John had been chosen by Jesus as the type of him who becomes a true son of Mary; and this view of the beloved apostle should be contemplated by all those who also desire worthily to bear that title. He was pleasing to Jesus because, faithful to the first divine grace, he had kept his soul pure, and had opened his heart, free from all earthly attachment, to the love of his God. Jesus also opened His heart to him, and as has been already remarked, with His heart, He gave him His cross and His mother. Three divine gifts which are each the same: for could one find the heart of Jesus without finding His mother, or find His mother without penetrating to His heart ? But must not he who would truly find Mary, follow her even to the foot of the cross? And was it not there that John found, as may all the righteous, the secrets of the mother and of the heart of Jesus.
John deserves the title of Evangelist of the Virgin, because of the incident on Calvary which he alone has recounted, and because of that other incident, important to the doctrine of Mary as mediatrix, of the miracle at Cana. In his work, taken as a whole, he is the " theologian," and as antiquity has named him, the most "divine" of the evangelists. This was, say the ancient fathers, because he had leaned upon the breast of Jesus and drawn from Him the secrets of heaven. It was, they say further, because the pure in heart see God; virgin, and child of the Virgin, John comprehended sooner than the others the divine mysteries. And, recalling the sojourn of Mary in John's house, they added : It is not astonishing that he has said greater things than the others, for " he had near him the treasury of celestial secrets." 3 Who knows whether Mary did not direct his attention towards what was most elevated in the Master's teaching: the relation between the Father and His eternal Word, the Word sent into the world to give us the truth, the light, and the life, the promise of the Eucharist, the last outpourings on the evening of the Last Supper ? The disciples of that time preserved the teachings of their masters, by repeating them frequently, and reciting them among themselves. And in the fourth Gospel we have the fruit of a memory which had long been exercised upon cherished recollections. They are faithfully reproduced, but after much contemplation so to speak. There are repetitions; the finest and most consoling phrases come like a refrain, just as, doubtless, the beloved disciple delighted to repeat them ; he, and he alone among the sacred historians, always repeats the formula of affirmation, "Amen, amen " ; and one would like to know whether Jesus spoke thus, or whether this reiteration expresses the ardent faith of the apostle, echoing the affirmation of Jesus after discovering by meditation its force and sublimity. May we not believe that what he thus wrote in his old age at Ephesus, as a doctrine studied with love for many years past and with which his soul was thoroughly imbued, was the same as that which, in his humble dwelling at Jerusalem, he had so often talked of with the mother of Jesus, that which she had taught him to understand and appreciate in its profoundest meaning ?
John distinguished himself as an apostle by his zeal and his ardour, and we cannot imagine a feeble and languishing piety in this son of Mary. The repose upon Jesus' breast was a repose which fortified and prepared him for action. After the descent of the Holy Spirit, and while he dwelt with the Virgin, he was more than ever the " son of thunder," as Jesus had formerly named him and his brother James also. Throughout the first pages of the history of the Church, he takes a most important place. It is only Peter, the head ordained by Jesus, who takes precedence of him.
The young apostle was thus closely connected with the principal incidents in the life of the Church. In seeing him act, in encouraging him to action, and also in stimulating the ardour of the other apostles who were all her sons, Mary followed with love the successes, the trials, and the development of Christ's work. 4
One evening, when Peter, accompanied by John, went up to the Temple, he cured, near the " Gate Beautiful," a lame beggar who had never been able to walk. On hearing the report of this wonderful miracle—for the beggar and his infirmity were known to everyone—a crowd gathered together, and Peter preached to them, making a great number of conversions. But while he was talking to them, the military governor of the Temple appeared, and the two apostles were arrested and kept as prisoners during the night. The following day they were brought before the Sanhedrim, which forbade them to preach any more from that time forward in the name of Jesus. But they answered " Whether it be right in the sight of "God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." And when they were set at liberty, " they went to their own company." John then returned to Mary, and we may well believe that she was there, joining in the prayer which rose from the hearts of the faithful, who gathered around the two witnesses for Jesus: "... Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto Thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak Thy word, by stretching forth Thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of Thy holy child Jesus. . . ." As they finished their prayer the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled anew with the Holy Ghost, and they continued to preach the word of God with boldness. This incident, one of the first in the apostolic life, typically represented what the preaching of the faith would be, not only in the early Church, but to the very end of time : the gospel worker who goes about doing good and preaching the truth, the world which resists him, the invincible persistence of the conscience against human power, the prayer which beseeches strength, and the all-powerful grace which descends from above.
Not long after this, the authorities did more than threaten. The whole company of the twelve were arrested in the Temple, brought before the great Council, and suffered the Jewish scourging of thirty-nine strokes. " And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." It was with this pride that John returned to Mary, and, continues the sacred narrative, " daily in the temple, and in every house they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ."
With the success of the apostolic preaching, the persecution by the Jews increased. The number of the disciples and the poor who accompanied them, obliged them to institute the order of deacons, or to double the number of those already existing. Those who were elected to this office were remarkable for their zeal, and thus excited the anger of the Jews. Stephen, the chief among them, was stoned. Then they tried to arrest the progress of the faith of Christ by intimidation. The adherents of Judaism, with Saul (who was soon to be converted by a sudden act of mercy) at their head, devastated the Church, and entering into the houses, took men and women captive. At this time many disciples left Jerusalem, and scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. But the apostles remained in the holy city. Mary therefore probably remained with them, teaching the faithful to glorify God for the triumph of Stephen, to stand firm in the midst of trials, and, as enjoined by her Son, to rejoice with gladness in this hour.
Those whom the storm had driven from Jerusalem actively propagated abroad the new faith. Thus Philip, the chief of the deacons after Stephen, preached and baptised in Samaria. The apostles appointed Peter and John to confer the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon these new members among the faithful. They prayed and laid their hands upon them, and the neophytes received the grace of the Holy Ghost. During the years that followed, John appears to have made other apostolic journeys. For, when Saint Paul came to Jerusalem three years after his conversion—consequently three years or a little more, after the death of Stephen—he saw no other apostles besides Peter, and James " the Lord's brother." 5 It is quite possible that Mary had accompanied her adopted son, carrying to the newly won Christians her sweet influence and the knowledge and love of her Jesus.
" Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." 6 Between the persecution at the time when Stephen was martyred, and that of Herod Agrippa, approximately from the year 35 to 42, the Gospel was in the second of these stages foretold by Jesus. Proceeding mainly from Jerusalem it was spread in Judea, Samaria, and the neighbouring countries, but it had not yet been carried to the uttermost parts of the earth. Spain alone claims to have received, at that epoch, the preaching of James the Great, and, in spite of numerous objections, this claim is based upon probability. The people of Aragon add, that when the apostle was preaching the gospel in Saragossa, Mary, who was then still living, appeared in a vision to strengthen and encourage him. Though the visit of Saint James to Spain is not necessarily dependent upon the authenticity of this story, yet the story itself is necessarily connected with his visit. If it is true that the son of Zebedee left Judea on that distant expedition, it was because Jesus guided in an exceptional manner this one of His three chosen disciples, the brother of John, and he who was to be the first martyr among the twelve.
The apostolic band did not, as a whole, go far from Palestine where their work was abundantly blessed. Then for some years the churches had " rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. And . . . Peter passed through all quarters " of the faithful, visiting Christ's flock.
Mary could then rejoice in the fulfilment of the ancient prophecies and those of Jesus also. It was granted unto her to bless new sons, who soon became very numerous in this great family. For during that period of apostolic extension, just before or about the year 40, the Gentiles began to join the Church, and from two sides at the same time. First came Cornelius, the centurion of Caesarea, who was admitted by Peter himself to the number of disciples. A little later, one of the wealthiest cities of all the East opened to receive the Gospel. Antioch had sheltered a certain number of apostolic workers who had been dispersed by the persecution which arose in the time of Stephen ; and among these faithful ones were some, originally from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, speaking more boldly than the others, preached the glad tidings of the Gospel to the heathen. God blessed their zeal, and conversions were abundant among the Gentiles ; Barnabas came from Jerusalem to visit the new church, bringing Paul to work with him ; and it was there that the disciples first received the name of " Christians."
Mary lived in all this life of the Church. She rejoiced to see the gathering of the first fruits which announced the great harvest of souls. And when persecution attacked the shepherds and the flock, she was afflicted with a grief and maternal compassion, not incompatible with the joy in trials which was enjoined by the Lord. " Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me ?" said Jesus, remonstrating at being pursued in the person of His chosen ones, and recalling that He is one with His brethren. And in the same way, Mary, mother of the Head and of the members, suffered in seeing her Son maltreated and disowned in His mystic body, as she had suffered when she saw Him maltreated and disowned in His divine Person. More than all, she suffered from the stubbornness of the persecution by the Sanhedrim, from the unbelief of Israel, and from the sin which abounded around her. If evil is so great an offence that God was willing to become man to suffer for it, and that He has always required the same from His own, Mary must, more than any other, have felt the bitterness of that pain.
Nevertheless, the peace and joy in the innermost depths of her soul, which never forsook Mary even during the darkest hours of the Passion, lived always in her heart. And, so far as we can conjecture, this disposition of happy serenity developed in her more and more. All suffering, even the most holy, even that ordained by God in this world, ceases when we enter the heavenly life. The mysteries of Providence, inscrutable, or but very imperfectly understood upon earth, will then be revealed ; it will then be seen why God has permitted evil to exist, and
how from evil, He has brought forth good; the secrets of His grace, unsuspected here, will then be made known; it will be comprehended how He has caused grace to superabound over the abundance of evil, and that good is the final object of all His works ; we shall acquiesce in all that His goodness has ordained, in all that His wisdom has permitted, in all that His power has accomplished; and finally we shall be lost in the love of the Creator, so admirable in all His works, and beyond His works so infinitely glorious and worthy to be loved.
These celestial views and thoughts had always been in a certain degree Mary's views and thoughts, and they were now more than ever hers. More and more she ascended into the light, losing herself in love; for, since the resurrection and ascension of her Son, her inner life had become more and more a heavenly life. Where her treasure was, there was her heart also. And if, in any Christian soul, there is, in consequence of its union with Christ, a germ of glory and eternal peace, there was in Mary an abundant, and already almost beatific, participation in the glorious life of Jesus.
From SAINT MARY THE VIRGIN BY RENE-MARIE DE LA BROISE
TRANSLATED BY HAROLD GIDNEY
1 St Luke i. 1-4.
2 In the Excerpta of Theodorus Lector, a writer of the sixth century, it is stated that Eudocia sent to Pulcheria from Jerusalem a portrait of the mother of God which had been painted by Saint Luke the apostle (PG. Ixxxvi. 165). This is the earliest known mention of this portrait. The " Virgins of Saint Luke," whatever may be their true origin, represent a very ancient type and form an interesting study.
3 St Ambrose : de institutione virginis, vii (PL. xvi. 318).
4 Concerning that which follows, see Acts iii-xii., in which will be found those quotations to which references are not given.
15 Galatians i. 18, 19.
6 Acts i. 8