Frederick William Faber, D. D.


Bethlehem: The Bosom of Mary, Part 3

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. HOLY FAMILYWe 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 marvellously 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, here 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.

Let us turn from this life in Mary's Bosom to her own contemporary life. It too is full of God and of Divine significances, very needful to be contemplated if we would rightly understand the life of the Word within her. All the wide kingdoms of God's creation are fair to look upon. There is not a single province of it which is not so beautiful as to fascinate the mind and heart of man. It is no wonder men fall into such an idolatry of science. Even departments of science which concern themselves with the details of but one section of creation, rather than a kingdom of it, can readily so absorb the faculties of a large mind as to make it almost dead to other truth, blind to other beauty, and incapable of other interests. The animal propensities of men must be strong indeed to keep down intellectual idolatry even to the pitch which it has attained in the present age, when the alluring charms of science, with its broad regions of exhilarating discovery, are taken into consideration. Surely nothing but the better enchantment of God, the nobler spells of spiritual wisdom, the emancipating captivity of Divine faith, can withstand the attractions of scientific research; more especially in the case of the physical sciences, where God's actual works are more immediately the objects of our investigation, and not, as in the case of mental and moral sciences, the systems in which other men have embodied their puny views of what God has done. The contact with God is less immediate in these latter sciences, and the very phenomena have an uncertainty about them. The recesses, in which physical science works, are more authentic Divine laboratories, where man's meddling has less overlaid God's footprints, and the disturbing force of moral evil is less perceptible. But if the physical sciences are, in our present imperfect state, more attractive to most men than the mental sciences, they in their turn must yield in interest and beauty to the sciences which are Divine. Theology is the proper interpretation of all sciences. It is the central science in which alone all sciences are true, and all sciences one. The objects of faith, while they are more cosmic than any phenomena, are also unspeakably more beautiful, because they are Divine, and more interesting, because we each of us have an individual interest in them, and they concern our eternity as well as our time. Theology has some departments which more resemble the physical sciences, such as the treatises on God, the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, and Beatitude; others again are more akin to the mental sciences, as the treatises on Grace, on Human Actions, and on Laws; while the treatises on the Sacraments unite, and often in a perplexing way, the characteristics of both.

But of all the kingdoms of God's creation, there are none, the paradise of the Sacred Humanity excepted, to compare with the interior of Mary's soul, the inward beauty, the marvellous wisdom, the consummate graces of that chosen queenly creature. We must try to bring before ourselves some picture of her life during those Nine Months from the Annunciation to the Nativity. She bore the Incarnate God within herself. She had an unclouded consciousness of her rank in creation. She possessed such a degree of infused science as enabled her more clearly to comprehend the vast mystery within her than the most piercing intelligence in all the realm of Angels. She stood already upon a height of sanctity, which no definitions can at all adequately express, [1] so that there was a sense in which God found her worthy of the sublimity of her exaltation. Like a material world being fashioned and completed, so was she a spiritual world, grander and broader than all material creation, being fashioned by her Creator, and she was conscious of the unutterable process, and adoringly passive under it, with the most meritorious of all possible consents. She was placed even in a kind of created superiority over Him, because she possessed the rights of a Mother, and His physical life was dependent upon her, and His possession of His Soul had hung for a moment on her consent. Now, can we at all put ourselves in the position of such a creature? Can we divine how she would feel and act, how she would love, and hope, and believe, and worship? There must be guesses in all sciences. We advance by guessing, as often as by discovery. All that is needful is that our guesses should be in harmony with the indubitable and authentic analogies of our science.

We must suppose, then, that, short of the Beatific Vision and also of the joys of the Sacred Heart, no creature ever had a joy equal to the delight of Mary in possessing the Incarnate God within herself, compassing the Incomprehensible, exercising dominion over the Omnipotent, and being united with Him Who is infinite Beatitude, in such a union that His life and hers were one. Is it even clear that the Beatific Vision is equal to this joy simply in the greatness of the joy? From some points of view we should consider Mary's bliss in this respect to be greater than many degrees of the Beatific Vision; and still more if, as some revelations of the Saints would seem to intimate, she did transiently, and from time to time, during those nine months enjoy the Beatific Vision also. But in kind at least this joy of hers stands alone. None other is like it. It is single in creation. It is obviously a different joy from the Beatific Vision, because it is quite a different possession of God. It is as it were the other side of our Lord's joy in His Sacred Heart, which arose from the sense of His being the Creator, and yet being in such a wondrous and singular union with a created nature; while the joy of Mary resided mainly in the sense of her being a creature, yet in such solitary and peculiar relations to the Creator. It could not help but be an exceeding joy, and yet it could not help also but be the masterful unity of her whole life. It must. not only have colored every thing else, but every thing else must simply have subsided into it. It must have made every other component part of life different, because of its sovereign presence. Yet Mary knew that it was only for a season. She was conscious that the mystery must pass on into another, and that this present state must give place to a new state. Moreover, our Lord's mysteries did not merely change. They rose as well as changed. They developed. They grew in beauty, and had a multiplied significance. Thus her first sight of His new-born Face at Bethlehem was a kind of Beatific Vision for her still to desire, something which seemed to leave her present joy incomplete as well as transitory. Yet the enjoyment of God, however transitory, is in another sense never incomplete. Thus her bliss was like that of the Blessed in Heaven, in so far as it united in itself satiety and desire, the most complete enjoyment, and yet a sweet insatiable hungering for more, which last in her case was a certain expectation. She had satiety; for how could she be other than satisfied when she possessed God within her bosom, and possessed Him in such a singular way and with such a transcending reality? He surely filled her nature, vast as its capacities were, to overflowing. Every pulse, that beat in her, reposed upon Him in a way in which no creature out of Heaven reposed on Him before. Yet her very satiety fed her intense desire. She yearned for more, without being the less satisfied with what she now enjoyed. A tranquil disquietude, a hungry contentment, a restful craving, these are the contradictory expressions by which we express to ourselves our own idea of her state. To use the word of the Church, it was a state of "expectation," that beautiful and touching mystery in honor of which she keeps a special festival, whereby she helps her children to clothe themselves with some portion of the grandeur of the Mother's mind, as fitting preparation for celebrating the Son's Nativity.
In order to understand Mary's expectation, we must bring before ourselves a picture of her mind, one falling far below the original in brightness of coloring and in fulness of representation, yet such a picture as we can make for ourselves. No creature out of Heaven,----save the Soul of the Babe within her, ever saw the Divinity so clearly as she; and she saw it, as none else can see it, substantially in herself, and physically compassed there. What must that be which shall waken further expectations, when she is brooding over such a sea of glorious light and speechless calm as that? Moreover, no doctor of the Church, not even the Apostles, comprehended the scheme of redemption, with all its complicated graces, its magnificent disclosures of the Divine perfections, its marvellous compensations, its abundant triumphs, the delicate machinery of its supernatural operations, more truly or completely than she did. She took in at a glance its colossal proportions as a whole, while she read off the ever-varying expressions of each lineament of that mystery which may be defined as the full Face of God turned toward creation. The past history of the world, with all its needs of a Savior, lay before her, with a Divine light interpreting the entangled puzzles which human actions have painted upon it, and showing how tranquilly God's glory is unravelling it all into the orderly and ornate unity in which it originally lay in the intention of the Creator. The grand depths of Scripture were giving out to her perpetually a magnificent wisdom, as if the inner folds of the Divine Mind were being unrolled before her. The schools of Athens would have been rich indeed if they had been endowed with one scintillation of the wisdom, which out of the Hebrew oracles was falling ever more in showers of light upon her. The Thirty-Three Years lay before her, as a painted country with its provinces lies before us in a map, and as she gazed upon the crowded vision, every faculty of her soul was heroically clothed with the spirit of sacrifice and the enthusiasm of magnanimity. Shadows fell upon her soul out of the cloudless skies of that vision, and her Divine life deepened as ever and anon they passed upon her. They, who have spent their boyhood among the mountains, may remember the sacred awe which passed upon them, as they lay upon the lonely heights, when under the blue and cloudless heavens a strange shadow fell over them and rested vibratingly upon them, and yet they knew themselves to be alone upon the mountain-top; and, at last, they perceived that it was some huge falcon or eagle in the sunny air, balancing itself high up betwixt the sun and them and gazing down upon them, a shadow not wholly free from fear. Thus it was with our Lady's dolors in the vision of the Three-and-Thirty Years. They cast shadows when there were no clouds, as if, like birds of prey, they had been allowed to sail through the unbroken brightness of that heavenly mystery.

She also saw before her in true perspective the future of the Church, its trials, and its triumphs, and her own vast influence in every age upon doctrine, devotion, and the outward fortunes of the Holy See. With its millions of figures, bearing their own blazonings with the sun full upon them, it passed like a gorgeous procession before her, wonderfully interpreted, as it passed, in the amazing soliloquies of her own supernatural philosophy. She saw the battling forms of darkness and of blood in which the Church shall close her terrestrial pilgrimage, ever fighting her way to her eternal home, and engaged in the most dire of all her conflicts on the very confines of the promised land, on the very eve of the final doom. She looked on through the mists of time, and all was clear to her. She saw the great world rocking almost off its equilibrium, not with material catastrophes---for in matter all was lawful, meek, and uniform---but with moral convulsions and mental revolutions. She saw it plunging on through space so unsteady that it seemed ever about to fling the Church off from itself, as a beast shakes off an uneasy load, or to swerve desolately from its spiritual orbit, so that in some generations good men---that is, God's men--should almost hold their breath in the terrible suspense of some inevitable and yet incredible finality. She saw it cleave through ages without precedent, through civilizations without parallel. She saw how its life of ponderous revolutions was one of lightning-like progress also, and there was a recklessness about its moral speed, and a daring in the manner with which it entangled itself in all manner of social complications, which might have depressed a seer less grand than she was. But no panic passed on her. The Babe within her was stronger than the world. His tiny infant Hand, His thin treble Voice, were enough to confine it in its groove, and to speak peace to those warring elements of mind and will which sin has thrown into ruinous combustion. Then at last she saw the great wandering creation housed in its Father's mansion, and bathed in the splendors of His eternal love, through the Precious Blood made from hers, and whose pulses she felt with unspeakable thrills throbbing within her at that moment. To what emotions of thanksgiving, to what hymns of praise, to what sciences in her soul---which were worships also---to what numberless unlanguaged and unsung Magnificats, did not all this give rise? And yet she was expecting something more!
Thus it was with the great Mother of God, still in the dawn of her virginal youth. All created things had a new meaning to her, now that they were governed from out of her. Men's faces and actions were the language of a new science to her, which philosophy might envy. Meanwhile she was sensibly receiving graces from the Babe, and those graces were unparalleled, not to be so much as imagined by any of us, perhaps barely comprehended by herself. She was consciously growing, too, in reverence and devotion to St. Joseph, as the image of the Eternal Father. She was growing out of herself into her office, out of the daughter of Anne into the Mother of God. The marvellous permitted intimacies of the Saints with God were as nothing to her colloquies---her spiritual colloquies---with the Infant Jesus. Yet with all this growth, her Expectation was growing also. But what was her Expectation like? It was a mystery of incomparable joy. All god-like things are joyous. They inherit joy by their own right. They sing songs in the soul even amidst the agonies of nature. There is no making them otherwise than joyous. They have touched God, and so they carry with them an irresistible gladness everywhere. They have an unquenchable sunshine of their own, which the surrounding darkness only makes more startlingly bright. The thorns of mortification thus become a bed of roses: yet not a thorn is blunted, nor is nature spared a wound. The pains of martyrdom attune themselves to this inward jubilee, and yet are pains as they were before. Now Mary's Expectation was full of God, and therefore it was joyous. It had two intensities of joy in it: the intensity of created holiness thirsting for the sight of God; and the intensity of an earthly mother's desire---natural, simple, and human, but immensely sanctified---to see the Face of her Babe, whom she knew to be God as well.

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 LUINI MADONNAFace 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, unrecognised, 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 centre 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 row silently the stars drift down the southern steep of the midnight sky! Yet a few moments, and the Eternal Word will come.

1. It is probable that our Lady had grace ex opere opera to all the nine months she bore our Lord. See Siuri. De Novissimis. Tract xxxi. cap. iv, sec. 76. Vega and Mendoza teach that she received grace ex opere operato every time she touched our Lord; and Sister Agreda tells us that the grace which she received in order to minister to her Son aright was a special and distinct grace, and expressly communicated to her by the Holy Trinity for that purpose, and not merely an exercise of the common virtues under which it would otherwise naturally fall.

BACK         NEXT