WE have now reached a point in our Lord's course of preaching which may be called a time of comparative gloom. It extends from the time when the presence of hostility and the danger of persecution have an evident influence on His movements, and to some extent fetter His activity, to the time when He throws aside much of the reserve and secrecy which He had, in consequence, begun to practise, and seems to brave the enemies whom He had before to some extent seemed to endeavour to escape. The point at which He thus finally threw aside all attempt at winning His enemies round, or at least of avoiding their hostility, by comparative retirement and obscurity, is to be fixed, as is clear from the Gospels, at the Confession of St. Peter. The chief features of the period of which we speak, after what has been dealt with in the last chapter, are various in character, and embrace many of the most splendid and momentous acts and teachings of our Lord. It may be well to enumerate them first, and then to make our remarks on each.
The first thing here specially mentioned by the Evangelists is that our Lord now began to teach the people in parables only. 1 The reason which He gave for this change, which attracted the attention and questionings of the Apostles, is mentioned, as well as a number of the Parables themselves which were delivered at this time. After these parables, we have an account of not much more than a day's space which is full of marvellous incidents. He crosses the Lake after the teaching is over, stilling the storm on His night voyage. On the other side of the Lake He delivers their victims from the legion of devils, casts them out into the swine, who immediately drown themselves in the Lake, and is entreated by the people of the place to depart out of their coasts. Crossing the Lake again, He gives an answer to the disciples of St. John, heals the woman with an issue of blood, raises the daughter of Jairus from the dead, and heals the blind and dumb men who are brought to Him in the house. He departed at once, and we find Him next at Nazareth, on what seems to have been His last visit, without honour in His own country, His miraculous powers fettered, as far as was possible, by the unbelief of His townsfolk. Then we are told of His compassion on the multitude, who were as sheep not having a shepherd. This leads to the mission of the Twelve Apostles, who are sent out two and two, and to whom our Lord gives the long and pregnant instruction already mentioned. The Apostles go forth, and our Lord also begins a circuit of His own. A little earlier than this, the murder of St. John Baptist by Herod had taken place, and when the mission of the Apostles, or other facts relating to our Lord, had drawn the tyrant's attention to Him, Herod is said to have thought that our Lord was St. John risen from the dead, and the anxiety of this reckless debauchee must have added a new danger to those which had already gathered around His course. 2
The return of the Apostles to our Lord, which took place about this time, was followed by His withdrawing with them into a desert-place. As the crowds hastened after our Lord, the occasion was furnished for the first great miracle of the loaves, when five thousand men were fed on five loaves and two fishes, and this magnificent display of power and mercy led at once to the miracle of the walking on the waters, in order to return to the other side of the Lake, and to the great discourse held in the Synagogue of Capharnaum, in which our Lord laid down so distinctly the doctrine of the Blessed Sacrament. The other incidents of this time are, first, a certain number of miracles scattered over a considerable space of time, which have a character of their own. About some of them our Lord either makes a difficulty, as in the case of the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, or finds one, as it appears, in the want of faith of the people concerned, as in the case of the deaf and dumb man healed in Decapolis, or in some other circumstance, as in the man cured at Bethsaida. He is always anxious that His miracles should not be made known. In the midst of these moments of difficulty we find the second splendid miracle of the multiplication of the loaves for the four thousand men, a miracle elicited, as it seems, from our Lord by His own infinite compassion, and not solicited either by the people or the disciples, though the latter had witnessed the former miracle of the same kind, and the people may have heard of it. This miracle is followed by the warning given by our Lord against the leaven of the Pharisees, which was not at first understood by the disciples. Earlier than this, He had held a discussion with the Pharisees about traditions, in which He had laid down some doctrines which must have been very novel to them. At length this period is terminated by the great confession of faith on the part of St. Peter, and the declaration immediately made to him that he was the Rock on which the Church was to be built, and that our Lord would give to him the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the first time at which our Lord ever spoke about the Church which He was to found. 3
We have now to consider any points in the fore going list of incidents as to which it may be natural to suppose that our Blessed Lady had a special occasion for action, in that way in which action was open to her. The whole character of this period could not be lost upon her. It must have come home to her with daily increasing clearness, that our Lord was becoming the mark for very bitter and unscrupulous hostility at the hands of men who wielded great power, which they would not shrink from using to the utmost. She must have seen also the increasing dullness and heedlessness of the people, qualities in themselves mainly negative, but as mischievous in their results as others which were positively bad. She would understand His reasons for withholding the full and open teaching to which He had before accustomed them. The subject of the parables was, mainly, the characteristics of God's action in the great work of disseminating and spreading the Gospel, the manner in which the preaching of the truth was met by various classes, the dangers to which it was exposed, and which hindered its success, or the effect which it was to produce on the world at large and in individual souls. All this would show how much our Lord's thoughts were now turned to the reception and progress of the Gospel preaching, and our Lady's prayers would follow the thoughts of our Lord. Our Lord was all this time preparing to launch His Apostles on their active ministry, and the parables may be looked upon as a kind of preparation, both of them and of the people, for their exercise of that ministry. Thus our Blessed Lady would be led to give Him thanks and honour especially in the capacity in which He now displayed Himself, of the Teacher of the world by means of the Church.
She would understand, moreover, the twofold motive which may be assigned for His external con duct during this time. He avoided publicity, He passed into parts of the Holy Land where He was less known, outside the jurisdiction of Herod, and He even seems to have betaken Himself, at least in passing, to the heathen land of Phoenicia. His course was that of a man flying from persecution, and desirous, above all, of hiding Himself. His greatest miracles were wrought in desert places, or on the sea. The fear of a premature collision with the powers arrayed against Him was, no doubt, one element which determined this course. Another was probably His desire to perfect His Apostles in that teaching concerning Himself which is so grandly expressed in the confession of faith made by St. Peter. This faith was absolutely requisite for the trials they were to go through, and the work which was to be committed to them, and the last stage of our Lord's Public Life, so different in many respects from its earlier stages, could not be entered upon until they were thus confirmed. We may suppose that our Lord would not have been so careful to keep out of the way of His enemies if He had completed the training of His Apostles in the faith at an earlier period. All this would suggest great matter for prayer and for sympathy with our Lord.
Another great field for the same holy exercises was thrown open by the mission of the Apostles to preach. In the first place we have the immense compassion of our Lord for the people, whose legitimate pastors, as far as any such existed, neglected them, and left them to themselves to listen to or reject our Lord's teaching, instead of doing their duty to lead them to Him. In the second place, it is impossible to consider our Lord's great charge to the Apostles without seeing that He did not limit Himself therein to the immediate occasion of His discourse, which was the short mission, lasting, per haps, a few weeks, which was the work of the moment. He spoke to the Apostles as if He had before Him the whole body of Christian ministers of the Word of God in all time, and He laid down the laws and rules on which that great work must always be conducted. He also warned them of the great dangers that were to be encountered, and of the immense protection they would receive from Him as well as of the magnificent reward. Thus the whole scheme and plan and future of the Christian preaching was before our Lord's mind, and we cannot doubt but that the same subject became at this time uppermost in the prayer of His Blessed Mother.
Another very great range, both of adoration and fervent thanksgiving, as also of most earnest intercession, was laid open by the great miracles of the loaves. Our Lord Himself made the first of these miracles the text, so to say, of the great discourse in the Synagogue of Capharnaum on the Bread from Heaven. It seems reasonable to think that the miracle was wrought very mainly on account of the doctrine which was thus to be founded upon it. The great doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, the Adorable Sacrifice, and Holy Communion, belongs to that class of truths as to which we have supposed that they may have probably been to some extent communicated to our Blessed Lady in the long conferences at Nazareth during the Hidden Life. Now that this doctrine was set forth, though in a manner veiled and incomplete, by our Lord, it would actually become a subject of fervent prayer as well as of intense and adoring gratitude and praise on the part of our Blessed Lady. She would not only understand the infinite beauty and importance of the doctrine itself, and the great boon to mankind in time and in eternity which it involved. She would also see the difficulties which it would present, the scandal which it might give, the handle which it might afford to cavillers, the opportunity of desertion which it would furnish to those already inclined to forsake our Lord. And if these were to be its immediate results on the men of that generation to whom our Lord Himself preached, the thoughtful soul of His Mother might well be able to forecast what would be the history of this great device of love in its reception in the world, both as to the faith with which it might be welcomed and the diligence with which it was to be used. In all this, again, the Blessed Mother would see fresh calls on her gratitude by our Lord, her joy at the bountifulness of His Love, her sorrow for the incredulity and unfaithful ness of men, her prayers that so great a blessing might not go unappreciated and without profit to the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
The manifestation of Himself which was made by our Lord in this great miracle, and considered as a foreshadowing of His condescension in the Blessed Sacrament, was in many respects new and more marvellous than any that had preceded it. It not only displays greater power and magnificence than are seen elsewhere, it also brings out our Lord's dealing with souls one by one, in the character under which we delight to speak of Him as their Spouse. For in the Blessed Sacrament He gives Himself wholly to each single person who receives Him, and this gift is but the consummation and crown of His whole dealing with us always as particular persons, not all together as a mass. In all this method of action our Lord displays the most wonderful know ledge, study, and care of every one, as if that one was all that He had to care for, and as He died for each one in particular, so now He gives Himself in Communion to each one in particular. This great subject only belongs to us here inasmuch as it presents our Lord in this new light, which our Blessed Lady must have understood, and made the subject of infinite thanksgivings.
There were some others among the miracles of the period which must have touched our Blessed Lady deeply. Such would be the two miracles on the Lake, the stilling of the tempest, and the walking on the water, in each of which, as in the other miracles worked on the Lake, there was a deep significance and a prophetic meaning with reference to the fortunes of the Catholic Church, a meaning open to her illuminated mind more than to any others. She could understand why our Lord had let the storm increase to such a pitch, and yet remain Himself tranquilly sleeping, and why He let St. Peter come to Him on the water, and yet let his attempt prove to him his own weakness of faith and need of continual support. Such, again, would be the miracle on the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, which our Lord at first refused once and again, in order to provoke and elicit the faith of that blessed suppliant, and then granted the request with a fullness of bounty and of praise to her which made her conspicuous even among those in whom His ever ready mercy showed itself in miraculous boons. Nor can we suppose that the heart of our Lady was indifferent to the treatment which our Lord received at the hands of the people of Nazareth on His last visit to the town where she had been born and lived, and where He had become Incarnate and had been brought up. Especially would she thank Him interiorly for the few miracles which His com passion had drawn from Him, and which were so undeserved by the people in general.
The great Confession of St. Peter was fully under stood by her in all its importance on the career of our Lord of which we shall presently have to speak. But in itself it was a magnificent victory, a triumph of faith which more than compensated to our Lord for the indifference of the multitude and the hostility of the ecclesiastical rulers. It implied a whole wonderful series of acts on the part of the Eternal Father, leading in His Providence this choice soul, and that of His companions in the Apostolate, step by step into the presence of the great truth which was at the same time His own greatest work, greater than all the rest of creation. Our Lord's Heart loved to dwell on this action of His Father's, and was most grateful for it. He spoke of it as the reason and ground for the peculiar blessedness of St. Peter. He had learnt the truth concerning the Person of our Lord, not from man, but from God. No one could know Him but the Father, and now the Father had accomplished the marvellous revelation in the hearts of these men, who, as He said afterwards, belonged to Him and were given by Him to His Incarnate Son, as the flower and glory of the human race whose nature He had taken. The Father had led them so far, and He was to lead them still further, step after step, to higher ranges of faith, and to wonderful achievements of charity founded upon faith. But humble and peaceful souls, when they hear of thanks being given because others have received graces of which they have themselves being made partakers, are instinctively prompted to thanksgivings on their own account, as well as on account of those who are so spoken of, and the gratitude of our Lord's Heart for the faith to which the Father had led on the Apostles, must have awakened afresh a blaze of thanksgiving in the heart of His Mother for what she had herself received by the teaching and leading on of the Father.
We may pause here for a moment to observe how much these words of our Lord about the teaching of the Apostle by the Father confirm the high estimate, on which all these considerations are grounded, of the graces vouchsafed to our Lady. It seems as if it had been a most marvellous elevation of the Apostle, that he had reached, by the special guidance of the Father, the solid and perfect faith concerning the Divinity of our Lord. This seems to be the foundation of numberless graces and privileges which are to be lavished on St. Peter, and which are to fit him for the faithful exercise of one of the highest posts in the Christian Kingdom. We may well suppose that without this faith he would have been incapable of so high a trust, and that this faith, once deeply planted in the soul, even, as our Lord said, as a grain of mustard seed, would have opened to him the intelligence of all the treasures of truth. But we cannot doubt that the faith of Mary, from the very beginning, was of a bright ness and solidity which could not be rivalled even by the faith of the Apostles, not only at the moment of their confession, but at any period of their lives. It is only reasonable, therefore, that we should confidently believe the immense perfection both of her intelligence and of her love, which in truth, sets her so far above even the most exalted of the saints.
A further element of gratitude and rejoicing would be furnished to her by the great reward, conferred on and promised, to St. Peter. Our Lord's words brought before her mind all that she had learnt concerning the glorious edifice of the Christian Church which was to be founded on the Apostle, all the beauty and magnificence of her proportions, all the supreme efficacy of her powers entrusted to her for the salvation of souls and the glory of God. By the side of this vision, so to speak, would rise before her the assaults which the Church was to undergo, the conflict with the gates of Hell, which was to be the essential condition of her life in this world. The experience of our Lord's Life and treatment in the world, both before and after the time when He began to preach, was in itself enough to show any thoughtful and enlightened mind what would be the treatment of the Church when He left her behind Him to do the work which He had begun. He had come to His own, and His own had not received Him. The Church was to be sent to the whole hostile raging world, mad with passion and vice, and hounded on in its restless misery by all the power and malignity of Hell to devour her. Light had come into the world, and men had loved darkness rather than light, because of the wickedness of their deeds. The good physician, the healer of souls, the shepherd in search of the wandering sheep, the bearer of peace and refreshment and rest, had been treated as if He had been an enemy with poison in His hand, lies on His lips, destruction in His Heart. They had called the Master of the house Beelzebub, and they were not likely to welcome with loving words and hearts those of the household. The kingdom of Satan was threatened, his goods were to be taken from Him as well as his armour. He would fight to the last with all his malice and all his power, hoping to return to the realm of which he was despoiled with sevenfold malice and cruelty. The Church was to be armed against him with no weapons but those which our Lord had used, and her Apostles were to go forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. How glorious was the simple promise—the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her!
The last words, also, of our Lord to St. Peter were full of significance to the heart of Mary, for they contained the most gracious of boons, the most characteristic fruits of the great condescension of the Incarnation which had been wrought in her womb. For it was a beautiful counsel, in perfect keeping with that great condescension, and issuing from it, that the Son of God becoming man should not only give to men the power to become the sons of God, but should strengthen and elevate them so greatly and so highly as to make them capable of being helping ministers, as St. Paul says, of the new dispensation, made capable, by God's grace, in their utter weakness and abasement, that to them should be committed the ministry of reconciliation, the power of binding and loosing, the legislative and judicial authority, so that there should be among them those who have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and that what they bind and what they loose on
earth should be bound and loosed there. These words of our Lord may not have conveyed to the mind of the Apostles, when they were uttered, the whole fullness of meaning which they afterwards were seen to unfold. But we have supposed that the great plan of the application of the fruits of the Incarnation and Sacrifice of our Lord to mankind by means of the Church and her rulers and ministers was laid open, at least in great part, to our Blessed Lady, probably as early as the years of the Hidden Life. Thus it may have been her privilege to under stand this promise to St. Peter, when it was made, in the fullness of import which it bore in our Lord's own Heart, as far as that was possible. If this was so, here was an occasion which she could not fail to use, of the most fervent adoration and thanksgiving, for the greatness of the blessing thus conferred on mankind, the most tender rejoicing over that accomplishment of the desires of our Lord's Heart for the good of His brethren which was involved in the promise now made, and the most burning intercession for the faithfulness of those who were the objects of so much bounty to the graces showered upon them.
To our Lord, and perhaps to His Mother also, this first free mention of the Church must have been an occasion of great delight. The Church was the dearest thing to His Heart, as the dearest person to His Heart was His Mother, and they could hardly be separated in the thoughts and affections of Jesus Christ. He would know, moreover, how large a part she was to have in the formation, the guidance,, the protection of the Church, both during her life and afterwards, and how the Church would be constantly acknowledging its debt of gratitude to her by the honour which, in so many different ways, it was to pay her, both in public and in the personal devotions of its children. This may have been one of the things which were not yet present, in all their fullness, to her most humble and simple soul, though her Canticle had contained words which cover the whole of the tribute which has been paid to her by all generations. The office which she had been dis charging all through the Public Life of her Lord was in part the exercise of, in part the preparation for, her office towards the Church, which already existed in its members, its rulers, its foundation, though it was not, strictly speaking, born into the world as the living Bride of the Lamb until the moment of our Lord's Sacrifice. Our Lady was to be left on earth, as we are so often told, after the Ascension of our Lord, in order that she might perform what belonged to that office during the first few years of the infancy of the Church, as she had been the nursing Mother of our Lord Himself. Then she was to be transferred to her throne of glory in Heaven, there, as we also believe, to exercise with greater power, continuity, and intensity, the same motherly care of which we see so many traces in the Public Life. Thus the foundation of the Church was a joy to her, not only on account of the glory and satisfaction which it gave to our Lord, but also because a part of the glory and satisfaction was founded on the position which she was to hold in relation to it. The first and essential part in the training of the Twelve was now complete, and our Lady must have understood the intense satisfaction and relief which the accomplishment of this part of His work brought to His Sacred Heart.
1 Story of the Gospels, § 58
2 Story of the Gospels, §§ 58—71.
3 Story of the Gospels, §§ 72—81.