CHAPTER XVI. THE COMMAND TO RETURN
NOTWITHSTANDING the respect and adoration which Mary felt for the Word Incarnate, she fully comprehended the loftiness of her earthly mission. Humbly worshiping God, she knew that her Child needed a mother, like all other children of the human race. He had come upon the earth as a child; was weak with a child's weakness, helpless with a child's tender helplessness. In the sweet rapture of her virginal maternity, she watched over Him, uniting the modest innocence of the young girl with the lofty and sublime functions of the mother.
By a marvelous prerogative, and for the first and last time, the two mysterious and wonderful charms which constitute a woman's glory only when separated, were harmoniously united in Mary. She had the sweet innocence of the virgin with the lofty devotion and knowledge of the mother. She was, as a virgin, His chaste and holy worshiper, and, as a mother, His enlightened and prudent guide. In her heart she rendered Him the most fervent homage— and yet from her lips fell the words of love by which she spoke to Him of human life such as she, in her wisdom and innocence, understood human life to be.
She first uttered to Him the names which man ventures to bestow on the Almighty, for she conversed with Him in the language of man. She spoke to Him of the works of God—the sun, the stars, the earth and its beauties, and how Adam had named them in God's presence, although He who has created everything also knows everything. Childlike, He deigned to take from her the words to convey His thoughts, just as He had taken from her a body to clothe His divinity.
One day the Child pronounced the sweet and sacred name of mother in a low tone, like a bird trilling its first note of music, and again the equally sweet and sacred name of father. Listening to these words of earth on the sacred lips of Jesus, both Mary and Joseph experienced a foretaste of heavenly joys.
Little by little the Child uttered the name of every object about Him. If He gathered from the banks of the Nile the purple day-lily, or if, in His tiny hands, the Child caressed a bird or fondled the fawn of the tame antelope, His Mother must have listened with rapture as He repeated the names in the language of man. And her eyes would fill with tears at the sound of that voice which was, at a future day, to proclaim God's mercies to the world.
The day dawned when she spoke with Him of the bitter conditions upon which life—that inestimable gift—is granted to every creature. She conversed with Him on the fatigues, the harsh and difficult duties to which man is subjected, and she added— but she spoke with tears, and with tears He heard— that man, for one crime, whose enormity weighed always upon him—was condemned to labor and to death.
"To labor and to death!" repeated the Child. "To labor and to death," said the Mother—the Mother of Him who had come upon earth to suffer. They were silent.
Next day the Child followed Joseph, and asked to be taught His foster-father's trade. Astonished at this request, Joseph sought Mary.
"To labor . . . and to death!" she echoed, softly. "He has heard ... He submits." Covering her face with her hands, she wept a long time.
It was after this that Joseph began to take the holy Child into his workshop. The foster-father of our Lord understood that Jesus, having become man, had subjected Himself as man, to labor—until, alas! He should suffer death. Then was beheld a beautiful, an affecting sight—a God filled with all knowledge, placing Himself under a man—and a humble man and a Woman still more humble, being elevated even by their very humility, to the lofty dignity of commanding a God!
Behold Him as He stands under the shade of two palm-trees to which is fastened a long mat, made from the straw of the sesame, which Joseph had hung up in the morning to protect him from the burning Egyptian sun. The house, in the shape of a beehive, casts its shade to the east, and from every side the eye may roam over fields sown with beans and barley, over rice fields intersected with canals to retain the fertilizing waters. The silent waters of the Nile are to be observed in the distance; green rushes, tall willows, huge sycamores are there, and beyond the Nile is proud Memphis, with its sphinxes, its gigantic symbols, its bold pyramids. Temples, palaces, and cities may be seen still further on in mere outline. The landscape is one of magnificent, glowing, splendid beauty, unknown to the colder west. And, by that very splendor, it draws attention to the simplicity of the scene nearer our eyes.
For Joseph, in the shelter of the little house, standing under the palm-trees, holds the plane in his hands, and directs the weaker hands of the Child. A thin shaving is planed from the piece of wood on which both are working. The Child is very serious. His mind already directs His actions, in spite of His tender age. He begins again; Joseph smiles at Him encouragingly.
Mary, seated near by, with her distaff and spindle, pauses occasionally in her own work to look at this dear and holy group, uniting with the angels in worshiping that God who thus voluntarily humbles Himself.
And thus did Jesus labor with Joseph at his daily toil, seeking ever some task and performing it. And when He had finished, when perspiration poured down His cheeks, and fatigue overpowered His strength, He seated Himself beside His Mother, who dried His moist forehead with her veil.
Thus seated, the divine Lord contemplated that beautiful picture which seemed to stretch so endlessly before His eyes. He saw those places, which, at a future period, were to be inhabited by holy anchorites; He blessed now those mysterious deserts, in which so many saints were one day to gather and receive His spiritual influence. His celestial infancy scattered power through the water, the air, the palm-trees, and even the red sand which the wind blew, occasionally, against His cheek. And this spiritual power, this secret influence, was to inspire the first saints of the rising Church in this land which God, made man, had inhabited.
O sweet-scented banks of the Nile! O walls of Memphis! O winds of the desert! O sacred solitudes! Ye have seen the blessed steps of the spotless Virgin and the Desired of nations! The infant Saviour grew in strength near the verdant willows— praised be the trees that sheltered Him! The shadow of the pyramid guarded His sacred head—blessed be its shade! The solitudes beheld Him pass—happy solitudes! Playing, He made crowns of lotus-flowers from the waters of the Nile; fashioned rush hampers, and baskets with the leaves of the acanthus; plaited ornaments with the sesame grass. So are they ever blessed—the lotus, the willows, the acanthus, the sesame, the air, the water, the sand of the desert! A holy breath blew upon them in the sweet days of its infancy, before sorrow had changed it into sighs. What wonder that the land of Egypt is still fertile, the waters of the Nile productive, the rushes green, the acanthus beautiful!
Nor need we be astonished that Mary was the only one of all the exiled Hebrews who dwelt in this land who did not regret her country. Her companions sang the song of captivity as it had formerly been sung in Babylon.
"Upon the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept: when we remembered Sion. On the willows in the midst thereof, we hung up our instruments. For there they, that led us into captivity, required of us the words of songs. And they that carried us away said: Sing ye to us a hymn of the songs of Sion. How shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land?" (Psalms cxxxvi, 1-4.)
Mary regretted nothing. She enjoyed the happiness of the elect. She enjoyed the unbounded ecstasy of continual adoration and contemplation. She worshiped the Trinity thrice holy in that Son begotten of the Father, the marvelous filiation of which the Holy Ghost is the bond. And the more she loved, the more she was enabled to love, for love is increased and renewed by love.
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The period in which Mary enjoyed heaven upon earth was not of long duration. The angel reappeared with his second message to Joseph.
"Arise and take the Child and His Mother and go into the land of Israel; for they are dead that sought the life of the Child." (St. Matthew ii, 20.)
Mary knew that the mission of the Saviour was to begin in Israel, and although ever obedient to God's holy will, her heart ached. Were, then, the days of peace, of joy, of security, already passed? She held her Son in her arms and wept silently. And He, who loved her, was deeply affected, for He was the best as well as the most beautiful of the children of men.
He wiped away her tears, and then placed both His soft young palms upon her closed eyelids. To the Mother this holy and gentle touch seemed to give her a powerful penetration. The past, as well as the future, stood before her like a vision of sorrow , and unbounded hope.
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Man came forth radiant and splendid from the Creator's hands; his countenance was beautiful as the sun, but his soul was still more beautiful, being created in the image and likeness of God. He was happy, he was good, and his companion, given to him by God, equaled him in all his perfect gifts.
Humanity was called to the highest destinies; the object of love, the being pleasing in the sight of an all-powerful Creator. It was a wondrous work.
And the Virgin, understanding, admired and praised God.
She admired the first mother of the human race . . . and even thought to feel as Eve must have felt in love for all the generations that were to come. Then she saw the angel of evil approach Eve; she saw the temptation and the fall.
Matter enshrouded the spirit. The brilliant universe became coarse and opaque instead of transparent and subtle. Man was driven from the garden he had polluted; clothed in flesh, condemned to sufferings, darkness, labor, and death.
And the Virgin, seeing, with tears admired and praised God.
Every soul had its hidden sorrow; every heart concealed its own weakness, its own faint recollection of heaven. Evil and good still struggled, but the good was everywhere conquered. There was no escape, no remedy. Men suffered in vain—they could not expiate the crimes of men. The righteous themselves were found wanting, and had to wait at the gates of hell till justice was satisfied. And Mary, gazing, already oppressed, felt that she would sink under this universal distress.
But she seemed to hear a voice; and these were the words it said:
"Be comforted, be comforted, My people! Righteousness and deliverance shall descend upon Israel."
Then did the Blessed Virgin behold herself proceeding from the thought of the Most High, where she had been destined from all Eternity to be the tabernacle of the Word of God. And she saw that uncreated, all-powerful, creative Word passing through space to become incarnate. She recognized her Son, her dear Son, and thrilled with rapture. She heard the angels, who were singing what St. John announced in the after years:
"Behold the Lamb of God: behold Him who taketh away the sin of the world!" (St. John i, 29.)
Weeping angels surrounded this most adorable Son. They brought the instruments of the Passion of the Redeemer. Mary contemplated His sufferings —His crown—the nails—the mockery—the vinegar and gall—the winding-sheet—the tomb.
And then she saw mankind redeemed. The weight of misery was taken away. Death was conquered. Sin was vanquished. Humanity, triumphant, regained a station so exalted that the saints of the New Law have dared to exclaim: "O happy fault!" (St. Augustine, Office of Holy Saturday.) when meditating upon the wonders of redemption.
The God-man, a potent conqueror, was seated in His glory at the right hand of His Father, surrounded by blessed martyrs, triumphant saints, exalted virgins. The salvation of the world was accomplished, the Church established. The Sacraments continually caused that redeeming blood to flow from heaven to earth, purifying and sanctifying the whole human race until it should be transformed and spiritualized in God.
And the love of Mary toward her fellows was so excessive that, in a holy transport, she accepted a share in the sufferings of her well-beloved Son.
She knelt, with her Son still in her arms, and cried out:
"Behold the innocent Victim, the spotless Lamb presented to stripes! My God, let Thy justice be satisfied by His ignominy, sufferings, and death I But—let my soul at least be united with that anguish by which He is to expiate the crimes of earth. Do not separate the Mother from her Son in pain and suffering. And, in all things, may Thy holy will be accomplished toward Thy humble creature!"