Meditations On The Life Of The Blessed Virgin For Every Day Of the Month, Suitable for all seasons and especially the month of May.
RICH AND POOR AT THE MANGER.
"Come to Me, all..."— St. Matt. ix. 28.
Amongst the inhabitants of Bethlehem who daily passed the stable in which Jesus was born, there were some who, believing: the account of the shepherds, and the words of the Angel, visited Jesus and Mary with reverence; brought them humble presents to relieve their poverty, looked with faith on the .Divine Infant, to whom each day added fresh graces, and sincerely placed all their hopes in Him. But there were others, alas! who, treating the miracles of Christmas night as dreams, passed the stable with indifference, and stood stupified in amazement to see the Eastern Kings kneeling before this poor Infant and His Mother. There were many who came through curiosity, and looking upon Jesus understood nothing, for their hearts were cold. They came to the manger wanting in good will, and they returned without faith and without hope.
It is not these whom we desire to imitate, but those just, those true friends of the Infant Saviour. Whether they be shepherds of Bethlehem, or magi from the east, we desire to take for our example all those who came to the crib with their hearts filled with good will. Let us in our hearts ask the Blessed Virgin our Mother to obtain for us from God that good will, without which the mind cannot be opened to the teaching of faith, and then let us together seek to know the great lesson which the Saviour of the world is pleased to teach us at His crib, in showing us, first the shepherds of Bethlehem, and then the wise kings, worshipping Him on His entrance into human life, the burden of which He deigned to take upon Himself for our sakes.
What is this great, this first lesson? Need I say that it is the love of poverty, humility, and suffering? Why was Almighty God, on coming down from heaven, pleased to clothe Himself in the most frail of all forms, in that of a new-born infant ? Why was it the will of Him who created all the marvels of heaven and earth to be born in poverty, and to pass thirty years in the house of an obscure carpenter ? Why was it His will to live a life of labour, and to die in the most unspeakable suffering? Why, except that it was His will to be our example and our hope in all our sufferings. And see, who are those chosen ones to whom God first makes known the birth of His beloved Son? Who will first be called to surround the crib of the King of Israel? Are they those who are called great and rich on the earth ? No: the Gospel tells us that they were poor shepherds, who were keeping the night watches, guarding their flocks. These men it was, who, with simple hearts and humble faith, left their flock in the fields, and, bringing some fruits and the milk of their goats as an offering, came with joy to the manger at Bethlehem, and recognized and worshipped their God in the poor infant whom they there found. It was the poor, then, to whom the Angel of the Lord first brought the tidings of great joy. It is the poor who came first to honour the crib of their Saviour. The poor are the first friends of Jesus Christ. This truth, which forms part of our faith, we shall find in every page of the Holy Scriptures. Daniel and the prophets, in announcing^ the Saviour of the world, announced above all the friend and deliverer of the poor.
"The Lord is become a refuge for the poor. (Ps. ix.) "He hath not forgotten the cry of the-poor." (Ibid.) "By reason of the misery of the* needy, and the groans of the poor, now will I arise, saith the Lord." (Ps. xi.) "Let the poor see and rejoice." (Ps. lxviii.) "The poor shall eat and shall be filled." (Ps. xxi.) "Who is as the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high i raising up the needy from the earth, and lifting up the poor out of the dunghill, that He may place Turn with princes, with the princes of His people?" (Ps. cxii.)" Such passages are too numerous to quote; the two first canticles which announced to the earth the coming of the Saviour, the Magnificat and the Benedictus, are filled with this deliverance of the poor, and the Gospel never ceases to confirm these promises, and sums them all up in those immortal words: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." (St. Matt. v.) Blessed, then, are the poor, for they received the first blessings of our Saviour! Blessed are the poor, whose holy sufferings remind us of those of our God made man ! Blessed are the poor who have the privilege of being called the suffering members of Jesus Christ! But to deserve these blessings of our Saviour, and to have a share in these special favours, is it sufficient to be poor in this world ? This is the great question, and the Gospel has answered it long ago. Were all the poor of Bethlehem called to the manger? Alas, no. The dwellings of the poor were not open to receive the Holy Family, any more than those of the rich, and there were only a small number of shepherds, who came at the voice of the angel, to worship the Infant Jesus. Afterwards, when Jesus was pleased to drink for us the chalice of His bitter Passion, were there not some of the poor amongst those who cried out against Him, "Crucify Him! crucify Him!" and who asked to have Barabbas released to them instead of their Saviour? Yes ! there were amongst that ungrateful multitude some of those poor whom Jesus had so much loved, to whom He was come to bring hope and salvation. Doubtless they were led on and deceived by men who should have been their guides and instructors; but Jesus, their teacher beyond all others, had been long amongst them; they had seen the miracles of His charity and sweetness; and still they had been so base of heart as to forsake Him, and to curse and insult Him in His hour of anguish. "What means this contradiction ? Why do we find the faithful-hearted poor worshipping Jesus in His crib, and the ungrateful loading Him with insults on the Way of Sorrows to Calvary ? Why do we find Eastern kings, rich and great, on the earth at the manger, and afterwards see the rich and powerful persecuting Jesus with sacrilegious hatred, and outraging Him even on the cross ? Is it not because poverty and riches do not of themselves make either the good or the evil of this world: because they can be, each in their place, good and serviceable, or evil and fruitless, as they are used according to the will of God, or turned to ill by our evil inclinations and selfish passions ? Blessed were the devout shepherds of Bethlehem, who believed in the word of the Angel, and came with lively faith to worship the Infant God! Blessed, likewise, the holy magian kings, who followed the star, and crossed deserts and mountains, to come to the manger at Bethlehem ! And blessed all men of good will, who accomplish, each in their own place, the task which God has given them in this world! Our Saviour has said: "In My Father's house there are many mansions." (St. John xiv.) Each one will there be received, according to his merits, and in the house of our loving God, there is room for all His children. There are many* different paths by which to reach it; and blessed are those who attain it, and are able to offer to the God of mercy the merits of a holy life well ended! Not one of these will see the door shut against him. This truth, like the other, is part of our Faith, and all the truths taught us by our Saviour, far from clashing or contradicting, only confirm one another; it only-puts in its true light that which at first sight it would seem to contradict. " Blessed are the poor in spirit," our Saviour has said, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." We all repeat these words after Him, with the same Faith and the same Hope. But the time is come to understand rightly what is this poverty which Jesus Christ has blessed; this way, salutary though sown with thorns, the shortest and the best by which to reach heaven.
Our Saviour said, not only, "Blessed are the poor," but " blessed are the poor in* spirit!" What is it to be poor in spirit ? Does it consist in being poor, because we are born poor, and cannot help it? This is nothing but a simple fact, and becomes a merit only if we know how to accept poverty courageously, and to bear it ho-lily. Poverty, unless accepted with Christian resignation, is fruitless suffering. It bears no fruit, either for this world or the next; and the enemy of our salvation, who knows how to choose with perfidious art the temptation most dangerous for each one of us, too often instils bitterness, envy, and hate into the hearts of the poor, in order to nip, as it were, in its flower, the fruit of that poverty, which, well borne, would have gained heaven.
Far be from me the thought of destroying the merit of poverty, and of taking from him who suffers so cruelly in this world, the comforting thought that he is the friend of Jesus Christ, and will have the highest place near Him in heaven; but let us take heed, not to confound with the poverty blessed by our Saviour, that hateful and rebellious poverty which sees with envy the goods of this world, which detests those to whom God has confided them as a trust and a charge, and which, in the senseless violence of its aspirations after an imaginary happiness, has only bitter feelings towards God and towards its neighbour. To be poor in spirit is to be detached from worldly goods; it is to look upon riches, whether in our own hands, or those of our brethren, merely as a means of serving God by charity and alms-deeds; it is to accept poverty, if God lays it upon us, as a means of serving Him by obedience and resignation. If this be the poverty which our Saviour has blessed, which He has recommended to us all, even as the price of the kingdom of heaven, which is the nearest to God, the rich man who looks upon his goods as a trust, who esteems them only because they give him the means of serving God and doing good to his brethren, or the poor man who hates his brother in Jesus Christ, simply because he possesses that which his envy covets ?
No doubt many rich men do not understand their mission in this world. There are many who have not in their hearts that contempt for their perishable goods, and that love of the poor, which is necessary for their salvation. This, alas! is but too true; as it is also true that many of the poor love the goods of this world, and are in their hearts attached to them, even though they possess them not.
Such were the lessons which it was our Saviour's will to teach us, even from the beginning of the Gospel, in showing us the poor shepherds praying and worshipping Him in His crib, and the rich and powerful kings laying their treasures at His feet. The difference between the shepherds and the kings, so great in the eyes of men, was nothing in the eyes of God. They resembled one another in heart. The same faith, the same Charity, led them to the crib of Jesus. But, from the very first, our gracious God gave the better part to the poor. The shepherds of Bethlehem were at the very gates of the town. When warned by the voice of the Angel, they had only a few steps to walk on that blessed night, in order to reach the feet of their Saviour. The magi, on the contrary, seeing the star shine, and knowing by divine revelation that their Saviour was come, had to take a long and perilous journey before they could find Him. They had to cross mountains and deserts, and to travel day and night, to reach Bethlehem. Those whom God has placed in a high position, have in this world a more difficult journey than the poor. Their way is less straight; it is more full of snares and precipices; and as much more has been given to them, so much more will be required of them. Let us then pray for them. If the poor have in this world more sufferings and wants, the rich also hare their sorrows and pains, which the poor know not, and which spare them no more than the other children of Adam, and it is sometimes not the least of their sufferings to see themselves not loved by those whose happiness they desire to promote, and whose salvation they would procure at any cost of trouble to themselves. The poor must not envy the rich, but when their poverty seems heaviest, they should think on those words of our divine Saviour: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven! Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Let us, then, be poor in spirit. All we need do is to offer to God with good will the trials which we cannot escape. Let us offer all our most simple daily actions to our loving Jesus, the friend of the poor, who from His infancy suffered and toiled like ourselves. "We shall thus take many thorns from our daily sufferings, for bitterness and hate increase grief, as vinegar and gall inflame a wound. "We shall then be those men of good will, to whom the Angel of the Lord promised peace, on that blessed night in which our Saviour was born for us all. How must we be men of good will ? We must have ever in our hearts the will to serve God; and never perform an action, small or great, which we cannot offer to God. Oh, how much sweeter would our life become, if we had this salutary thought ever before our eyes. What peace should we find in our sufferings, even in those most painful to us.
We know that the life of the Blessed Virgin is the brightest example of the poverty which is pleasing to God, and which God blesses. Brought up in the temple, far. from suffering and toil, she accepted it as a precious gift, when she united her life with that of the humble Joseph. Truly poor in spirit, she loved poverty as a veil, as a means of making for herself, in the midst of the world, a blessed solitude, in which all her thoughts went to God, in which all her actions were still for God, while she shed around her spouse and her Son that serene atmosphere of domestic happiness which poverty does not exclude. Wives and mothers of families, strive to be like the Blessed Virgin Mary. If, like her, you would make at the domestic hearth a solitude in which devoted and constant labour brings happiness, into which bitterness never penetrates, in which smiles and peace, and forgiveness, if needed, is ever to be found, your husbands and sons, even though far from resembling St. Joseph and the Infant Jesus, would soon come to accept their toilsome existence, and perhaps to love it. In all the sufferings brought on you by your poverty, turn with confidence to Mary. She understands them all. "When a mother sees the smallest and weakest of her children suffering and weary, weeping and stretching out their hands towards her, does she not lift them in her arms, and warm them in her bosom, while she wipes their tears away ?
We well know that Mary's tenderness for us surpasses that of any mother, and the more suffering are her children, the more readily does she listen to their voice when they call, the more readily does she receive them into her motherly arms, warm them at her bosom, and lavish on them the treasures of her love. Let us then take courage; for life is short, and heaven is beautiful! This is but a sorrowful journey for us all. Let us pray together, let us pray for one another, and let us ask Mary to guide our steps towards the country which awaits us, where faithful hearts will find their place with the God of mercy, whose will it is that we all should call Him our Father.
O Mary! what must have been thy holy joy when thou didst for the first time hear thy Son hailed by men by the name of Saviour, of Christ, and of Lord! Thou didst receive in silence the words of the angels, related by poor shepherds, and thou didst keep in thy heart all these wonders. The poor and lowly ones, who first brought thee this joy must be thy most special friends; the poor and lowly herdsmen and labourers are gathered together to-day before thee, at the crib of thy Son, offering Him their worship and their prayers, and humbly asking to be received and listened to, as were the happy shepherds of Bethlehem. Eat others also, seemingly more favoured on this earth, possessing in different degrees the goods of fortune, according as it has pleased our heavenly Father to distribute them, are prostrate not less humbly at thy feet.
United together, and instructed, no longer by angels and the star, but by the Church, we hail in this feeble Infant, lying on straw, the Saviour of the world, Christ our common Lord and Master, come to ransom us all by His Blood, and to bring to us all the new law of grace and charity.
And thou, Mary, whom He has chosen to be His Mother, we ask thee to be also our common Mother; and as we are all brothers in the blood of Jesus Christ, as we are all brothers in thy arms, teach us to love one another as brothers.
Teach us to keep, like thee, in our hearts, the remembrance of the wonders which we have heard to-day. Grant that, happy in the knowledge that a Saviour is born to us, we may prepare our souls to receive the teaching, and faithfully to obey the precepts of this gracious Master.
To serve God, each one in his own place, and to believe that the position in which God has placed us is the best for the salvation of our soul. All to become brothers through our common love of Jesus.