CHAPTER XVIII. THE PEACE OF NAZARETH.
Joseph was more than happy to see his beloved sister.
"God be blessed, dear Mary, that He has united us upon this earth," he said, affectionately. She returned his caresses, and clung to him, and he added, in a lower tone of voice: "Though I were to thank God forever, I could not praise Him sufficiently for the task He has given me. It is now accomplished."
Mary's inquiring glance was bent upon him, but her lips framed no question.
"Your sister Mary," he continued, "will one day merit the respect and homage of the entire earth.
Should the Lord call me to Himself, I ask that you take my place, to watch over her and her Son."
Mary and Cleophas listened to their brother in astonishment, not having the clue to his words— and then they saw their children, James and Jude, with one of their young companions, named John, approaching Jesus. John was a beautiful child, with a heavenly countenance. When he saluted Jesus he knelt on the ground before Him, while James and Jude stood close to Him, gazing upon His face with awe and reverence.
"What is this?" exclaimed Cleophas and his spouse, almost in the same breath. "The sight of this Child stirs our very souls with a trouble that is half-pain, half-sweetness. Look at our boys! They tremble! And John, the son of Salome, who kisses His feet, and weeps as if for very love!" They were silent. Then, turning to Mary, who now stood at Joseph's side, regarding, with him, the touching scene before them, the woman placed her hand on Mary's arm:
"Is what we have heard . . . true?" she asked.
Quietly, and with admirable simplicity, the holy Virgin related the miraculous events of the birth of Jesus, as well as those which had preceded, and those which followed it. She told of the visit of the shepherds; of the Magi; of the flight into Egypt, commanded on the day that Herod had caused the male children of Bethlehem and its environs to be slain. The report of the massacre had indeed penetrated to Nazareth, and made all tremble, but they were ignorant of its cause.
Hearing these wondrous things, Cleophas and Mary, with their children and the young and beautiful John, prostrated themselves before the divine Child. They adored Him, these three who were to be His followers and Apostles.
Salome (who had been a companion of the Virgin in the Temple) when informed by her son John of the return of Mary, and the wonderful story which was told of her and Jesus, came in turn to see her. Salome was, like her son, of a loving and tender nature. So may we contemplate Jesus in the little house of Nazareth, surrounded by hearts which were filled with love and devotion toward Him. Already were His words listened to with respect. His discourses reached sublime heights. Mary, observing these things, thought that the time of His mission was approaching. Dreaded epoch! She could only prepare herself for it by redoubled prayers, by good works, by renewed submission to the will of God— asking one thing more than all others—that increase of sorrow might find her possessed of the strength that she had had in the days of her happiness. In her humility she was well aware that each soul conceals mysteries unknown to all, even to itself— mysteries of strength or weakness with which occasion alone can make us acquainted.
She prayed for herself as if she had been a poor, weak woman. She prayed for the world. Her love embraced all that her Son loved—and who could fathom the depth of that divine love—the love of Him who came from heaven to suffer death, in order to save us?
With her return to Nazareth Mary began once more her usual humble duties. She cared for her home, attended to the wants of her holy spouse and her divine Son, and often conversed with Jesus on the sufferings of fallen humanity, which God, in His great mercy, had never ceased to love. The sorrows of the earth, even the visible sorrows of those around them, spoke to these united, devoted hearts. Sin had brought grief into the world, and they, hating sin and loving the sinner, were moved to tears.
Often, on returning from the town, whither she repaired to help some unfortunate who had appealed to her or to console another in affliction, the Mother would sit beneath the shade of the great sycamore, and cover her eyes with her hand as if to shut away . from her the sight of so much woe.
"O world of anguish!" she would exclaim. " O world of sorrow! What moans escape from thee!"
And Jesus longed to suffer, in order to help these and all the unknown tragedies of human life, which vibrated through His heart even as our sighs now re-echo through the vaults of heaven and reach His pitying ears. Even thus were they fulfilling their adorable mission. Already was Mary the Mother of the Afflicted, the Consolation of those in pain. And her Son, in spite of His tender age, was even now that God of infinite love and mercy who died for His creatures upon the wood of the cross.
Some years elapsed without any exterior events of importance, years filled with peace and tenderness, yes, and preparation. Joseph grew older—but his heart was at rest. He had fulfilled his mission. The Child and His Mother were safe within the shelter of their home; his hands were still able to furnish their daily sustenance. Everywhere the world delivered itself up to unbridled passions. Iniquity reigned triumphant in the courts of men. Not knowing that heaven reigned . . . here ... in this obscure corner of the globe. That a divine life was here being lived that would heal the shameful wounds of sin and misery. Jesus and Mary, Joseph, his sister Mary, Salome, and the young children, the unknown hope of the future—spent their days in apparent monotony, which was interrupted only by the prayers which every Hebrew was accustomed to make in the Temple at the epoch of the great festivals.
Time of silence and expectation! In which the Lord increased upon the horizon of humanity! With what joy the trembling earth saluted Thee! How the just rejoiced to see Thee born at last! How Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph hailed Thee from that place of expectation in which they invoked Thy coming! How the angels who watched over men blessed Thee! For they beheld their hope increase, and saw the beginning of all those joys which they had been promised by the Omnipotent.