change in the external aspect of our Lord's existence on earth. He was within four years of the time when He was to offer Himself on the Cross as the Sacrifice for the sins of the world. But before that great act could be accomplished, He had to perform His work as the Teacher of the truth, the Revealer of His Father, the Founder of the Church and of her marvellous system for the salvation and perfection of mankind. Between the quiet years of which we have last been speaking, the thirty years spent mostly in Nazareth, and the actual Passion, there was to come the whole of the wonderful period of activity and contradiction which we call the Public Life of Jesus Christ. It is with this that the Gospel histories are in the main concerned. Indeed, the simplest idea of a Gospel, as we see it in the work of St. Mark, included nothing else, except the Passion itself, and the shortest possible account of the Resurrection. At His Ascension, our Lord left His earthly work to be carried on by the Church under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and a new stage in the history of His Kingdom began.
It was inevitable that during these three years and a half of His Ministry our Lord could no longer be the inseparable companion of His Blessed Mother. His Life was to be now a life of continual movement, of great exposure to danger, of constant conflict. And besides, as has already been seen, she was to give Him the opportunity, by His con duct towards and treatment of her on particular occasions, of setting to those who were to be His ministers, throughout all ages of the world, His perfect example of detachment from home ties, from parental influences, and the like, an example which would be much needed by them, and which they could not have practised so well if they had not had this instance of His own setting to look to for light and for strength. It is on this account, as well as on that of the hidden character of her occupations at this time, that we hear so little of our Blessed Lady during the period which is covered by the Gospel history properly so called. The later Evangelists were guided to add the few precious details which we possess relating to the Sacred Infancy and the Hidden Life, in which her part was necessarily not only great, but conspicuous.
It might perhaps turn out, if we knew the facts of the history more fully, that the external separation of our Blessed Lord from His Mother was neither so complete nor so uninterrupted as it may seem to be on a cursory inspection of the sacred narrative. There are large blanks in the history, and as to these it is at least as likely as not that they included sojourns of His by the side of His Mother, of which it was not the purpose of the Gospel writers to speak. But, in any case, the external separation, whatever was its extent in point of time, did not in any way imply a cessation of that close union of heart and spirit which had been the rule of their lives during the Thirty Years. It was not with our Lord and His Mother as it might be with any good worker in the vineyard of the Church, who leaves his home and family at the cost of a certain pang to his own affectionate heart, but who has been accustomed by the years of his training for the priesthood to live in a world of thoughts and interests and aspirations to which the inmates of that home are more or less strangers. He has his work in the world, and his brothers and sisters have theirs, and his parents rejoice in his vocation, but cannot enter into its cares or its hopes or its interests. It was not, as we say, thus, with our Lord and His Mother. She could never be without her work by the side of His, in companionship with Him. She had been trained during all these years for a great post in His Kingdom, she had a personal office and duty to discharge towards Himself, she had functions towards those who were to belong to Him, which became only more active and onerous and energetic and perpetual as His own work among souls engrossed Him more and more. In order to understand this, we have only to remind ourselves of what we have already considered as to the advance of our Blessed Lady in grace and in intelligence of the ways of God and of the character and plans of our Lord.
In the first place, all that we know up to this time about our Blessed Lady shows us that her life had become more and more, as time went on, a life of prayer and the closest communion with God.
Her immense increase in sanctity and in knowledge implied the expansion of her intelligence and of her charity to an extent beyond what we can conceive even in the highest Cherubim. Moreover, this great and daily increase had been the fruit, not only of Divine illuminations vouchsafed to her from time to time out of the wonderful bounty of God Who loved her above all His works, but of her own most faithful and energetic cooperation, and especially of that habit of mind of hers which is commemorated in the Gospel, of pondering and praying over all that happened, with regard to our Lord and herself, in the gradual unfolding of the Divine plan for the dispensation of the Incarnation. Her mind was cast in that mould, so to speak, of the most careful, diligent, faithful contemplation and consideration, and this is described for us as her great occupation, during these many years which had now drawn to their close. And perhaps it may not be without some special significance that she is said by the Evangelist to have thought over these things in her heart rather than in her mind, that we may understand that her contemplation and consideration did not terminate in intellectual processes only, beautiful as those must have been in such a mind and on such subjects, but that in her meditation, as the Psalmist says, the fire of love was kindled into a great flame, a flame of prayer and praise and outpourings of charity to God and to man, so that her life had been, from the very beginning of her participation in the mystery of the Incarnation, a life of contemplation, praise, and intercession, following as closely as possible the interior activity of the Soul and Heart of Jesus Christ Himself.
We have even reason to believe, further, that the intelligence of our Lady had been enriched to a most marvellous extent by her constant familiar intercourse with our Lord, especially during the Hidden Life. The very familiarity of the few words which are recorded as having passed between them shows how entirely He was in the habit of communicating His designs and intentions to her. Christian reason never employed itself more legitimately, more in harmony with what we know of the character and the ways of God and our Lord with those whom He trusts and loves, than when it came to the conclusion that our Lord communicated most fully to His Mother the outlines and principles and even the details of the system of His Church, the darling project of His Sacred Heart, and large portions at least of the history of what was to ensue. It would have been unlike Him, as far as we can see, if He had not done this. There may be a question as to the manner in which this revelation was made. For there are some contemplatives who consider that some preternatural method for her enlightenment as to these matters was used in the case of our Lady, as it has been used from time to time in the history of the Church in the dealings of God with His saints. Others are content to think that the revelation may have been made to her, as it was probably made to the Apostles after the Resurrection, from our Lord's own lips and in His own gracious and tender words. It is enough for us to know that Mary must have entered on the period of the Public Life with this immense treasure in her heart, the subject of her rapturous contemplations and most fervent prayers.
We have already seen that there may have been more than one reason why our Blessed Lady may have been thus enlightened, but it may be well here to remind ourselves of these reasons, or at least of some of them. The great plan of God, the most wonderful and beautiful of His works in Creation, the work in which His most glorious attributes were to shine forth more conspicuously than elsewhere, certainly required an acknowledgement and a homage and a praise from His intelligent creatures, as far as possible, worthy of itself. This homage and praise and gratitude were secured to it by its communication to the most faithful and intelligent heart of the Blessed Mother. She could penetrate it and under stand it as no one else, she could give it its meed of adoring thanksgiving as no one else. Again, it was in the order of the dispensation of the Incarnation that our Lord should have by His side a heart capable of understanding Who He was, what was the dignity of His Person, what the endowments of His Humanity, what He was doing, what He was to do, of sympathizing with Him, entering into His wishes and desires, echoing the infinite charities and mercies and bounties which He was continually pouring forth. There was to be in this sense a second Eve by the side of the second Adam, of whom it might be said that she was a helpmate like Himself, and this all the more, as among the clearest previsions of the Sacred Heart was that which fore-showed to Him the ingratitude and neglect and coldness of those for whom all these miracles of love, all these inventions of wisdom, were to be brought about.
It was due also to the Blessed Mother herself that she should have this knowledge with regard to the work which had been begun with her consent and cooperation, and that the immense perfection of holiness and intelligence to which she was to rise should be built up by these considerations of the noblest works of God on which mind and heart could be occupied. Especially was it due to her that her mind and heart should be most largely stored with intelligence as to our Lord's office, character, virtues, designs, tastes. She was to be especially for Him, and He for her. And it was well for us also, as she was to be to us all that she was to be, that she should possess this perfect intelligence of the blessings which were to be applied to us, in so large a measure, by her powerful and watchful intercession for us.
It is very clear that the Public Life, on which we are now entering, was a time of our Lord's sojourn upon earth, in which the many great features of His character and office were manifested with a brilliancy and rapidity which were not found in other stages. For then He came forth like a giant to run His course, as the Psalmist sings, to deal with men in every state of spiritual misery or well-being, to work on every side of Him, with an activity which He Himself compared to the unwearying and incessant work of His Father in the Universe. 1 It is by the working of God in the Universe and in Providence that we come to know many of the features of His Divine Character, and if our Lord had never worked as He did among men a great number of His characteristics would have remained unrevealed. Volume on volume has been written by theologians and spiritual writers on the revelations of Himself made by our Lord in the narratives of the four Evangelists. But the Evangelists have preserved for us only a few crumbs, so to say, of a great banquet, which was being spread day after day for the crowds who flocked to hear Him, or for the friends who were nearest to Him. But the crowds shifted and changed, one set of hearers or petitioners succeeded to another, none lingered long or saw and heard Him for a length of years. Those to whom it was given to be more constantly His companions did not, for the greater portion even of the Public Life, fully realize Who He was, and thus they lacked the fundamental know ledge which was required for understanding Him. No one but Mary could be alive to the fullness and beauty of the revelations He was continually making, and give Him the honour and the gratitude due to Him in each of the various relations to us in which He displayed His wisdom, His mercy, His love. If this was her office in the kingdom of the Incarnation, there was no time at which its exercise was more requisite than this.
It would thus seem to be out of harmony with what we know of the dealings of God with her, and of His designs regarding her, to suppose that when the moment came for our Lord to leave her side for the commencement of His Public Life His Blessed Mother should have had to lay aside her habits,whether of devout contemplation of His acts and words, leading to adoration and thanksgiving, or of prayer and intercession and active cooperation, in the way in which she could cooperate, in the new phase of His great work in which, if she had only been the greatest and dearest of His saints, she must have been most deeply interested. But we have seen enough to make us think that her position in the Kingdom which He was to found was something more even than this, that is, that she was to have a part in the carrying out of the designs of God, as she had had an active share in bringing about the Incarnation on which they were all founded. We notice this office of our Blessed Lady in the mystery of the Visitation. We shall notice it again in the first great display of miraculous power in the mystery of the wedding feast at Cana, which was not only the first of His .great signs, but the beginning of His instruction and formation of His Apostles, and we shall find her finally taking her place by the side of the Cross, and addressed there by our Lord in words that contain a clear reference to this association of hers in the .great mystery which was then being accomplished.
These things taken together make us expect to find that she has a part of her own in the Public Life of her Son, as well as in the years which preceded it, and in the years which followed on it. When St. John and St. James left their mother Salome, .and when the other leading disciples left their own homes and families to follow our Lord, it is need less to suppose that those whom they left behind them occupied themselves directly in any exclusive manner with the work to which their children or kinsmen had thus devoted themselves. The homes they had abandoned went on as usual without them, and it is not necessary to suppose that the thoughts of their inmates were entirely engrossed with the proceedings of those who had left them for the new work of the Gospel. But we cannot think this of our Blessed Lady. She lived only for the interests and work of her Son, and she had been divinely enriched by ever fresh accumulations of grace and knowledge, in order that she might be the better enabled to bear her share in the great enterprise which occupied Him. And besides, we gather that when He left Nazareth for Capharnaum, she and His "brethren" went with Him. No intimation of this sort can be without a meaning in the Gospels. We understand this to mean, that for some Divine purpose, her home was to be within reach of Him.
After the feeding of her mind and heart on the new wonders which were continually presented to-them, the part which we may be sure was borne by our Lady in the work of the Gospel preaching is the part to which she had already to a great extent devoted herself during the Hidden Life of her Son. We do not need any direct statement of the Evangelists to tell us that she was engaged now in that occupation which had always been her delight, and in which she is employed when for the last time her name is mentioned by any of the New Testament writers after the Ascension. That is, her occupation was prayer. It was the will of God that prayer should hold an immense office in the Kingdom of our Lord throughout all time, that it should be one of the normal and regular forces in the Kingdom, as much so as the sunshine or the rain in the growth of the corn, or in the unfolding of the flowers of the field. If the working of these natural and normal forces in any part of the universe of God is not continually mentioned in history, it is because it is taken for granted, and men do not need to be continually reminded of what is elementary and continual. When this working ceases for a time for some special cause, the cessation is mentioned and its disastrous effects chronicled. It can only be because we underrate the power and importance of the mighty forces of prayer in the Church that we can ever think of them as inoperative and inactive, •or that we require to be perpetually reminded that they are not so.
It may, therefore, be safely and naturally concluded, concerning the occupations of the Blessed Mother of God during the Public Life, that they may be summed up generally in the statement that she was ever devoutly watching our Lord's work and actions, ever contemplating Him under the new relations in which He showed Himself, and ever pouring out her heart in prayer and intercession. As she had learnt to make the successive mysteries of the Holy Infancy, and the classes of men whom those mysteries brought successively before her, the subjects of prayer and intercession, as she had during the Hidden Life learnt to pray most fervently for the accomplishment of the designs and plans of God in the foundation and formation of the Church, so when our Lord went forth from her side for the work of His Ministry, she turned her heart and mind with all their power and their illumination to the work of helping on, by this most necessary means, the progress of this great work. From time to time she appears, even in the scanty record of these years, and at other times we are not certain that she is absent, as for instance when the holy women are mentioned as ministering to the sustenance of our Lord and the Apostles. There may also have been, as has been said, occasions when our Lord returned to her for awhile, and when the occupations of the Hidden Life may have been to some extent resumed in His communing with her. It is not easy to suppose that she w r as kept in ignorance of any of the designs which He formed, or the counsels which He adopted under the shifting circumstances of His career. Such communications would be natural between our Lord and His Mother, and they would add immense light and energy to her prayers. But as for the ordinary occupation of this period as far as our Lady is concerned, we are safe in saying of her that prayer was her great employment, and that in her was begun that great work, which is always going on in the Church, and which forms the whole of the life and the whole of the work of many of her most serviceable children, the work of perpetual intercession, which is often more powerful with God than the labours of apostles themselves, the prudence of the governors of the Church, or the studies of her doctors. It is prayer that brings strength to those who have to fight and toil, wisdom and light to those who have to rule, patience to those who have to suffer, courage and endurance to those who have to bleed. It is the life of the whole militant Church, turning away from it the anger of God, which is often kindled by its shortcomings, and shielding it from a thousand snares and assaults on the part of its spiritual enemies. No one who has to work for God can afford to neglect it for him self. But it finds in hundreds of souls, who are not called to active labours in the work of the ministry, its own most efficient and active labourers, who may console themselves with the thought that they are the followers in this holy toil of the Blessed Mother of God herself.
It is very natural that those contemplatives who have loved especially to feed their souls on the contemplation of Mary as occupied unintermittently in this holy exercise, should have asked themselves whether there was not some singular and preternatural provision in the tender dispositions of God by which, when absent from our Lord, she may have been aware of what was passing in His Heart, or happening to Him externally. The same kind of question occurs at an earlier time also, for it may be asked, when our Lord was in the womb of His Mother, whether she could not have had revealed to her His thoughts and affections, in order that she might copy them and echo them, and in the same way whether, before He began to speak to her after the Nativity, she might not have been enabled to penetrate His thoughts and hold interior converse with Him. It need hardly be again repeated that a soul and heart which had been so long devoted to the thought of Him alone, which had studied Him and all His ways for so long a period of years, which had learnt so perfectly the whole character and prospects of the work on which He was now to engage Himself, must even without more have been wonderfully apt in divining His thoughts and sharing all His intentions and interests. We shall see this in the marriage-feast of Cana, where our Lady dis plays so marvellous a power of understanding His design and interpreting His words.
Not all can understand the footing, if we may use the word, on which our Lady was with her Son, and without this intelligence, there will always be different ways of answering questions of this kind. Some holy writers tell us that our Lady habitually read the thoughts and affections of the Sacred Heart, though perhaps there may have been occasions in which it was more for the glory of God that she should be for a time ignorant in some particular matter, such as that of the reason for His remaining behind in Jerusalem at the age of twelve. It is certain that some amount of intimate knowledge must have been necessary for the perfect discharge of the great duty of prayer, praise, and intercession which was especially committed to her at this time. And we find in the histories of His dealings with the saints and chosen souls, who have had to continue our Lady's work in this respect, that He has been constantly very large in the measure in which He has imparted to such souls the knowledge which they could not possess, except by revelation, of what should be the subject of their prayers. These considerations may at least show us that there is nothing unreasonable in the supposition that our Blessed Lady was allowed in this way also a marvellous degree of companionship with the Sacred Heart of her Son. Many devout hearts will go beyond this. They will say to themselves that what our Lord has done with others in the way of these most tender communications of Himself, is an intimation to us of what He would certainly do, far more perfectly and continuously, with His Mother, whose heart was so much more able to understand Him and so much fuller of love for Him than the hearts of all the world beside.
1 St. John 5:17