III. THE NATIVITY
We read that Mary abode with her cousin St. Elisabeth for three months and then returned to her own house. (Luke i. 56.) But soon " it came to pass that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. And all went to be enrolled, everyone into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judaea to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife. (Luke ii. 1-5.) Bethlehem was full. Mary and Joseph were poor. " There was no room for them in the inn." At length they found a cave, sometimes used as a common stable. There it is that at this day you may read, in the sacred place now a chapel—where morning by morning the Holy Mass is offered—the simple words : " Hic natus est Jesus Christus." Yes, here was born Jesus Christ our Lord. Here Mary the Virgin Most Pure saw Jesus of a sudden lying before her—her Babe—her Babe who was her God—the Word made Flesh. He " whose generation was from Eternity " appeared in the Manger. He came to this earth, in no way harming or paining His Mother, even as a sunbeam may suddenly break forth from a cloud and pierce a prism of purest crystal without doing it any injury or violence.
"A Virgin brought forth Christ," writes St. Augustine, " a Virgin she remained. Even then the Lord, before He rose again, was born through closed doors." (Serm. ccxlvii. 2.)
As in the time that was to come after His Resurrection, our Lord would manifest Himself to His Apostles though the doors were shut, so now did He manifest Himself to Mary, passing through " the garden enclosed, the sealed fountain," (Cant Cant. iv. 12.) "the closed gate of her chaste womb, which was shut and no man opened it, for the Lord passed through it." (Ezechiel xliv. 2.) Her spotless Virginity remained unscathed. (Cf. Cateh. Conc. Trident., Pars. I., Art. iii. 13.) Thus was fulfilled that which the Lord had spoken by the Prophet saying: " Behold a Virgin shall be with Child, and bring forth a Son, and they shall call His Name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." (Isaiah vii. 14 ; Matt. i. 23.)
To these divine Mysteries we may apply the noble words which Origen used after narrating the wonders of the Visitation :
"Would that it might happen to me that I should be called a fool by the unbelieving, in that I have believed such things as these. The event and the truth have shown that I have not given credit to folly, but to Wisdom. May that which the unbelieving reckon as folly become for me the occasion of salvation. For unless the Birth of the Saviour had been heavenly and blessed, unless it had possessed something divine and surpassing the common things of humanity, never would His doctrine have penetrated throughout all the world. ... I beseech you then, O Catechumens, not to draw back. Let no man make you tremble and affright you, but follow Jesus, who goes before you. He is drawing you to salvation, He is leading you to the Church that now is upon the earth. If you bring forth worthy fruits of good works, He will bring you to the Church of the Firstborn whose names have been written in heavenly places. Blessed is she that believed, because those things shall have been accomplished which were spoken to her by the Lord — things concerning which the Blessed Mary magnifies the Lord Jesus." (Homil. VII. in Lucam.)
If our Lady magnified the Lord when those things which had been spoken to her had not yet been actually accomplished, how much more did she praise His Name when she saw them before her eyes ! Of a truth the Holy Ghost had overshadowed her when Gabriel brought her the message from on High, and now the Holy One who had been born in Bethlehem was hers to love and cherish, the Blessed Fruit of her womb, over whom she had a mother's rights, to whom she owed a mother's duties.
"As Mary looked at the Divine Infant," writes Basil of Seleucia, " thus, methinks, swayed by fears and longings, she discussed alone within herself : What fitting Name, O Child, shall I find for Thee ? Shall I call Thee Man ? But Thy Conception is Divine. Shall I call Thee God ? But Thou hast taken Human Flesh. What then am I to do with Thee ? Shall I nourish Thee with milk, or shall I only meditate on Thee as God ? Shall I tend Thee as Mother, or adore Thee as handmaiden ? Shall I embrace Thee as Son, or pray to Thee as God ? Shall I give Thee milk, or offer Thee incense ? How great is this ineffable and most mighty marvel! Heaven is Thy Throne, yet my bosom bears Thee." (De Annuntiat. Deiparæ, Orat. x.)
O ! the joy that welled forth from Mary's heart— the joy unspeakable, whether she adored her God upon her knees, or clasped her Child to her breast and loaded Him with the kisses of her mouth. (Cf. Cant, of Cant. I. i.) O! the joy as she contemplated the Incarnation and knew, that at length, the Lord had indeed visited His people—the new joy that entered into her love for the Father who had given His Son for the salvation of the world, who had committed His Son to her keeping—the joy that sprang from the Love that God had given her—the human mother's love—as she ministered gently and most fondly to her little Son, as " she wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes and laid Him in the manger," (Luke ii. 7.) as she gave Him of her milk to be His nourishment, as proudly she showed Him to Joseph her spouse and trusted Him awhile to Joseph's arms. Never before or since has there been joy on earth like to the Virgin Mother's joy in Bethlehem that first Christmas night, whilst the Angels sang rejoicing over Mary and her Child.