They were not always praying in the holy house, for they gained their living by labour, Poverty is too great a means of sanctification for God not to have imposed it on the three persons in whom He delighted more and more. It was His will that they should sometimes experience it to the point of destitution ; in Bethlehem for instance, in the flight into Egypt, and later when Jesus at the time of His preaching, lived, without any certain resources, on the gifts and hospitality of His followers.
The habitual condition of the holy family was not a state of actual want; a state which was very rare among the people of Israel. It seems to have been the honourable position of artisans who are placed beyond want by labour, but who find it necessary to work in order to gain a living.
Joseph therefore went out every morning to his workshop. Jesus, during His first years, remained at home with His mother. Soon He followed his father; He appears to have learned from him His trade of " carpenter," which at that time included that of woodcutter, joiner, and also wheelwright; and under his instruction He made those yokes and ploughs the recollection of which remained a century afterwards. 1 During this time Mary fulfilled all her duties as mistress of a humble household with the most diligent attention. She prepared the meals which Joseph and the child should find ready on returning from their work. Taking upon her shoulder an earthen pitcher she went to draw water from the fountain, the same that one sees there to-day, for there has never been but one fountain at Nazareth. She took care of the linen ; and like the thrifty housewives of that time, she also made the greater part of her own clothes and those of her family. She may even have taken or sought for outside work; it would have been a little gain to add to that of Joseph, and a means whereby she could make charitable offerings. Doubtless also, she often gave to the needy, not only the money which she had earned, but the work of her hands as well. Would not her Jesus regard it with the same grateful love, whether she worked for Him or for the poor who are His brethren ?
Her life was no less a life of contemplation. In the most secret depths of her soul, and independently of the senses, was that perpetual meditation on the things of God which seems to have been one of her privileges. And moreover, the objects of her thoughts, which a miraculous intervention had from the very beginning implanted in her mind, frequently recurred to her, and she manifested them in all the acts, similar to ours, by which she exercised her faculties. Her eyes were lowered as she walked, her ears were shut to the noise of the world; but her senses, her imagination, her memory, were all concentrated upon Jesus, upon His Person, upon His life, upon all His mysteries, accomplished near her, with her, and in her. This was the treasure which she guarded in her heart, which she contemplated without ceasing, which she studied under a thousand aspects, which she enriched with new thoughts.
And among these new riches she would doubtless reckon the daily intercourse with Jesus, His confidences given to His mother, His conversation during or after meals, His outpourings, when, on the day of rest He went with Joseph and Mary for a short Sabbath walk, descending with them the hill of Nazareth, or mounting to its summit from whence they could gaze on the Sea of Tiberius encircled with mountains.
It is in fact quite certain, even though no echo of the converse of the holy family has come down to us, that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph daily exchanged their thoughts with each other, their inmost thoughts, upon the business and duties which filled their life, and especially upon the duty of loving God and of uniting themselves with Him, and upon the great subject of the salvation of the world. We like to picture Jesus, prolonging these conversations in proportion as He advanced in years, and Mary and Joseph waiting to hear them with pious eagerness, because they had so often felt their charm. How the words of the Son would be deeply treasured in the mother's heart, and what responses they would there awake! And how Joseph would open his mind to receive the divine confidences! He was destined to die before his adopted Son began His public ministry and he would share neither in the sorrows of His Passion, nor in the triumph of His glorious life. But it was fitting that at Nazareth he should at least know something of the future reserved for the Son of Man, to whom he had taught his own handicraft, and by whom he was initiated into the mystery of the kingdom of God.
The Gospel, in several passages, 2 shows us Jesus Christ, giving Himself up willingly and with the utmost freedom in His intimate talks as well as in His public preaching. Much more than to Nicodemus, to the Samaritan woman, or to the apostles, He must have manifested Himself to His parents. We see even yet, in the history of the Church, how many saints, both men and women, have been taught and strengthened by private revelations which contain nothing different from public revelations, and which even add nothing of importance to them, but which, nevertheless, give more enlightenment, console more surely, and substitute for a clouded faith, a faith which is luminous, imbued with love and with a beatific intuition. Were not the confidences and outpourings of the hidden life, for Mary, something analogous to this, though sweeter and still higher ? These reflections permit us to conjecture how profound and delightful the mystery of this converse must have been. But, as the revelations to the saints remained a secret between God and the favoured soul, so it was with these. It was the secret of Nazareth.
And while Jesus showed more and more the grace and wisdom which were in Him, Mary increased day by day in holiness. There were at that time no great and unusual manifestations of grace, as at the Incarnation, at Calvary, or at Pentecost, but a calm mounting upwards—with what a soaring flight however !—and an immeasurable progress in love.
Under the present dispensation of Providence the humanity of our Lord is the great means of developing the divine love in the heart of man. Knowing visibly the God incarnate, we are enraptured by Him to the love of the invisible. Mary entered into the divine scheme. Continually contemplating Jesus, and hearing Him often, she drank deeply of love.
To that love, its incommunicable privileges gave a special and incommunicable character also. It was more than the tender love of a mother, more than the pure and ardent love of a virgin ; it united in one heart all the strength and all the delicacy of virginal and maternal love ; it was the love of a virgin mother, who, because alone she had given her Son to the world, was so much more exclusively and entirely His.
But, furthermore, it was the love of the mother of God. If Mary shared with no person on earth the rights and the love which motherhood gave her, she would share them with the Father of heaven. In this way, surpassing all the created world, she reached to the very borders of divinity, and in this way her love assumed a character absolutely its own, and in which there is something divine. At the same time that she loved God as her creator, her benefactor, her supreme end, and the sovereign good, she, and she alone, also loved Him as her Son. " My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God " 3 saith the Psalmist, and all the faithful with him. But how much more is this true of Mary! All her being is submerged in the love of her Son and her God. The unity of her love as mother and as creature, corresponds to the unity of the Person of the Word made flesh, who is her God and her Son. The object of her affections is unique, and it is towards Him that is directed both the yearning of the mother who loves in her only Son, something of herself, and the most pure love and adoration of the creature casting herself entirely upon her God.
Nevertheless, this love which burns in her at the contemplation of Jesus, has also that characteristic of supreme affection, which is detachment: detachment from all that is perceptible, even in Jesus. For it was sometimes necessary to detach herself even from the sweetness of His presence, and from the joys and consolations which He shed around Him. And Mary, even while hearing and seeing her Son, reminds herself that He is the Holy One of God, that He is given and consecrated to God, and that she herself has offered Him. She sees these things and accepts them. She accepts the fact that her Son must be more to God than to her, that God will require and take Him when it pleases Him, for His service and for His work, for suffering and for death. And her love, purified by the sacrifice, grows still in immeasurable degree.
This love is, in Mary, the principal reason of the merit of her works. For never, at any one time nor in any one place, in the world was so much merit to be found as in the house at Nazareth. More grace was to be found there than in the most saintly families, the most zealous monasteries, or the most austere solitudes. And yet where could one find simpler and more common occupations, a more humble trade, and more virtuous acts hidden from the eyes of men ? But to the commonest actions of exterior life, the interior life, which was the soul of it, gave an inestimable value; the soul was fixed on God, the heart without ceasing was desirous of pleasing Him, it was in short, that incomparable love, that pure gold, which transforms into gold all that comes in contact with it.
The love of Joseph, though less than that of Mary, far surpassed that of other saints, and for him also, during a long course of years, it laid up a treasure of merit. The measure of it desired by God was completed, his work was finished. It was necessary that Jesus, just at the point of manifesting Himself to the world, should reveal Himself as the Son of God and of Mary, and that His adopted father should be effaced so that His true Father, of whom the Saviour would continually speak, might appear. And he, the good servant, who had lived only to do the will of God in all things, and to be the faithful co-worker in the great design, retired simply and humbly, the moment that great design required his disappearance. He was probably then some years over sixty.
He died attended by the cares of Jesus and Mary, and his death is regarded as the ideal of those who are in all things solaced, sanctified, and blessed. He slept under the kiss of the Lord, and went to Limbus to await the coming victory of Jesus over death. Mary had given him conjugal affection from the depths of her heart, according to the will of God, and her grief was keen and profound. Jesus mourned him also. " Behold how he loved him," said the Jews at the tomb of Lazarus; and Jesus loved Joseph still more.
During the time, which was probably short, that elapsed between the death of the head of the family, and the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus continued to live at Nazareth. " Is not this the carpenter's son ? " 4 his fellow countrymen would soon be saying; and they would also say, "Is not this the carpenter ? " 5 which perhaps indicates that He worked alone for some time, although the trade followed in conjunction with His adopted father would justify that expression.
The Nazarenes would say, " Is not His mother called Mary ? " 6 There is a shade in the turn of that phrase which indicates that the crowd hardly knew her, and that she appeared very little in public. She was in the house as much as possible and was devoted to Jesus. And doubtless, during the days of her widowhood which she passed alone with her Son, the intimacy between them strengthened, and they grew more closely united, as those who have loved and suffered together, and are about to be separated. There was between them such a sympathy of heart, such agreement in their views and thoughts, such a mutual love of holiness, and such a desire for the glorifying of God, that nothing can give an idea of the spiritual elevation in which they dwelt—the mother ceasing not to offer her Son to God, while striving to model herself in His likeness, the Son continuing to sanctify His mother, and thanking the Father for having given Him her so perfect.
Perhaps Mary of Cleophas also shared, though in a less degree, in that sacred intimacy. Cleophas had probably died before Joseph. It has even been supposed that the two Maries—Mary of Cleophas and the holy Virgin—may have lived together after their widowhood, but of this there is no actual proof. At least they inhabited the same little town, and there seems to have been a close bond of unity between the holy family and the numerous family— at least three daughters and four sons—of the other Mary. Apparently it was a long and difficult work of grace to transform James, Jude, Joses, and Simon into apostles or zealous disciples of the Saviour. Their mother appears to have been more quickly imbued with faith in the Messiah, and this she owed doubtless, to her familiar intercourse with the mother of Jesus.
From SAINT MARY THE VIRGIN BY RENE-MARIE DE LA BROISE
TRANSLATED BY HAROLD GIDNEY
1 St Justin : contra Tryphonem, 88 (PG. vi. 688).
2 See St Matthew xiii. 16, 17, and parallel passages ; but chiefly the conversations related in St John iii. 1-21 ; iv. 1-26; ix. 35-38.
3 Psalm Ixxxiv. 2.
4 St Matthew xiii. 55.
5 St Mark vi. 3.
6 St Matthew xiii. 55.