Mary, The Mother of Christ By Father Clement Beck S. V. D, Part 3.


Of Mary’s simple but heavenly life at Nazareth we find one instance recorded in the Gospel, which was again a trial for this loving mother. The Gospel tells us that the holy parents of Jesus went every year up to Jerusalem for the festival of the Pasch. When Jesus was twelve years old, He accompanied them on this pilgrimage. Mary must have remembered her visit to the Temple with Jesus in her arms and what Simeon had said to her in his prophecy. This visit caused Mary and Joseph great sorrow; for when they were returning home after the festival, Jesus remained in the Temple and His parents knew it not. According to the custom Mary had joined a group of women, who went homeward like her, whilst Joseph had likewise joined a group of men, each thinking that Jesus was with the other. When the pilgrims camped in the evening, they sought Jesus among their kinsfolk and acquaintances. How alarmed they must have been, when they discovered that Jesus was not among them. They hurried from group to group of the resting pilgrims, inquiring and hoping to find their lost Child. Their search proving fruitless, they lost no time in returning to Jerusalem that very night. Reaching the city at daybreak, they searched the streets of Jerusalem with unspeakable anxiety in their hearts; they stopped the passers-by, inquiring whether they had seen anything of a beautiful child. . But no one knew anything about their Son. The day passed and the night found Mary and Joseph still in their indescribable anguish and grief. O Mother of Jesus, what didst thou suffer in these days, what excruciating torture in thy heart! By that anguish in thy heart, O Mother, help us to search for and to find Jesus again, if we have lost Him through our committing sin. Finally, after three weary days and two sleepless nights, Mary found her Beloved Son in the Temple. Upon seeing Him she said:”Son, why hast Thou done so to us? Behold Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.” (Luke ii, 48.) And Jesus answering them said that He had stayed back according to the will of His heavenly Father, Whose will He had come to fulfil in all circumstances. By His answer Jesus was preparing His loving mother for the time when His heavenly Father would bid Him leave her and start His public life in order to teach and to die for the redemption of mankind. The answer which Jesus gave were not words of rebuke, but words dictated by His messianic mission, in which Mary was to play so important a part.
Jesus then returned to Nazareth with His holy Mother and St. Joseph and remained obedient unto them, the Gospel tells us. (Luke ii, 51.) St. Bernard, unable to conceal his profound astonishment, exclaims:”He was subject to Mary! Think and choose which is the greater wonder, the all-kind condescension of the Son or the all-surpassing exaltation of His Mother; both are miracles; the fact that God is obeying a woman shows a humility without parallel; the fact that a woman gives precepts to God reveals a dignity without equal.” “One consideration we must add here: when Jesus, the Son of God, subjected Himself to Mary by obeying and honouring her, is it possible then for any follower of Christ not to honour and love her?


For the next eighteen years Mary lived with Jesus at Nazareth. Who can describe those years? St. Paul says:”You are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. iii, 3). Of no other one are these words more true than of Mary; she was indeed dead to sin and her life was hidden with Christ in God. Mary continued her unremitting care and service for Jesus. But how to describe her interior life? Real spiritual value and beauty lie in the soul. Mary’s heart, soul and mind were in all respects a most perfect imitation of Jesus. St. Paul tells us that according to God’s will the life task of each one of us is to conform our lives with that of Christ. In Mary this conformity with Christ was most perfect. During all these years Mary was continuously learning from Jesus, observing His life, taking in His words and applying them to her own life. Thus co-operating with the graces which God had bestowed upon her from the beginning, Mary proceeded from virtue to virtue, till all the virtues of Jesus were shining in her in the full splendour of highest personal sanctity. There, living with Jesus, the Author of all graces, Mary grew in grace; her Son had come that all should receive the divine life of grace in abundance (John x, 10); how did He fill the heart of His Mother with grace during those eighteen long years! Jesus Whose heart was a burning furnace of love for God, enkindled in Mary’s heart an ever-growing love for God. Jesus, Who had come to save the souls of men, made His Mother’s heart equally zealous for souls. There in Nazareth Mary lived with Jesus, the teacher of charity, humility, obedience; with Jesus, the lover of holy and chaste souls; with Jesus, Eternal Wisdom. In this school of Jesus Mary became the Mother of Fair Love, the virgin most kind, most humble, most obedient, most chaste and most prudent; in short, there in Nazareth Mary’s life became the most perfect imitation of that of Christ, till it was true to say that Mary lived no more, but Christ was living in her. So Mary’s life in Nazareth is a life hidden with Christ in God, a life which was simple and unobserved by the world, but most precious in the eyes of God.
Some have said: “Why not leave Mary in her hidden life, instead of making so much of her now?” To all those we reply in the words of St. Paul that, having lived with the hidden Christ, we shall also live with the glorious Christ. (Col. iii, 4.)
After Mary ‘s example our life also must be hidden with Christ in God. He must live in our thoughts, words and actions. We, too, must co-operate with God’s will and preserve unspotted for the day of judgment the white garment of sanctifying grace which we received in baptism.


Tradition tells us one thing more of Mary’s hidden life in Nazareth; the death of St. Joseph, who, dying so lovely a death in the arms of Jesus and Mary, has become for all time the Patron of the Dying-the Saint of a happy death. In every”Hail Mary” we implore our heavenly Mother also to be present with Jesus by us at the hour of our death.


Now the day was approaching, when, according to the will of His heavenly Father, Jesus had to bid His Mother Mary farewell and to begin preaching publicly about the kingdom of God. During this apostolic life of Jesus, Mary is not found at the side of Jesus, but continued her hidden life at Nazareth. It is only on three occasions that she is mentioned during this period. The first is at Cana, at a marriage feast where, the wine running short, Mary, wishing to save the bridal couple from embarrassment, approached Jesus, Who had also been invited, and explaining the situation, requested Him to help them. The answer which Jesus gave His Mother was no refusal, since, in accordance with the will of His heavenly Father, Jesus performed the miracle Mary had asked for. The meaning of the reply to His Mother was:”Lady, why are you troubled; has not the hour for manifesting My power come?” Mary, understanding her Son and, knowing that He would grant her request, instructed the servants saying:”Whatever He shall say to you, do ye.” (John ii, 5.) On the second occasion we read of a visit Mary paid to her Son, while He was preaching to a great multitude. When Jesus was told by one of His hearers:”Behold Thy mother and brethren stand outside seeking Thee,” He answered: “My mother and brethren are they who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke viii, 19–21.)
A similar statement was made by Jesus when a woman from the crowd listening to Him exclaimed: “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee and the paps that gave Thee suck.” But Jesus said: “Yea rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.” (Luke xi, 28.)
These are the only three occasions on which Mary is mentioned during the public life of Jesus. Does this suggest, that Jesus was wanting in honouring His Mother? Certainly not; such an interpretation would overlook the great privileges Christ had bestowed on His Mother, to whom He had been obedient for thirty years. What Jesus did on these occasions was to give His hearers a lesson, as they were proud of their carnal descent from Abraham, supposing themselves thereby predestined for heaven. Jesus made it clear to them that it was not the carnal descent that mattered in the kingdom of God, but the fulfilling of the will of God. These words of Jesus were in fact a public praise of His Mother, who excelled all others in fulfilling God’s will, being the most faithful and perfect handmaid of the Lord.


Mary continued her hidden life at Nazareth, whilst Jesus was preaching the kingdom of God. But when our divine Saviour, according to the will of His Father, began His Sacred Passion in order to redeem mankind by His death on the Cross, then Mary left the shelter of her home to share with her Son the sufferings of His Passion. Mary met Jesus as He struggled beneath the weight of the Cross on His way to Calvary. How sad must not that meeting have been. Never had a mother loved a child, as Mary loved Jesus; and now to see Him in the midst of soldiers, and an excited and derisive mob, dragging Himself beneath His heavy, cross! Such was the treatment meted out to Him Who was the delight of the angels in heaven; so was the Redeemer of mankind treated by them, whom He had come to save. Who can fathom the depths of sorrow felt by Mary at this meeting. Like a sword did sorrow pierce her mother’s heart again-true to the prophecy made in the Temple by Simeon. How much Mary must have suffered at this meeting no words can describe adequately; but what we know is that she bore her suffering in the same spirit as Jesus. O Mother of God, help us to carry our crosses through life as thou didst, with fortitude.
Again we find Mary on Mount Calvary, compelled helplessly to witness her Son stripped of His garments and having His hands and feet nailed to the cross. How the blows of the hammer that nailed His adorable hands and feet to the cross must have echoed in His Mother’s heart. How an agonising grief must have overwhelmed her, when she saw Him being roughly raised up on His cross!
Now Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, as the Gospel describes her, stands beneath the cross. For three torturing hours, which must have been for her like an eternity, she stood and watched her Son’s indescribable sufferings; knew Him tortured by a thirst which she was unable to assuage; heard Him mocked, derided and insulted, and was unable to defend Him; saw His eyes dimmed with blood from the wounds in His head, made by the crown of thorns, but could not wipe them; gazed on His tortured body, sagging heavily on His transfixed hands, causing agony beyond description, which she was powerless to relieve. St. Bernard, commenting on Mary’s sufferings, says:”Never can a tongue express or a heart conceive into what depths of sorrow Mary’s soul was plunged as she stood beneath the cross.” Holy Mother Church, in deep understanding, exclaims: “To whom can we compare thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? As great as the ocean is thy sorrow.” In the hymn, “Stabat Mater,” the sentiments of the Christian soul for this sorrowful Mother are admirably expressed. Is there a heart so hard as not to be touched by grief at the thought of this Mother’s unimaginable suffering; and remembering that our sins made Jesus and Mary suffer so much, must we not detest sin. As Jesus hung from the cross, while His Mother and St. John stood beneath, He turned to His Mother and said:”Woman, behold thy son,” and to St. John: “Behold thy mother.” According to the explanation of the Fathers of the Church, in that solemn moment Jesus made His Mother the spiritual Mother of all mankind; for St. John, as he stood there beneath the cross, represented all humanity. And by the words addressed to St. John,”Behold thy mother,” Jesus exhorts all those who believe in Him to love and honour His Mother, Mary. We should never forget the great kindness of Jesus in giving us His Mother for ourselves in His last agonising moments on the cross; selfless to the last, He thought only of us. Should we not then in undying gratitude to Jesus give Mary in our lives all the love, honour and respect that she deserves?
Standing there beneath the cross, Mary watched her Son die for the salvation of mankind. Her tears flowed as a river, yet she was completely resigned to God’s Will, the performance of which, to her as to her Son, was the sole purport of life. Again, Holy Mother Church, in deep understanding of Mary’s immense sorrows, makes her exclaim in the words of the prophet:”O all you who pass by, stop and see, if there is any sorrow as great as mine.” Mary had drained to the very dregs the cup of suffering with her divine Son; her heart had been pierced by the sword of sorrow, as her Son’s Heart had been pierced by the soldier’s lance.


What must have been Mary’s feelings, when the dead Body of Jesus, taken down from the cross, was laid in her arms once more. With what love and tenderness did she hold His lifeless Body! She saw the terrible wounds made by the nails that transfixed His hands and feet; those hands and feet that had only worked for the good of others; tenderly she drew out the thorns which still pierced His head; with the gentle hands of love she washed His blood-smeared eyes and face, and, for the last time, combed and parted His hair. What memories must have tortured her then! Memories of the same hands, so tiny then, stretched out to her at Bethlehem; of those same feet when first He tried to walk in the exile days in Egypt; memories of when she first had combed His baby hair; memories leading back to Nazareth, in the quiet and so happy life with Joseph; memories of their parting, when He began His life of Ministry; memories of those years, when she had followed His public life from her retreat at Nazareth-all memories now, whilst there remain only the all-precious Body of her Son and her unbounded sorrow.
How often have not artists represented Mary with the dead Body of Jesus in her arms, and how many grief-stricken and afflicted people gazing thereon have found in the figure of Mary, with her dead Son, the meaning of their sufferings and the strength and courage to carry their crosses. Suffering makes us like unto Christ. Whosoever desires to follow Jesus must, like Mary, draw closer to Him and learn to carry the cross; but taking a greater share of His sufferings here on earth shall also mean to receive a greater share in His glory hereafter.
At the tomb Mary had to bid farewell to her adorable Son; only a mother bereft of her only son, who was her all, may feel, perhaps, what the loss of the best Son must have been to the best of Mothers. Simeon’s prophecy had been fulfilled; for the sake of Jesus Mary’s heart had been transfixed by the sharpest sword of sorrow.
For Mary, Holy Saturday dawned as a day of mingled grief and hope; grief in memories of the dreadful happenings of the previous day, hope in the certain knowledge of His glorious resurrection.


We come now to the last phase of Our Lady’s earthly life. We cannot but believe that Jesus, upon His resurrection, appeared to His Mother, Mary, first. She who had taken the greatest share in His suffering should have been also the first to see Him upon His glorious Resurrection. And as Jesus repeatedly thereafter appeared to His disciples, instructing them about His Church, so He must have repeatedly visited Mary, who had to play so important a part as the Mother of the young Church. Again, although the Gospel does not say so explicitly, we are sure, nevertheless, that Mary was present and saw her Son ascend gloriously into heaven. She who had seen Him lifted up upon His cross, sharing with Him His agony and ignominy, certainly was entitled to witness His greatest triumph, His glorious Ascension.
Upon returning from Mount Olivet, the place of the Ascension, Mary went with the disciples to the house in Jerusalem, where Jesus had eaten His last supper and instituted the Blessed Sacrament. There they spent their time in prayer, while waiting for the coming of the Holy Ghost. When, on the feast of Pentecost, all the disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost, Mary, who was His divinely chosen spouse from the time of the Incarnation, must have been endowed in superabundance with all His graces, for the motherly care, guidance and protection she had to afford to the early Church of Christ.
Further, we learn from the holy Scripture that the apostles, together with the faithful, gathered regularly for prayer and the breaking of the bread, thereby carrying out the command of Jesus:”Do ye this in commemoration of Me.” Mary was certainly present at those gatherings, which were no other than the early form of Holy Mass and Holy Communion. It is sweet indeed to think how St. John, celebrating Holy Mass, turned to Our Blessed Lady and gave her Holy Communion. Who could attend Holy Mass, receive Holy Communion and give thanks as Mary did; certainly it must have been a spectacle for angels and men. It was the presence of Jesus in Holy Communion that sustained her until the day she was assumed into heaven to join Him in perfect union.
Mary was the inspiration and encouragement of the early Christians. The success of the apostles in spreading the Gospel and in consolidating the early Church is greatly due to her prayers and help.


According to Our Lord’s wish, expressed on the cross, Mary lived under the care of St. John, travelling with him on his apostolic mission. We learn from tradition that they spent some time in the city of Ephesus. Again we know from tradition that Mary died in Jerusalem about the year 48 A.D. Her death was not the result of the penalty due to sin or disease, but of her burning desire to be dissolved and united with her divine Son in heaven. There she reigns as Queen and intercedes for us, that we, her children, may at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, join her and Jesus in heaven, glorifying God forever. And so concluding the history of Mary’s earthly life, let us turn our thoughts to her, who is our Mother in heaven. Let us strive to be her children and lift our hearts in prayer, saying:”Draw us after thee, O Virgin Mother, and intercede for us at the throne of God.”

Nihil Obstat
WILLIAM M. COLLINS, D.D., Diocesan Censor.
Archiepiscopus Melbournensis.