CHAPTER VI. THE ANNUNCIATION
JOSEPH and Mary had been peacefully settled at Nazareth for many months, when a change occurred. One day, a messenger, travel-stained and weary, his garments covered with dust, arrived in the little town, and asked for the house of the carpenter.
Joseph, busy with plane and saw, welcomed the stranger, and bade him be seated. Without preamble he stated his errand.
"I am from your sister Mary, wife of Cleophas. Her husband has been absent for a long time on a distant mission, the day of his return uncertain. She herself is dangerously ill, and fearful lest her young children should be left, by her death, without a protector, she said to me:
" 'Selim, set out and seek my brother; tell him in his affection not to abandon me in this hour.' I have, therefore, come without delay. May the Lord move your heart to follow me to the bedside of one who anxiously awaits you."
And he wiped the perspiration from his sunburned face.
Now Joseph had had, for many long years, no many months, no near relative on earth but this one sister. She had been born when their father was advanced in age, and was, therefore, but a few years older than Mary herself. He had brought her up, given her in marriage, and a deep love had always existed between them. Troubled, he entered the little house.
"My sister—whom may God protect!" he said to Mary, "has sent a messenger, requesting me to go to Mesopotamia. She is dangerously ill. It will mean, my dear Mary, that I must be away from you for several months."
It seemed to him that the Virgin's grave face was tinged with melancholy.
"May the Lord watch over you during my absence, Mary," he continued, affectionately. 4 'Should weariness come upon you, or you feel too lonely, why not take the old servant and visit your cousin Elizabeth? She has often invited you to do so, and no time will be more opportune than this. Would not such a visit please you also ? Though,'' he added, "whatever you wish to do, Mary, will doubtless be well done."
"May the Lord take care of you on your journey," said Mary, gently, "and may He remove the danger of death from our sister. A mother is as necessary to young children as the air they breathe. Why can she not come to live with us? I would cheerfully assist her, and I know we would be dear to each other."
"If it can be so arranged," said Joseph, "I shall bring my sister back with me. But I am filled with pain and uneasiness at the thought of leaving you —for it seems to me a presage of our last parting. I dread the day that will find you alone in the world. Who will watch over you and protect you then?"
Mary turned her serene gaze upon her spouse.
"Has not God spoken to us?" she said. "He desires my whole heart, and to Him I have given it. My heart is filled with Him, Joseph, and so great is this love that it embraces every other. Do not fear that I shall ever be alone. After God, whatever love I possess is given to those around me. I love all God's creatures, separately and together. Women, children, the old; those who suffer and those who rejoice. My heart belongs to all and to each, since I see in them Him who has created them, who preserves them, and who loves them with so great a love that He prepares a Redeemer to ransom them. Miracle of God! Goodness of God! When, when will the heavens open and rain down upon us the Desired of nations?"
And the Blessed Virgin, transported for a moment v from earth by the sublimity of her thoughts, raised her eyes to heaven, the light of holy rapture shining on her pure and beautiful face. Joseph, looking at her, felt that the splendor of her countenance was almost supernatural, that her spirit was gifted from on high.
"A virgin in body and in mind," he thought, reverently. "Guileless and upright—yet this creature, so exalted and so noble, is humble as the simplest of beings! Her words are so discreet, her thoughts so profound! When did she ever wound the heart of another, even the most despicable? Mock the weak or despise the poor? Daughter of David, you surpass in your purity and simplicity, all the illustrious race from which you spring! It is from you that your ancestors will derive their glory!"
Joseph would not offend that blessed and sweet humility by uttering these thoughts aloud. When the moment of departure arrived, he said, in a voice of deepest tenderness, mingled with intense respect:
"Mary, I leave you without fear or apprehension, I see plainly that you are under the protection of the Most High!"
* * * * *
Mary was left alone after Joseph's departure. There was no need now of the modest occupation that had kept her hands busy, so she gave herself up to the contemplation of Him who reigned absolute Master of her pure soul. She spent her days in prayer, singing the praises of Almighty God. Withdrawing from all earthly objects, she experienced the fullness of heavenly consolation, and God imbued her with His grace and love. He descended into her heart, took possession of it, made it His chosen dwelling. A pure heart is the most noble temple that can be offered to the Lord—and what heart could be more pure than that of the meek and spotless Virgin, the blessed Vessel of election, chosen throughout eternity to serve as a dwelling of the divine Word when He should become incarnate?
Ah, what pen can relate the mysteries of ineffable love which pass between God and His creature? What pen portray those holy raptures by which the soul is elevated above earth and toward God, there to be lost in His immensity?
"My Well-Beloved to me, and I to Him. He approaches me like a giant who runs his career. He has proceeded from the lofty heaven, and exclaims: Arise, My well-beloved! Come to Me, My dove, and I will load thee with every perfect gift." And the soul, drawn from its sphere, is overwhelmed in an ocean of love; it experiences delights and ecstasies of which the greatest joy on earth is not even the faintest shadow.
On a certain day, when Mary knelt absorbed in one of these holy and rapturous transports, she saw an angel standing before her, an angel radiant and beautiful. His dress seemed tinged with the glowing pink of the sun's first dawning; his wings, sustaining him in the ambient air, were like mists of azure. Her habitation faded from her sight. She saw but a cloud of gold before her pure and wondering eyes.
And then the angel spoke:
But who can find language worthier to describe what the sacred writer, inspired by the Holy Ghost, has transmitted to us? Let us humbly prostrate ourselves, while St. Luke describes the marvel that then blessed the earth.
And in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth.
To a Virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the Virgin's name was Mary.
And the Angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace! the Lord is with thee: Blessed art thou among women.
Who having heard was troubled at his saying, and thought within herself what manner of salutation this should be.
And the Angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.
Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son and thou shalt call His name Jesus.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father: and He shall reign in the house of David forever.
And of His kingdom there shall be no end.
And Mary said to the Angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?
And the Angel, answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren.
Because no word shall be impossible with God.
And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.
And the Angel departed from her. (St. Luke i, 26-38.)
We bow before the adorable mystery upon which the hope of our salvation is founded.
The words of the divine messenger, vibrating through the soul of the most pure Mary, overwhelmed her with so much happiness that without the grace of the Most High she would have been prostrated. She remained absorbed in holy ecstasy, lost in wondering astonishment at the great marvels which were operating within her, marvels of love, immense and unfathomable. He whom the heavens could not contain had descended to her! The Holy Ghost had overshadowed her! God had spoken! God had spoken—and His begotten Word was become incarnate!
Can human mind or heart or soul conceive what passed in Mary's mind and heart and soul? What intimate intercourse was established then between
God and His creature! Between the Father and the Virgin to whom He entrusted His only-begotten Son! Between infinite Intelligence and finite but pure intelligence, to whom He confided His Word!— that powerful Word which was to redeem and renew the world!
What are the pure and seraphic raptures of the saints transported from earth to visions of heaven, what are the martyrs' ecstasies, what are the joys of souls who know purest and holiest love, compared to the raptures, the ecstasies, the joys, which Mary then experienced, drawing rich draughts of pleasure from the Source of infinite love?
That was, is still, and will ever be the unbounded happiness of the Immaculate Virgin: a happiness similar to that of the elect, but greater and completer than that of all the elect combined.
For Mary, by election, love, and merit, is greater and more magnificently holy than all the saints. She was conceived, spotless and pure, in the bosom of the Father from all Eternity. She has always been, is, and will ever be the mainspring of the Redemption, the new Eve, the Woman by excellence; the spiritual and true Mother of all mankind in soul and in truth.
Mary, most blessed Mary, if thou hadst shed upon us a single drop of the heavenly dew with which thy soul was inundated on that happy day, the whole world would have been changed, the earth would have experienced a taste of paradise. We should, probably, have more ardently desired our inheritance, which is heaven.
But thou couldst communicate nothing—and there was not too much joy to fortify thee against the frightful load of grief which was afterwards to be thy portion.
The Angels, the Thrones, the Dominations, the innumerable band who watch at the foot of the throne of God, descended upon this earth, and veiling themselves with their wings chanted the eternal hosannas whose harmony had resounded but in heaven. And a voice arose like a wind from the mountains, saying:
"My people, be consoled! O Sion, arise, clothe thyself with strength, and adorn thyself with the vesture of glory. The Lord hath regarded thee with favor. Rejoice, O Earth, and let thy joy break forth in every corner of thy habitations."
And the earth revolved upon its axis, joyfully; the angels who guarded it praised God for His mercy to man. Our first parents knew once more the happiness they had experienced on the wondrous day of their creation.
And Satan? Ah, if Satan did not feel his punishment the less it was because he could no longer love!