In the Bosom of Mary
FR. FREDERICK WILLIAM FABER, D.D.
Priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri
Such was the existence which began that night in Mary's Bosom. If we look at it in the general, so as to get a view of its characteristics, it seems to us, first of all, a life of oblation. Worship was its predominant idea. Adoration was the mold in which it was cast. It continually reflected God. Yet it was not a private life, not a life which looked only to God and itself, and so was sanctified. Its oblations were not simply its individual worship of God, but they belonged to all creation, and were offered in its name. They were coextensive with creation. They covered all the ground which created worship could cover, and satisfied all the claims of the Creator. In this life oblation was not so much a distinct virtue, as the attitude of all its virtues. Its destiny was that of a victim, and from its place and bearing as victim it never stirred for one moment, not even when it was working miracles. It contained within itself the infinite materials of an infinite and endless sacrifice. The business set before it was to consume these materials perpetually for the glory of God.
Thus it was incense, as well as victim, incense ever rising up with all commingled aromas of created sanctity, before the Throne on high. It was always burning, and never burned itself away. Its human soul was the thurible in which it was fragrantly consumed, offered, asleep or waking, by night or day, with every pulse of its human life. It was the priest also, as well as the victim and the incense. With a Divine bravery it slew itself. It was incessantly slaying itself, and delighting in the slow martyrdom. The unction of an eternal priesthood was upon it, raising its self-sacrifice far above the level of mortal heroism. The mere thought that created life, a human life, should have reached the height, which that life reached, is a joy forever.
This was the grand characteristic of the life, its posture of oblation, its ever-smoking unconsumed sacrifice, its ministration at its own altar. Then it was also a life of imprisonment. Broad, exulting, magnificent as it was, it was imprisoned. It was imprisoned while it was outflowing over all creation. Confinement in the little created home of Mary's Bosom was the lot of that which was almost infinite. Darkness was around the life which was the beacon of all ages, the far-reaching light of all created spirits. Obscurity environed that life over which the Angels were keeping jubilee, and which was in God's eye as thought it were no less than all creation, including, comprehending, imaging, surpassing all. Its energy needed not the limits of our activity. A cloistered life among men may cover the whole earth with its activity, if it be a life of worship, while the conqueror, the statesman, or the man of letters have at most but a circle which they only influence partially, and in which their influence is but one of many influences. Worship alone is power, intellectual power and moral power, the power of world-wide change and of all beneficent revolution. We not only learn this lesson from the life of confinement which the Incarnate Word led in Mary's Bosom, but it is that life which gives our life power to become universal like itself.
It was a life of silence also. The great Teacher, the utterer of the marvelous parables, the preacher of the world-stirring sermons, the oracle Whose single words have become vocations, institutions, and histories, finds silence no bar to the fertility of His action. Silence has ever been as it were the luxury of great holiness, which implies that it contains something Divine within itself. So it is the first life which He, the eternally silent-spoken Word of the Father, chooses for Himself. All His after-life was colored by it. In His childhood He let speech seem to come slowly to Him, as if He were acquiring it like others, so that under this disguise He might prolong His silence, delaying thus even His colloquies with Mary. Mary also herself, and Joseph, caught from Him, as by a heavenly contagion, a beautiful taciturnity. In His years of hidden life, silence still prevailed in the holy house of Nazareth. Words, infrequent and brief, trembled in the air, like music which was too sweet for one strain to efface another, while the first still vibrated in the listening ear. In the three years' Ministry, which was given up to talking and teaching, He spoke as a silent man would speak, or like a God making revelations. Then in His Passion, when He had to teach by His beautiful way of suffering, silence came back again, just as an old habit returns at death, and became once more a characteristic feature of His life. So now He, Who was the expressive eloquence of all the hidden grandeurs of the Father, was mute and dumb in Mary's Bosom.
It was a life also of weakness. Helplessness, humiliation, and a kind of shame were round about Him. He chose them as His first created state. This choice was one of the primary laws of the Incarnation, as a mission to fallen man. He clung to it through the Three-and Thirty Years. He made it to be the supernatural condition of His Church, that sort of continual triumphant defeat in which her life so visibly consists. He perpetuated it for Himself in the Blessed Sacrament. It was as if weakness was so new to omnipotence that there was an attraction in its novelty. To show forth power in weakness, to be feeble and yet to be strong also, and not only strong together with the weakness, but actually because of it-----this was to display one of those hidden and nameless perfections in God, which we should perhaps never have seen except by the light of the Incarnation, though by that light we see it now in nature also. Yet what was the strength of all creation to that single created weakness of His! All the world's helpfulness was but a ray out of His helplessness. No man's work, be it for himself or for his fellows, has any true strength in it, no man's strength is any thing better than effort and gesticulation, except the weakness of Christ have touched it, nerved it, and made it manful with a heavenly manfulness. What are half the literatures and philosophies in the world but gesticulation, men in attitudes which effect nothing, voices raised to screaming partly from irritation at the sense of impotence and partly to save appearances and counterfeit strength by noise? The strong man is he who has gone deepest down into the weakness of Christ. The enduring work is that which Christ's humiliation has touched secretly, and made it almost omnipotent.
His life in Mary's Bosom was also a life of poverty. This is perhaps the most notable among all His predilections. He loved poverty among things, as He loved Mary among persons. It was an acting out in the multiplicity of creation the unity of the Creator. The soul is hampered by material helps. Strength is in fewness. Work lies in singleness of purpose. The victory is with him who has nothing to lose, and, if so be, needs less than the nothing he has got. Though God Himself is untold wealth, riches are not godlike. For it is not so much that God has wealth, as that He is His Own wealth. They are rich who possess God; but they are richest who possess nothing but God. All creation belongs to him to whom God is his sole possession. The idea of wealth would uncrown Jesus in our minds, and desecrate the sacredness of the Incarnation. Humanity, at its highest point of holiness, is ever enamored of poverty. Yet it was almost more as God than as man, that Jesus put riches away from His Sacred Humanity. For His poverty went further than created riches. Although He had so marvelously endowed His human nature with the riches of the Godhead, there were many mysterious ways in which during His whole life, and especially in His Passion, He put aside from His Sacred Humanity even the riches of His Godhead, and the legitimate, we might have said inevitable, inheritance of the Hypostatic Union, as if even that wealth were an encumbrance. Look at the Eternal Word, first in the Bosom of the Father, and then in the Bosom of Mary, and say whether a lower depth of poverty can be conceived. Is it not one of those things which comes so nigh to a change in the Unchangeable, that we hardly see how it is not a change?
Such was the character of the life which God began to lead in His own creation, as soon as ever He had assumed His created nature. It is surely a most unexpected one, and full of disclosures which take away our breath by their Divine strangeness. It is most deeply to be studied, giving us as it does almost an insight into the interior of God, and making us acquainted with Him in a different way from His great attributes, of which theology takes direct cognizance. Surely this life is a fact in history, more significant than all its other facts put together; nay, rightly considered, it is itself the true significance of those other facts. But let us pass from His manner of life to His actual occupations, and endeavor to construct a biography of the Eternal Word during those Nine Months in Mary's Bosom.
His chief and sovereign occupation was in adoring God as the author both of nature and of grace. His infused science, in union with His incomparable holiness, rendered His worship of God quite a distinct service from ours, though it is both the cause and the example and the merit of ours. It was a pouring out before God of multiplied infinities of worship. He saw in their entireness the immeasurable claims of God's glory, and He sent forth continuous streams of worship to all points at once. He saw reasons we can never see for adoring God, and He saw them also transcendentally and eminently, and in a certain most true sense He satisfied all of them to the full. He covered, and covered at once massively and beautifully, every perfection of the Divine Majesty with the pure gold of His oblation. This was His incessant occupation. All other occupations centered in this, resolved themselves into this, identified themselves with this. It is the single occupation, of which the rest are manifold developments. Hence also, as we shall see hereafter, He occupied Himself with rejoicing in His created nature, and not least of all because, by its seeing God clearly, it possessed such an idea of worship, which the Hypostatic Union gave Him the capabilities of satisfying.
Incessantly also was He sanctifying Mary with the most marvelous operations of unitive love. She was penetrated, as with innumerable arrows, by the constant, keen, effulgent irradiations of His grace. Her whole being was saturated with His. She was transformed into His image as no Saint has ever been. It is impossible for us to imagine how He was occupied with her, or how her finite nature and limited capacities gave Him so much to do. The variety of her graces, as well as their eminence, is beyond our comprehension. Nevertheless He had been using His wisdom, His power, His providence, His mercy, and His love, upon this single planet of ours perhaps for millions and millions of cycles of ages, advancing and developing His idea, like some sublime workman, without changing or modifying, even while He was variegating His original and irreformable conception. So was it with the cosmogony of grace in Mary. She had her epochs, and her generations, and her developments, in the long life of her sanctification, longer than it can be counted by mere days and months; only that in her nothing passed away, no graces became extinct. They grew in size, and they multiplied in virtue. New species were created in her constantly, but the old ones did not die away, either before the face of the new ones, or to make room for them. She was a world, in which He occupied Himself perpetually; and, if His paradise was so beautiful to begin with that it drew Him down from the Father's Bosom, what must have been His love of us which drew Him out of it nine months afterward, when by His Own handiwork it had become so unspeakably more beautiful!
The government of the world was another of His occupations in the Bosom of Mary. Worlds far off in the starry distances presented Him with innumerable occasions every hour for His far-reaching providence. The countless meteors that flashed through space were guided by Him. The ripening of invisible worlds, or worlds which from Nazareth seemed but like a needle's point of unsteady light, and which perhaps were one day to be the abode of rational creatures, was presided over by Him, and none of its minutest details was without Him. His influence was felt in incessant vibrations all through the vast realms of space, while He lay hidden in His obscure planetary residence in the Bosom of Mary. In that same recess mighty effluxes of glory went forth from Him, like the outpouring of an ocean through ample straits, into the wide realm of Angels. He managed with minutest management the health and sickness, the joy and sorrow, the fountains of thought and the energies of action, of all the dwellers upon earth, who little deemed that their center and their cause was in the Bosom of a little Hebrew maiden. He was already occupied in that created home with our concerns of this far-distant age. He saw us in the light of His redeeming love, and apportioned to us that superabundant share of graces which we all feel that we have received---graces more than sufficient many times over to have secured our salvation. Already in that hiding-place was He saving souls. Already did men feel in temptation stronger helps of grace than they had felt before. Already was there a light round death-beds which there had seldom been in the elder times. Already did something like day begin to dawn on those who lay in honest questioning darkness. In the Bosom of Mary also He entered upon His office of judge. We know that He judges us, not as God, but as man. It is one of the grandest prerogatives of His Sacred Humanity. The grounds seem most insufficient for supposing that He delayed the exercise of this power until after the Resurrection. We believe therefore that the first soul that left its body after the moment of the Incarnation, and thenceforth all departing souls, were solemnly judged by Him in His created nature, and that for nine long months He held His solemn assize in Mary's Bosom. Heaven also, and Hell, and Purgatory, and Limbus, felt Him as He waved His scepter behind the curtain, pavilioned, true monarch of the Orient as He was, in the fragrant inner chamber of His Mother's life.
There are flowers which give out their perfume in the shade, and grow more sweet as the sun mounts higher in the sky. They lie hidden under cool beds of rank green herbage, beneath the shadow of mighty trees; and yet when the warm air of the noon has heated the unsunny forest, these blossoms fill the foliaged aisles with their prevailing incense. Their odor gives a poetry and a character to the woodland scene, and by that odor the spot lives in our memory afterward. Such is the sweet fragrance of St. Joseph in the Church, stealing upon us unawares, perpetually increasing, and especially filling with itself all the shades of Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Egypt, but not reaching to the bare exposed heights of Calvary. Throughout the Sacred Infancy, St. Joseph is the odorous undergrowth of all its mysteries. We cause the perfume of his blossoms to rise up as we stir among them; and while we seem to be heeding it but little, because the Mother and the Child are so visible and beautiful, nevertheless we should miss it, and stay our steps, and wonder, if it were to cease. Who can doubt but that His dear and chosen foster-father was another of our Lord's occupations in Mary's Bosom? Of all sanctities in the Church, St. Joseph's is that which lies deepest down and is the hardest to see distinctly. We feel how immense it must have been. The honor of Jesus, and the office of St. Joseph toward His Mother and Himself, all point to an unusual effusion of graces upon him, while the lights, which transpire as it were through chinks in the Gospel, indicate a most divine, and at the same time a most deeply hidden, life. At times we seem to see renewed in him the character of one of the old patriarchs, especially Abraham when in his simple tent-life amidst the pastoral solitudes of Mesopotamia; or we are reminded of the first Joseph, like the second Joseph by contrast, on the margin of the Nile. Then again there are glimpses which betoken the fashion of New Testament sanctity, which make us hesitate in taking the view, in many respects so fitting, that in him the Old Testament holiness reached its highest and most beautiful development, and so touched Jesus, and abode in the circle of the Incarnation as representing that more ancient sanctity. At any rate, most marvelously must our Lord have enveloped St. Joseph with light and love, and wrought diligently in his soul with operations of the most astonishing and consummate grace. If magnificence is the inseparable accompaniment of all the Divine perfections, there are none which it accompanies in a more special, though at the same time hidden, manner than the attribute of justice; and it was peculiarly from God's justice that the exuberance of St. Joseph's graces proceeded. Who does not know the beautiful munificence of gratitude even among the sons of men? What then must gratitude be like in God? The sanctification of St. Joseph, the eminence of his interior beauty, must represent it. Our Lord as it were put Himself under obligations to St. Joseph, as well as in subordination to him. His fair and spotless soul was the cloister built round Mary's innocence. In his paternal fostering arms the Child was laid, Who had no father but the Eternal. On Mary's score, and on His Own, how much had Jesus condescended to owe to Joseph! His payment was in holiness. When therefore we think of the offices for which he was paid, and Who it was that paid him, must we not confess that Joseph also was a world by himself in the vast resplendent creation of grace, whose beautiful light and fair shining in its huge orbit we perceive with exultation, while it is hidden from us in its details by the immensity of its distance, and also by the strangeness of its phenomena, which will not altogether keep to our more limited analogies? On him truly the Word in Mary's Bosom spent much labor, in God's sense of labor, with jubilee of love, and exultation in the glorious perfection and variety of his loving work.
The peerless jewel of redeeming grace, that highest point to which redeeming love ever attained, the Immaculate Conception, had been effected by Him, when he dwelt only in the Father's Bosom. In it He laid the foundation-stone of His created home, being Himself external to it; for it was yet unbuilt. Since He had taken up His abode in Mary's Bosom, His work on her had rather been the continuing and perfecting of that adornment of her in which we have already seen the Holy Trinity especially engaged. In the soul of St. Joseph also His work had been eminently one of sanctification, though of course sanctification through redeeming grace. But now, rejoicing like a giant to run His course, He will signalize His advent by work of sheer redeeming grace, which should be second to none but the Immaculate Conception, unless indeed the same unrevealed privilege had been accorded to St. Joseph. Hidden upon earth in His Mother's bosom, like Himself, there is an unborn child, somewhat older, indeed six months older, than Himself who is eternal. This child has been from everlasting elected to mighty things. He has been chosen to be our Lord's Precursor. He is the old world's second Elias, a burning as well as a shining light. His destiny is so great that hitherto no man born of woman has had a greater; and in some sense, therefore, was it greater than St. Joseph's. St. Joseph perhaps was more deeply embedded in the Divine light. God pressed him more closely to Himself, as a mother almost hides her child in her bosom by the closeness of her embrace; while the Baptist was more held forth at arm's length to men, that they might see His light, and His light shine free and full upon them. This child also is one of the Word's primal ideas, and one of His most beautiful elections, part of the gorgeous circle or hierarchy of the Incarnation. But at the present moment he lies in darkness. The stain of Original Sin is on that soul, so capable of such a mighty indwelling of Divine light. He is in the power of the evil one. God's great enemy has a kind of dominion in Him, and, by the common laws of things, He must be born before he will be capable of any merciful ordinance by which his fetters can be broken and he can be free to fly and nestle in the bosom of his Creator. The time of reason God in His compassion will anticipate for the children of all those who are in covenant with Him, but the time of birth He has never yet anticipated for anyone included in the decree of sin, unless it was for the prophet Jeremias, and for St. Joseph. By a wonderful untimeliness of mercy, the unborn Jesus will now go and redeem the Baptist gloriously, while he too is yet unborn. The unincarnate Savior redeemed millions before His actual Incarnation, His Mother singularly above the rest. The incarnate but unborn Savior too shall redeem millions in those nine months, the unborn Baptist singularly above the rest. Like a new pulse of impetuous gladness, the Babe in Mary's Bosom drives her forth. With swift step, as if the precipitate gracefulness of her walk were the outward sign of her inward joy, and she were beating time with her body to the music that was so jubilant within, the Mother traverses the hills of Juda, while Joseph follows her in an amazement of revering love. Like Jesus walking swiftly to His Passion, as if Calvary were drawing Him like a magnet, so the staid and modest virgin sped onward to the dwelling of Elizabeth in Hebron. The Everlasting Word within trembled in the tone of Mary's voice, and the babe heard it, and "leaped in his Mother's womb," and the chains of Original Sin fell off from him, and he was justified by redeeming grace, and the full use of his majestic reason was given to him, and he made acts of adoring love such as never patriarch or prophet yet had made; and he was instantaneously raised to a dazzling height of sanctity, which is a memorial and a wonder in Heaven to this day; and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost thrilled through his mother at the moment, and she was filled full of God, and her first act, in consequence of this plenitude of God, was a worshipful recognition of the grandeur of the Mother of God; and all these miracles were accomplished before yet the accents of Mary's voice had died away upon the air. Straightway the Word arose within His Mother's Bosom, and enthroned Himself upon her sinless heart, and, borrowing her voice, which had already been to Him the instrument of His power, the sacrament of John's redemption, he sang the unfathomable Magnificat, out of whose depths music has gone on streaming upon the enchanted earth all ages since.
But what must a life of nine whole months have been, when such occupations as these were but a moment's miracle! Almost always we may be sure that what we see of God is less grand than what we do not see. He shows us what we can bear, and strengthens us to see much which our weak nature could never bear; and yet after all it is little better than the surface of His brightness, the back of His glory, as Moses calls it, which we see. Even the grandeur, which we see, we do not see in its real greatness, its absolute and essential gloriousness. Yet how wonderful are these few samples of the occupations of the Nine Months, which we have been allowed to see! If these are few, and superficial, and not in their true depth comprehended by us, what must have been the works of that active and contemplative life, so full of reality, energy, substance, and accomplishment, as we have already seen it to be! What must they have been in multitude, since these were momentary! What in grandeur, since these lie within our reach! What in unknown wonders, of whose existence we cannot dream, because they are so far down in God! It comes before us sometimes in confused sublimity at prayer. Our eyes are turned upward, like the eagle's in its flight, yet we feel that we are wheeling, nay, almost resting, over an abyss of unfathomable Divine depth below, having seemed to cross the edge from the firm land of faith in our fervor, and unconsciously to intrude upon the happier land of sight. But it is one of faith's gifts, and not its least, to find repose, security, and the sense of home precisely in the dark, vacant magnificence of the mysteries of God.BACK----------NEXT