CHAPTER XXVI. THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
Angels of heaven, descend to the heart of this Mother, and bear her up in her great anguish.
Returning from Cana to her home at Nazareth, through the roads that led across the mountains, Mary's uneasiness was most evident. She could not take her eyes from her beloved Son, fearing at every moment to see Him disappear. She had checked the pace of the little animal on which she was riding, and separated herself from her companions in order to remain beside Him. She listened to every word that fell from His lips, and treasured it in her heart with a tenderness and mournfulness that knew no bounds.
Well did she realize that these few hours she was passing in His company were among the last she would enjoy upon this earth. Her heart ached at the thought. He accompanied her to Nazareth, and their conversation was filled with ineffable joy and sublimity. Happy in the presence of her dearly-beloved, nevertheless, now that He was about to separate Himself from her to enter the most perilous dangers, she felt her soul grow weak within her. She knew how these dangers were to end. Tears flowed from her eyes, even though in spite of this realization, she comprehended the mysteries of the Redemption.
"Am I not to unite the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people?" Such were the words of Jesus: "For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost." And raising His eyes to heaven, He added, "Father, the hour is come. Glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may glorify Thee!"
"Thou art about to leave me," said His Mother, in mournful tones. "Thou wilt suffer, and I shall not be near to help or sorrow with Thee. Why is it no longer the time in which I carried Thee in my arms, in which my tenderness would have defended Thee, in which I could have placed myself between Thee and danger? Then, at least, I could share Thy pain—a consolation which mothers only, perhaps, can understand."
She fixed her eyes upon her Son, and as He bent His gaze toward her, she realized the divine tenderness of His heart, for His own eyes were filled with tears.
He regarded her with ineffable love. She knew she could obtain anything, everything, from Him. She cast herself at His feet, trembling. Nature was smitten with fear in her, but she conquered Nature with superior strength. And Jesus, gazing at this sublime woman, so humble and so tender, so strong and so docile, read her very thoughts. But He permitted her to utter them. On her knees before her Son—it was to her God that she addressed herself— she offered this prayer:
"Wherever Thou mayest be, near me, or at a distance from me, may I suffer with Thee? May I feel all Thy sorrows with Thee—as much as my feeble and infirm nature will permit?"
Jesus gazed upon her with that look of Son and Father which penetrated the depths of her soul. He blessed her, and granted her request. When He lifted her from the ground, she felt an all-consuming joy. It was in this wise that they bade each other farewell, and Mary retired to her chamber to calm her heart in prayer.
But she followed her Son: through Capharnaum and into the Holy City itself, for the first Pasch— over Judea, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Juttah. She witnessed the miracles by which Jesus manifested His power, and her soul still experienced some moments of joy, for she saw the people follow Our Lord in crowds and bless Him, saying:
"A great prophet has arisen up among us and Christ has visited His people!"
And the Virgin wept for happiness. She was able to show a calmer face, during these times, to the women, who, since the departure of Jesus, were accustomed to come and pray with her.
* * * * *
Among this number was Magdalen. After the marriage feast at Cana, and the miracle which had been performed there, this sinful woman was entirely altered. Vainly did Servilius, softened but not changed by the sight of Jesus, strive to remove the strong impression which the Lord had made upon her. Vainly did the pleasure-lovers about her endeavor to entice her into new enjoyments.
"What are these pleasures?" she asked. "Oh, I have been disgusted with them so long! I pity the world that can offer no other joys than those of dissipation and dishonor. Do you not feel the nothingness, the shamefulness of everything? If you can not, your misery is even greater than I think it. But you must, you do feel even as I! Habit entices you; luxury has .enchained you. Ah, let us believe! Let us follow Jesus of Nazareth. He has the words of life. My dead soul has become alive within me. My heart throbs in my bosom now that I have heard His voice."
So Magdalen bade them adieu. She doffed her splendid garments, and covered her long and beautiful hair—not with the modest veil of the virgins of Israel, but with the veil of mourning. Shortly after the departure of Jesus she came to Mary's dwelling.
The sinner stopped, trembling, on the threshold of that house. But Mary extended her arms toward her:
"Approach, my child; I have been awaiting you."
At these words of mercy and pity, Magdalen cast herself upon the ground, and hid her face in the garments of the Blessed Virgin. For a long time she could not gain control of her emotion, but wept as if her heart would break. Finally, through her sobs, she was able to make known the thoughts which were surging within her.
"Oh, you who are sinless, speak to my misguided and repentant soul! Until this hour, my life has been most miserable. All things for me have been empty and full of bitterness. My burning heart consumed itself without being able to reach the happiness it craved. Had I loved deeply, truly, I might not have been cast into the abyss of shame and regret. But all who approached me were as frivolous and unhappy as myself, seeking that which they could not find. I felt that my love must be admiration, adoration. I would love God. It is God whom I love today. He alone merits our love! He alone can fill the heart of His creature! I belong to Him! I belong to you! Dispose of me until death. I will follow you wheresoever you go, happy if I can kiss your feet."
And Magdalen embraced the knees of the Queen of Virgins. Mary smiled at her in kindness, for she saw in her that profound and sincere repentance which rejoices heaven itself. In her sweet, pure voice she reassured the unfortunate, whose eyes were changed into two fountains of tears, so great was her grief for the days she had spent in ignoring the laws of God.
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But suddenly Mary is silent. She hears the multitudes crying out around Jesus. Is it triumph? Is it scorn?
"Ah, I see Him!" she exclaimed. "Yes, it is He, my beloved Son. His face is bright as though the sun were upon it; He is satisfied; He smiles; He raises His eyes to heaven. Ah! He is offering to His heavenly Father all this great crowd which follows Him, and in which He sees upright hearts and men of good will.
"Behold Him advancing along the shores of Lake Tiberias. Behold the accomplishment of the prophecy of Isaias: 'Land of Zabulon, and Land of Nephthali . . . the way of the sea beyond the Jordan of the Galilee of the Gentiltes. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; to therti that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen.' (Isaias ix, 1, 2.)
"Happy people! At least these havfe come to salute their Saviour. How they crowd about Him! He wduld speak, but can not. Men and women are pressing upon Him. In vain the sons of Zebedee, and those of my sister Mary strive to clear a space. All are too eager to hear Him. Simon has taker! Up a boat that has been hidden in the weeds. Jesus goes out in it, a little distance from the shore. Ah! . . . Now He speaks, and His voice is heard by all. The earth is attentive, the wind is hushed, the echoes are silent, the heavens listen. . . ."
And the voice of the Virgin ceased, and she knelt as if wrapt in some wondrous vision.
Magdalen the sinner saw nothing but the narrow walls of Mary's dwelling; heard nothing but the sighing of the winds in the mountains. She bowed her head in humility.
And the hours passed.
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"He standeth in a plain place. His disciples are with Him and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem. . . .
"Can you not hear the words that come from His mouth? Would that I could repeat them so that all the world would listen! But is not a single soul as precious to this divine Heart as the whole world ?
"Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are ye that hunger now: for you shall be filled.
"Blessed are ye that weep now: for you shall laugh." (St. Luke vi, 20,21.)
"Woe to you that are filled: for you shall hunger.
"Woe to you that now laugh: for you shall mourn and weep."
Magdalen heard eagerly, understanding that these beautiful precepts, falling so sweetly from the lips of the Virgin, alluded to a spiritual life.
"Ah!" she thought within her own soul. "I have been rich and in joy, and now my eyes weep bitter tears. But I have left all. My soul has hungered and thirsted, and behold God Himself comes to quench my thirst and appease my hunger! Blessed be so good a God!"
After a short silence the Virgin continued:
"Love your enemies ... do good to those that hate you."
Magdalen had never heard such doctrine.
"Bless them that curse you, and pray for them that calumniate you.
"And to him that striketh thee on the one cheek, offer also the other,
"And him that taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also,
"Give to every one that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again.
"And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them in like manner.
"If you love them that love you what thanks are to you? For sinners also love those that love them.
"And if you do good to them who do good to you, what thanks are to you ? For sinners also do this." (St. Luke vi, 28-33.)
"Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful." (St. Luke vi, 36.)
At this repetition of Christ's divine word, Magdalen knelt and kissed the robe of the Virgin.
"It is the God of mercy who has reclaimed me, the vilest of His creatures. He alone understands, He alone can hold out salvation."
During the days that followed, the Blessed Virgin could indeed attend in spirit on her divine Son. He cured a great many sick; He appeased the angry waves. He commanded the winds and the tempest. The multitude, ever-increasing in numbers, followed Him. His disciples wondered, asking themselves the question:
"What manner of Man is this? for the winds and the seas obey Him?" (St. Matthew viii, 27.)
He spoke and the sick were healed. He cast a look upon the sinner and his soul was transformed.
Yet some there were to attribute these miracles to demons. These were the ones who expected and desired the Messias to come as a conqueror, an earthly king, surrounded by the pomp of an earthly monarch.
"This Man is poor," they said. "He is followed only by the poor. What power can He ever obtain ? What can we hope to gain from Him or through Him? Away with Him! He is a false prophet!"
These murmurs, however, could not prevent the poor from following Him, and the astonished crowds from flocking about Him.
The humble Virgin comprehended all.
No hope entered her soul. She knew too well that nothing could save this voluntary Victim.
But her joy was in those redeemed souls who gathered close to Him, believing in Him. Those for whom her Son had come upon earth to suffer would indeed profit by the Redemption. They would be saved!
"Oh!" she exclaimed, often, raising her pure hands to heaven. "May this precious blood, at least, be not shed in vain."
And Mary, with those holy women about her who believed in the divinity of her Son, and who came
to unite with her in her prayer, remained in long ecstasies. She beheld her Son, she understood His mission, she saw Him sowing broadcast over the world the seeds of a doctrine so sublime as to con* found the human mind.
Or, when He came to that part of the country in which she dwelt, she, in company with the holy women, followed Him, hidden in the crowd.