In the Bosom of Mary
Excerpted from
Priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri

With Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur TAN BOOKS

Part Five

In the Scriptures the Face of God is spoken of as if it were the magnet of creatures. There is no doubt that by the word Face is commonly meant the Vision of God, together with all sensible presences of Him, but especially the Vision of Him. Men lived on sight. Faith was the soul's sight of the unseen. It was the attraction of created sanctity to yearn for the Face of the Creator, or rather such yearning was itself sanctity. There are many faces of things in the world, and almost all of them are very beautiful. Even those, which are not joyous, have a beautiful sadness about them. There are frowning faces of things, expressions which sin has brought over the countenance of nature, as age brings wrinkles. Life too has weary-looking aspects: yet in truth there is nothing in life to weary us but sin, or the sinless want of God. But all these faces of things, beautiful, or beautifully sad, or dark and frowning, have all a look of expectation upon them. Their features say they are not final. There is no resting in the best of them for any soul of man. Even in an unfallen creation the face of things would never satisfy the soul. There is a kind of infinite capability about it, which glorious and lovely creations by thousands might flow into forever and yet leave it an everlasting void, an unfertile desolation. The hidden Face of the Creator, the unveiling of that hidden Face---it was this for which men were to yearn. It was the lesson life was to teach them, that there was no true life away from the Vision of that blessed and beatifying Face. Hence it is, that, when God has allured His Saints up to great heights of sanctity, beyond the cheering companionship of creatures, into the frightening Divine wastes of contemplation, where nature finds only an echoing solitude, and a wilderness of bristling rocks, and the dread of preternatural ambushes, He visits them with visions, when even their heroic courage is failing and their hearts are sinking within them. Such visions are like lights held out on the shore to those who are fighting with the stormy waters. They are disclosures beforehand, anticipations of that abiding and full Vision from which those often think themselves furthest who are in truth drawing nighest to it.

    It was thus that Mary yearned for that earthly beatific Vision, the Face of the Incarnate God. She had doubtless intellectual visions, as mystics call them, of the beauty of the Sacred Humanity, before that night at Bethlehem. But these would rather increase the burning of her desire, than be a satisfaction to it. Transient sights of God---do not even we know so much as that, who are lowest in grace?---only stimulate the appetite of the soul. They quicken rather than feed; or, if they feed, it is the craving of the soul which they feed, rather than the soul itself. The awful nearness of that vision, actually at the moment infolded within herself, must have thrilled through her, as she thought of it. She knew how that to her immense science that infantine human Face of the Eternal Word would be an illuminated picture of the Divine perfections. It would be a new disclosure of God to her, new as all God's disclosures of himself are daily to every soul. She would gaze on that Countenance, whose expressive beauty, even when it was mute and still, would, like the voiceless music of light playing on the forest, the mountain, and the sea, transparently display to her the workings of the Sacred Heart. She was on the point of seeing that human Face which was to light up all the vast Heaven for eternity, and be to it instead of sun and moon. She was to drink filial love and welcome and complacency out of the very eyes, whose beams would pour everlasting contentment into the millions of the Blessed round the throne. She was to see this Face daily, hourly, momentarily, for years. She was to watch it broaden, lengthen, and grow larger, putting off and taking on the expression of the successive ages of human life. She was to see it in the seeming unconsciousness of childhood, in the peculiar grace of boyhood, in the pensive serenity of the upgrown man; she was to see it in the rapture of Divine contemplation, in the compassionate tenderness of love, in the effulgence of heavenly wisdom, in the glow of righteous indignation, in the pathetic gravity of deep sadness, in the moments of violence, shame, physical pain, and mental agony. In each of its varying phases it was to her not less than a revelation. She was to do almost what she willed with this Divine Face. She might press it to her own face in the liberties of maternal love. She might cover with kisses the lips that are to speak the doom of all men. She might gaze upon it unrebuked, when it was sleeping or waking, until she learned it off by heart. When the Eternal was hungry, that little Face would seek her breast, and nestle there. She would wipe off the tears that ran down the infant cheeks of Uncreated Beatitude. Many a time in the water of the fountain would she wash that Face, while the Precious Blood mantled in it with the coldness of the water or the soft friction of her hand, and made it tenfold more beautiful. One day it was to lie white, blood-stained, and dead upon her lap, while for the last time the old ministries of Bethlehem, so touchingly misplaced, would have to be renewed on Calvary.

     In this Face she would see a likeness of herself. She would be able to trace her own lineaments in His. What an overwhelming mystery for a creature-overwhelming especially to her immense humility! No other creature was ever in like case on earth, nor ever will be. He will give all of us His glorious likeness in Heaven after the Resurrection; but she first gave to Him what He will give to us. God gave her His own image; she, as it were, returns it to Him after another sort. His very likeness to His Mother makes Him seem to fit more completely into His own creation. In truth it was a Face of a thousand mysteries, and she might well long to see it unveiled, and as it were inaugurated among the visible things of earth. As a creature, and as the highest of all mere creatures, she might long to see it: but her longing as a mother was something more than that. When we have imagined to ourselves all that we can imagine of the purity, intensity, and gladness of a mother's love, we have still to remember that she, who longed to see her Child's Face, was the Mother of God, and the Face she longed to see the Face of the Incarnate God. Yet the human element of maternal love in its highest perfection must always remain in our minds as an ingredient of her Expectation. Moreover, the Vision, for which she was yearning, was the vision of that same Face and Features which the Eternal Word Himself had been looking at with love, desire, and unspeakable expectation from eternity. It was a dear vision which He had cherished and made much of all through the creatureless eternity. So that Mary's devotion to the sight of that blessed Face was one of those shadows of eternal things, which were cast upon her from out of God, as the mountains are imaged in the placid lake.

    Such was her life of Expectation. It was a life of the highest spiritual perfections, occupied with Divine mysteries, and anticipating celestial bliss. It was a life which was raising her sanctity hourly to greater heights of wonderful attainment. It was a life without precedent, a life inimitable, a life to which only silent thought can do any sort of justice, and that in most inadequate degree. Yet withal it was a life of extremely natural beauty, a life exceedingly human. It was as if grace had become nature, rather than superseded it. The earthly element seemed to be that which held it together and gave it unity. It was feminine as well as saintly. It was precisely its sanctity which appeared to make it so exquisitely feminine. It was a possibility of beautiful nature realized by Him Who is the author both of nature and of grace. It was the canonization of a mother's love, in the light of which we see for a moment that deep tenderness in God out of which maternal love proceeds, and whose pure delights it adumbrates. Thus her life, while it was contemporary with the life of the Word in her Bosom, was a thoroughly human life, altogether a created  life, and as characteristically a created life as the life of the Father, with the Eternal Son in His Bosom, was an uncreated life. Of a truth it was often thus with Mary, that, when she was most wonderful, she was then most human! It was so now; it was so at the end of the twelve years in the temple at Jerusalem; it was so beneath the Cross, with the dead Body lying on her lap. Her royal womanly nature lent a grace to the very graces which adorned her, and it was in the light of earth, which was round her brow, that the jewels of her heavenly crown shone with the sweetest, and even with the Divinest, radiance. He, Who left Heaven in quest of an earthly nature, has enhanced, not overwhelmed, by His excess of glory, the earthly beauty of His Mother. Mary is not a thing, a splendor, a marvel, a trophy; she is a living person; and therefore it is her nature as woman which crowns her unspeakable maternity. God has not overpowered her with His magnificence. Rather He has given her distinctness by His gifts, and has brought out in relief the beauty of a sinless nature. Her created maternal love of the Incarnate Word is a substantial participation in the Father's uncreated paternal love of the Coequal Word; and yet, among all the loves that are, there is no love more distinguishably human than this love of hers.

     But, peculiar and unprecedented as was this life of Mary, her Expectation is nevertheless a beautiful rich type of all Christian life. Jesus is in each of us by His essence, presence, and power, and is inwardly and intimately concurring to every thought of our minds, as well as to all our outward actions. His supernatural indwelling in our souls by grace is a thing more wonderful than all miracles, and has a more efficacious energy. An attentive and pious meditation on the doctrine of grace positively casts a shadow over our spirits, because of the greatness of our gifts and our dizzy nearness to God, and we work under that shadow in hallowed fear, those fearing most who love most. Through grace He is continually being born in us and of us, by the good works which He enables us to do, and by our correspondence to grace, which is in truth a grace itself. So that the soul of one, who is in a state of grace, is a perpetual Bosom of Mary, an endless inward Bethlehem. In seasons, after Communion, He dwells in us really and substantially as God and Man; for the same Babe that was in Mary is also in the Blessed Sacrament. What is all this, but a participation in Mary's life during those wonderful months? What comes of it to us is precisely what came of it to her-----a blissful Expectation. We are always expecting more holiness, more of Him in future years, new sights of His Face in the stillness of recollection down in the twilight of our souls; and, like Mary, we are expecting Calvary as well as Bethlehem. Who is there before whose eyes at least a confused vision of suffering is not perpetually resting? What is past of life assures us that suffering must form no trifling part of what is yet to come. Besides, we all have prophecies of cares and troubles, and there is no sunshine into which the tall ends of the shadows of coming sorrows do not enter, and repose there with a soft umbrage which is almost beautiful and almost welcome. At any rate, there is death to come, and that is a strait gate at its best estate. But we are expecting also, as Mary was, the sight of our Lord's Human Face. In all our time there will not be a point more notable, more truly critical, than that at which the Vision of His Face will break upon us. Our judgment on the outskirts of the invisible world will be our Cave of Bethlehem; for then first shall we really see His Face. Yet even that sight will not altogether end our expectation; for we shall take sweet expectation with us into Purgatory, where it will feed on the memory of that Divine Face which for one moment had been unveiled before us. After that, there is a home close by the Babe of Bethlehem. It is our Home as well as Mary's Home. It is an eternal Home; and there, and there only, we shall expect no more.

     Such was the life of the Word in the Bosom of Mary; and such was the life of Mary while the Word dwelt in her Bosom. We have now to meditate on the last act of that wonderful life. The nine months draw to a close, and our Lord's last act is to journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It is toward us, as well as toward Bethlehem, that He is journeying. He is about to leave His home a second time for the love of us. As He had left His uncreated home in the Bosom of the Father, so is He now going to leave His created home that He may come to us and be still more ours. He will show us in this last action that He is not obedient merely to His holy and chosen Mother, but that He has come to be the servant of our commands and to wait upon our forwardness. He journeys to Bethlehem at the command of an earthly sovereign; and although He is a Jew, and for ages has loved, with a Divinely obstinate and most unaccountable predilection, His own people, He is obeying now a foreign sovereign, who by right of conquest is holding His people in subjection. He comes at the moment when that foreign master is enumerating His subjects and making a census of the province---as if there was something which tempted Him on the occasion, and that His humility hastened to seize upon the opportunity of being officially and authentically enrolled as a subject the moment He was born. Is it not strange that humiliation, to which the creature has such an unconquerable repugnance, seems to be the sole created thing which has an attraction for the Creator?

     As He journeyed along the roads from Nazareth to Bethlehem, all the while governing the world and judging men, how little did the world suspect His presence in Mary's Bosom! Could any advent come upon us more by stealth than this? Even the unnamed midnight when He will break upon us from the east and summon us to the final doom will hardly come more like a thief in the night, than when He came to be born at Bethlehem. There is no sign. Mary's face tells nothing. Joseph is ever more in silent prayer. It is wonderful how taciturn and secret people grow when they come near God. Yet everywhere there is that impatience which we have so often observed in the things of God, that strange mixture of slowness and precipitation which characterizes the execution of His purposes. What is the fire that burns in Mary's expectation, but a Heavenly impatience? Even Joseph's tranquillity is not insensible. His is too divine a heart to be insensible. He also, with His will laid alongside the will of God, is impatient for that hour of gladness which is to make the very Angels break forth from the coverts of their hidden life into audible and clamorous song. The hot and uneasy heart of the world, burdened, in the dark, seeking and not finding, is impatient for its deliverer. The unwearied Angels are love-wearied, waiting for their Head, Whom they expect the more eagerly now that they have seen the glorious holiness of their human Queen. The Father is, if we may dare to say it, adorably impatient to give His only-begotten Son to the world, to take His place among visible creatures. The Holy Ghost burns to bring forth into the light of day that beautiful Sacred Humanity which has been especially of His Own fashioning. The Word Himself is impatient now for Bethlehem, as He will hereafter confess Himself to be for Calvary. Meanwhile we, we ungenerous sinners, who know ourselves to be what we are, are actually part of His attraction. We are helping to hasten on this stupendous mystery. It is we who by our littleness and our vileness are making the incredible love of God so much more incredible that it is only a Divine habit of supernatural faith which can reach so far as to believe it.

    Let us look at Him once more in Mary's Bosom. How beautifully He nestles there! An eternity of purpose has come to its fulfillment there. An eternity of desire has found contentment there. Has He really left the Bosom of the Father for the greater attraction of the Bosom of the Creature? So we, indeed, are obliged to express ourselves: yet, if we look up, He is there also, there always. He has never left the Bosom of the Father; for he never could leave it. He would not be God were He so much as free to leave it. Yet is He not the less in Mary's Bosom now, preparing soon to leave it, and to be cast forth as a Heavenly exile amidst visible created things, unknown, unrecognized, as maker and lord of all, nay, even rejected, disesteemed, excommunicated, and His human life violently taken from Him, as though He were unworthy to be part of His Own Creation.
    The sun sets on the twenty-fourth of December on the low roofs of Bethlehem, and gleams with wan gold on the steep of its stony ridge. The stars come out one by one. Heaven is empty of Angels, but they show not their bright presences up among the stars. Rude men are jostling God in the alleys of that Oriental village, and shutting their doors in His Mother's face. Time itself, as if it were sentient, seems to get tremulous and eager, as though the hand of its Angel shook as it draws on toward midnight. Bethlehem is at that moment the veritable center of God's creation. Still the minutes pass. The plumage of the night grows deeper and darker. How purple is the dome of heaven above those pastoral slopes duskily spotted with recumbent sheep, and how silently the stars drift down the southern steep of the midnight sky! Yet a few moments, and the Eternal Word will come . . . . To be continued at Christmastide. The forward button will take you to the Raccolta prayers, which are very short but most beautiful.