II. THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT
After the ceremonies of the Presentation and Purification, the Holy Family returned to Nazareth. (Luke ii. 39.) From Nazareth it would seem probable that they went back to Bethlehem and there were visited by the Kings. 1 Soon, however, they had to set out on a much longer—indeed upon a dangerous—journey. One night " an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying : Arise and take the Child and His Mother and be there until I shall tell thee : for it will come to pass that Herod shall seek the Child to destroy Him. Who arose and took the Child and His Mother by night, and retired into Egypt and was there until the death of Herod." (Matthew ii. 13, 14.) The sword of Simeon had not waited long to pierce the soul of Mary. Already her Child was visibly set as a sign of contradiction. In the vain search for the King of kings, the blood of the Holy Innocents was shed by the paltry monarch who shrank from nothing in his hate. Meanwhile, Mary was travelling, wearily walking through the long night, torn with anxieties for her beloved Child.
In the East, even now they will show you some of the places where our Lady is believed to have rested on her way. Not far from Bethlehem there is a cave called the Cave of the Virgin's Milk, now a shrine where the Holy Mass is offered. Here it is said that some of the pure milk with which the Virgin Mother was nourishing her Child fell upon the rocks and whitened them, so that to this day women—Muhammedan as well as Christian—who desire children of Heaven's bounty, come hither to pray. In honour of the Great Mother of God they drink of the white rock dissolved in water; nor do they pray in vain. 2 In the village of Matarieh, not far from Cairo, there is in the garden attached to a House of the Jesuit Fathers, a sycamore tree occupying the place of another under whose grateful shade tradition tells us that our Lady sat, wearied, with her Holy Child. In Old Cairo in a very ancient Coptic Church they treasure the bowl, now used as a font, where, as it has been handed down from father to son through all the centuries, the Mother of Christ washed the adorable Body of her Babe; here, too, they will point out a slit through which Mary and Joseph looked to see, if, perchance, they were being pursued and the pursuers were in sight. During this Flight, a touching legend assures us that a brigand named Dismas—to be known hereafter, throughout the Christian centuries, as the Good Thief—ministered to the Mother and her Child in their sore needs—to be repaid one day ten thousandfold. However much of truth there may be in such traditions, they serve to excite our piety and remind us of that which otherwise we might forget—the severity of the sufferings of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Our Lady's tender heart was racked with constant pain, as she thought of all that had come already, of the voice which was heard in Rama, lamentation and great mourning—Rachel bewailing her children and refusing to be comforted because they are not— of the weariness of Joseph, of the danger to which her Child was even then exposed. Our Lady's loving soul was filled with anxiety—how could it be otherwise ?—as she thought of the future, as she saw the careworn face of her spouse, as she asked herself, How were they to live ? We know that her confidence in the Providence of God was unshaken, but Mary was human, and it is human to be anxious, however deep the trust in heaven. " Oftentimes," writes Ludolph of Saxony, in his famous Life of Christ, "did the Child Jesus ask His Mother for bread, when she could give him nothing but her tears." Besides, there was always the knowledge alive in our Sorrowful Mother's recollection that her Child was to be rejected and afflicted—she knew never when, or in what manner, this rejection and affliction should assail Him. Thus, during her seven years of weary exile from friends and home which constitute the second of her Dolours, the sword pierced day by day 1 —hour by hour—ever deeper into her heart. All those who, like Mary, are in exile; all those who, like Mary, are filled with sorrow at the sufferings of those dear to them ; all those who, like Mary, are filled with bitter fear for that which is to come—perhaps not knowing how bread is to be found by a husband for a dear child—may go with confidence to Mary in her sorrows. In this manner has she also suffered. Our Lady of Sorrows will understand.
1 Cf. Father Coleridge, S.J., The Thirty Years, pp. 171-181.
2 It was rock from this cave, thus dissolved, that constituted " the Virgin's Milk " which was preserved in so many of our English churches before the Reformation. Cf. Bridgett, Our Lady's Dowry, pp. 335, 336