The Lily Of Israel By The Abbe Gerbet. Part 10.


JOSEPH had been detained in Mesopotamia a much longer period of time than he had anticipated, for he found his sister in the throes of a severe illness, protracted and dangerous—but terminating favorably. Death was, as yet, far removed from her, and the sight of her dearly-loved brother inspired her with new courage and strength. After some time she regained a portion of her ordinary health. Joseph, unwilling to leave her without a protector in a foreign country, remained with her until she was able to undertake the journey to Nazareth, setting out with her and her two children, James and Jude, and arriving a few weeks after Mary's return from the house of Zachary.

The meeting between Joseph and Mary was a joyous one. Then he led his sister forward.

"Here is our sister, whom I have brought you, according to your wish," he said to Mary. "She has come to live with us—until the return of Cleophas, at least." And he added, in a gentle tone, "God has given you both to me. You are all that I have in the world. I entreat you, therefore, to love each other."

The two young women embraced cordially.

"Sister, my dear sister," said the Virgin, tenderly, "you are most welcome." Mary, wife of Cleophas, was overwhelmed at so warm-hearted a greeting, and her eyes filled with tears.

Joseph had gone outside to bring in his two nephews. He came back now and presented them to his wife.

"Here are the beautiful children our sister has brought us," he said to Mary, and his voice was proud and happy. "Henceforth they will be to us as sons."

The elder of the two, about seven or eight years old, was rather shy and would not come forward, but Jude, the youngest, a fine child, with fair and curly hair, knelt instinctively as soon as he saw Mary and kissed her feet with respect. Mary raised him, and caressed him, and parting his shining curls, pressed her lips to his forehead.

"You will love my boys, because you have always loved me," said Mary to her brother. "But they will not hold the place in your heart of your own children."

Joseph looked at her, puzzled, and then followed her glance, which now rested on Mary, who had called the children to the stone bench on which stood a vessel of glowing fruit, the beauty of which had enticed them. A faintness seized on Joseph. He .began to tremble and turned pale; then, making an excuse, went outside. The voices of the children followed him, and as he crossed the garden, they came out with Mary. She beckoned to him, but he pretended not to see the motion, going out by the entrance which looked toward the fields.

Mary now rejoined her new sister, and both seated themselves under the eaves of the house to find shelter from the storm, which had already begun to bend the tops of the trees. The two young women conversed for a long time on the happenings of years gone by, with which they felt the necessity of becoming acquainted in order to understand and love each other. For friendship is not satisfied with the present. It takes possession of the past as it desires to take possession of the future, forming a sort of eternity. The one spoke of the Temple and the sweet reminiscences of her life within its shelter; the other told of her infancy passed with Joseph, under whose care the early death of her parents had placed her. Mary listened with pleased satisfaction to these things which the other Mary's filial and tender affection still loved to dwell on. Affection for the true and good-hearted Joseph was to prove the bond of love between their two souls. The mother spoke of her children, adding:

"Indeed, sister, your own coming blessing will only cause you to love my brother more," and she gazed at her with gentle sympathy.

The holy Virgin cast down her eyes, and was silent a moment. When she raised them it was to say, in a sweet and serious manner:

"Children are indeed the gift of God. I thank Him continually, and my soul is lost in praise when I consider all the good with which He has overwhelmed His servant."

Mary perceived instantly what Joseph had tried to impress upon her—that God was always present in the Virgin's heart. She seemed so pure and so holy and so far removed from earth that her thoughts were elevated to an intense degree.

"Mary, I speak according to what is in my mind," she said, humbly. "Worldly feelings have perhaps occupied it too long. From you, who are so wise and so spiritual, I shall hope to learn a different speech."

The decline of evening found them still beside each other, but it was now time to retire, and the traveller, with her two little ones, gladly sought repose. Mary entered her cell, and casting herself beside her couch, prayed fervently for Joseph. She had observed his uneasiness, and she begged God to console him and not allow his just heart to bear unnecessary sorrow.

As to Joseph, he was a prey to the most intense grief. He did not perceive the naked rocks among which he walked, neither was he aware of the tempest which bent the trees and scattered withered leaves and broken branches in his path. He neither felt nor heard the sharp whistling of the wind. His ears were deaf to the terrific claps of thunder. One thought alone filled him, and from this thought his noble soul shrank as if he had blasphemed.

What! He to doubt Mary—Mary, the essence of candor and purity and sincerity—Mary, the angelic, the noble. . . . The most agonizing conjectures ran through his mind. He was "a just man," a faithful observer of the Law. "My angel, my shield, my strength, my counsellor, my guide and consolation," he called her, the while his heart ached within his bosom. "How can I endure life away from her?"

When he at last arrived at a conclusion—being "not willing publicly to expose her," he "was minded to put her away privately" (St. Matthew i, 19.) —the tears of a man in agony rose to his eyes. Perhaps it was at that moment that Mary's prayers ascended for him to the throne of God, and the Lord commanded His angel to go and alleviate the mind of His servant Joseph.

And the angel came. In the heavy sleep that overpowered the just spouse of Mary, he revealed to him the profound mysteries of the Redemption. Well might Joseph, in this slumber, see Adam, wrapped in sin as in a winding-sheet. Well might he imagine that he heard his words.

"Joseph, through the wife God gave me, the serpent tempted me. We have fallen, we and our seed. The whole of creation, of which we were the rulers, has fallen with us. But Mary—Mary, by her glorious purity—has bruised the serpent's head. Rejoice, rejoice, our race is saved! Mary, the spiritual Eve, brings it forth to a new life."

With what joy was the heart of Joseph now suffused! The burdens rolled away. His ears harkened to the words of the shining angel:

"Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

"And she shall bring forth a Son: and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins." (St. Matthew i, 20, 21.)

"Let not thy thoughts distract thee! Instead, raise them continuously to the Lord!"

With humility and love and sorrow Joseph prostrated himself, praising God. As soon as day appeared he entered his dwelling, and when he saw Mary, he knelt before her, worshipping the holy Child.

* * * * *

The weeks that followed were serene and peaceful. Joy reigned paramount in that happy cot, which, humble as it was, became more sacred and glorious than the Holy of holies, for the Holy of holies contained but the type of Him who really and truly dwelt in Mary as in a temple purer and more magnificent than the most wonderful shrine ever raised by human hands.

And the angels served their Queen on bended knees, the heavens bowed down to earth; a new order of things was established now that the Word of God dwelt among men. The world of spirit and the world of sense were no longer separated. All miracles became the necessary results of a greater, a more incomprehensible miracle—the Incarnation of God.