CHAPTER XIII. THE MASSACRE OP THE INNOCENTS
The adoration of the Kings had not served to dissipate the dire forebodings roused in their hearts by their recent experience in the Temple, and since which both Joseph and Mary had been lost in painful reflections.
It was, therefore, with great relief that Joseph made ready for his journey. The incidents which had occurred had filled them both with sorrow. Simeon's words, Anna's prophetic utterances! Old and learned in the ways of the Lord as they were, their remarks had sunk deeply into Joseph's heart. He seemed to comprehend once more that every joy or gift of earth is dearly purchased. His own life before his meeting with Mary had taught him this. And now his complete happiness in her presence; his joy in the birth of the Child; his gladness at being chosen to be the protector and support of the Mother without stain, and of the divine Son—all these, he felt, would exact their toll of sorrow.
This price he was willing to yield for his soul's sake, feeling that no sorrow could measure in depth the height of his happiness! But that Mary, daughter of heaven, given to earth to fulfil the loftiest destinies, was to pay for them so sorely, almost overwhelmed him. Anna the prophetess had said it; Simeon, the holy one, had asserted it:
"That soul so pure will be severely tried!"
These thoughts occasioned the protector of Mother and Infant the deepest melancholy as he now walked beside them. They were interrupted by a little cry from the Babe, who was hungry. As they had only arrived at the extremity of the valley of Raphaim, Mary alighted, and meeting herself at the foot of a bushy tree, in a spot which has since been called "the resting-place of the Virgin* 9 —not far from the olive-tree under which Elias the Prophet stopped when he repaired to Jerusalem—she fed her little Son. The mournfulness which had overwhelmed her was for an instant appeased, for no one experiences the sufferings as well as the joys of the heart as does a mother. To hold her helpless baby in her arms, and see it drawing its life from her in sweet content is happiness unbounded for all mothers. What, then, was it for Mary, whose Child was her God!
Joseph, gazing at her serene and beautiful countenance, sighed heavily.
"What is the matter, dearest husband?" asked Mary, anxiously alert to every shadow on the face of her spouse.
He did' not answer. Once more the Virgin repeated the question.
"I was reflecting, then, on the law of expiation," Joseph answered, slowly. "First Simeon . . . then Anna . . . Mary, I fear that even you, in spite of your innocence and purity, will not be exempt . . that even you—"
Mary started. Their thoughts had been the same, then! He, too, could not forget the words which had been uttered! Joseph did not finish his sentence. She clasped her Child more closely in her arms, and two great tears rolled down her cheeks. They fell upon the face of the sleeping Babe. Joseph had never seen Mary, the soul of tranquillity, in tears. He regarded her almost with terror. Mary, weeping—
"Oh,' I do not wish to be exempt from the terrible law of expiation!" she exclaimed. "I am but a creature. I can not go to God save through life . . . and life entails the law of expiation . . ."
She was silent an instant, her eyes on her Babe.
"But the Son of God!" she exclaimed. "He who was, who will be, throughout eternity, the Being without beginning and without end—must He also undergo this? He who has left celestial habitations to take upon Himself our nature, to make atonement for all the crimes committed since the creation of the world—must He be doomed to death, to suffering? O Joseph, it is this thought that overwhelms my soul with terror and pain .and deprives me of all fortitude."
And the tears sprang anew from those maternal eyes. Joseph was touched deeply, and turning away begged of God to mitigate the anguish which Mary was experiencing. Gradually her tears ceased to flow. She became calmer—and as the lateness of the hour forbade further travelling, she slept.
The evening was close at hand. The last rays of the setting sun gradually disappeared behind the mountain at the foot of which they were seated. In the distance rose those crimson ridges of Arabia, beyond the stagnant waters of the Dead Sea. The transparent, azure veil of an Eastern night had descended upon the Holy Family, and the faintest coolness was perceptible. Joseph, the ever-watchful, spread his warm cloak carefully over the Child and His Mother. Both slept in peace beneath its protecting folds, and he seated himself before them, watching them as if he were a sentinel on duty.
Some hours passed. Mother and Child slept on. But Joseph could not sleep. Leaning against a rock, he reflected upon the wonders of which he had already been a witness. Around him all was silent. Nature itself appeared absorbed in rest.
To watch when Nature seems to sleep!' To contemplate, in silence, a world which is wrapped in silence, in which no eye beholds one but the eye of scanty baggage, the only wealth they possessed When these preparations were completed, they took the path over the mountain, carefully avoiding the approaches to Bethlehem. Notwithstanding the difficulties of the journey, they had crossed the road before the sun had risen on the horizon.
The first rays of the dawn, however, showed them a strange spectacle—a troop of soldiers marching along the heights. This surprised them, and they urged Eleabthona on. There was something terrifying to their hearts in that sudden, yes, that uncalled-for array of horsemen.
"God has not warned us vainly, Joseph," said Mary. * 1 Whatever chances, these men can not harm us. They whom God protects are free from, al dangers."
Joseph did not speak. The strong little animal answered bravely to his words of command. They were proceeding toward the mountain of Hebron; the soldiers had disappeared; the air was sweet with dew, the country about them wrapped in silence. Once more the anxious heart of the Mother grew calm. But suddenly a loud wail of terror, many voices blending as one, a moan of agony and despair, arose from the plain and woke the echoes. It was so unexpected, and so frightful, that Mary placed her hand on Joseph's arm and they halted, chilled with horror, frightened at the fear and lamentation which came to them on the wings of the morning— the disconsolate cries of Rachel weeping over her children—Rachel who could not be comforted since they had been torn from her.
"Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not." (St. Matthew ii, 17,18)
Mary, on the verge of unconsciousness, clasped her Son to her bosom. That grievous wail of terror awoke all the sorrows of her soul. The pain of those maternal hearts, of those afflicted mothers, seemed to set the sensitive chords of her own pure heart vibrating with dreadful agony. Joseph, saying nothing, hurried his precious charges toward the deserts of Hebron, while the Virgin lifted her soul to God, entreating comfort for those who were at that moment comfortless.
Herod, the cruel and wicked, was the cause of this terrible anguish. Understanding that the Magi had returned to their own land without coming to relate to him anything of what they had discovered, he soon realized that there must be some potent reason for their conduct. In his rage he conceived the diabolical scheme of sending soldiers to massacre all the children that were two years old and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding country.
" Then Herod, perceiving that he was deluded by the Wise Men, was exceedingly angry, and sending killed all the men-children that were in Bethlehem and in all the borders thereof from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the Wise Men." (St. Matthew ii, 16.)
But the hour had not yet arrived when the Son of God was to be delivered to the fury of mankind. They attempted His life indeed, in the sacrifice of so many innocent babes, but He was carried to safety by His Mother through secret paths, and the confusion and despair that ensued on the enforcement of Herod's cruel order helped to cover His flight.
Happy Mother, carrying her Child and her Redeemer in her arms! The future has many sufferings in store for Mary, but God, who wishes her courageous heart to support them, has reserved for her the most exalted pleasures, that thus she may be fortified to suffer and endure.