Taken From BETHLEHEM
Frederick William Faber, D. D.
PRIEST OF THE ORATORY OF ST. PHILIP NERI
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS
Bethlehem: The First Worshippers, Part 2
Our Blessed Lady presents us with the first type of devotion to the Sacred Infancy. We have already seen how in her worship of the Child she represented all creation, and immeasurably surpassed it. Her worship was in many respects a different kind from what ours can be, independently of its exceeding in degree even the worship of the Saints. She herself occupied a singular position in God's creation, which as it were spheres her apart from all other creatures. Her height is not only unattainable by any other, it is also unapproachable. She belongs to the hierarchy of the Incarnation, and has what may be called rights over our Blessed Lord, which are sufficient of themselves to give a distinct character to her worship of Him. In all this, therefore, she was admirable rather than imitable, and it is not of such things that we are now going to speak. She is an example as well as a wonder; and it is her pattern which we are at present to put before ourselves. Our possibilities of holiness are greater than we like to suppose. We estimate them below the truth, because it is painful to our self-love to contemplate such a gulf as really exists between what we actually attain and what we might attain. For the same reason we underestimate the amount of grace which we receive, in order that we may not have to force upon our own notice the difference between the height which is practicable to us through correspondence to grace positively conferred upon us, and the lowness of our real state in the spiritual life. A detailed correspondence to grace in things quite within our compass would lead us almost unawares to heights of sanctity, which nature trembles to contemplate when it beholds them in their full abrupt altitude, and not as a gradual ascent. If a man saw in one collective vision all the bodily pain and mental suffering which would successively accumulate upon him during his whole life, he would perhaps be driven to despair, or at least a shadow would lie over his spirit which would blacken all that was bright around him. In like manner men shrink from the pursuit of perfection when they realize the amount of self-crucifixion which will have taken place by the time the purposed height is gained. Thus it frightens us to think of Jesus and Mary as our examples. In our Lord's case we take refuge in His Divinity, and narrow unwarrantably the sphere of His human action. In our Lady's case we magnify her exceptional greatness, and think we do her virtues homage by putting them beyond the reach of our imitation. Even with the Saints our cowardice loves to exaggerate the admirable at the expense of the imitable. Alas! if we would but let each day's grace lead us whither it wills, with its gentle step, its kind allurement, and its easy sacrifice, in what a sweetly-incredible nearness to the world of Saints should we not find ourselves before many years were gone! It was correspondence to grace which was Mary's grandest grace. It is her correspondence to grace which interprets and accounts for her immense holiness. It was her correspondence to grace which made her sanctity congruous to her unparalleled exaltation. If we will be but as faithful to our little graces as she was to her great ones, we shall at last draw near to her, or what we may call near, by following her example in this one respect.
The distinguishing characteristic of her worship of Jesus was its humility. Those who are raised on high have a lower depth to which they can stoop, than those whom grace has simply lifted out of the abyss and left almost on its brink. But, independently of this, great sanctity seems to have a power of humiliation which is the result of all its combined graces, and not of anyone of them in particular. For both these reasons, Mary's humility has no parallel among the Saints. It distantly approaches to that unutterable self-abasement which belongs to our Blessed Lord Himself,---that grace to which He clung, and in the Blessed Sacrament still clings, with such an adorable predilection. It was through her humility that Mary received her various sanctifications. Indeed, it was through her humility that she became the Mother of God. The love of that grace fixed the eye of the Word, the eye of His eternal choice, upon her. He looked upon the lowliness of His handmaid. We speak of great graces raising us up on high; but our language would express more truth if we spoke rather of their sinking us deep in God. To sink in our own nothingness, provided we love while we are sinking, is to sink deep in God. When we sink out of sight in Him, not only out of sight of the world, but also, and much more, out of sight of self, then is our life really hidden in God, and hidden there with Christ, because His Sacred Humanity dwells so deep in God by virtue of its marvellous abasement.
Thus, we cannot doubt that, at the moment when our Lady received the grace of the Immaculate Conception, she humbled herself before God in a manner which one of the Saints even would hardly understand. By this act of humility she at once established a kind of proportion between her merits and the magnitude of the grace she had received. It was the allurement of her beautiful humility which caused the Word to anticipate the time of His Incarnation. At the moment of the Incarnation she was clothed afresh with an indescribable humility. In the creature humility is the infallible accompaniment of nearness to the Creator. It is the only created thing which enables creatures to live in the atmosphere which is immediately around the Throne. When therefore the august majesty of the Eternal lay awfully furled within her bosom, the humility which possessed her whole soul must plainly have been beyond our conceptions of that heavenly grace. But, as all her graces were ever growing, and as for nine long months there was the same abiding reason for this unspeakable self-abasement, to what a depth in God must not her humility have reached by that midnight hour in Bethlehem! Yet when she beheld her own Son, her newborn Babe, lying on the ground, and remembered that He was truly none other than the everlasting God, and the very Son of her own substance, the flower which had blossomed of her own virginal blood, she must at once have sunk into fresh and nameless depths of holiest abjection. No creature ever made an offering to the Eternal Father from lower depths than Mary when she offered Jesus to Him at the moment of His birth, except Jesus when He offered Himself to His Father at that selfsame moment, blending His oblation with His Mother's; and He found unshared depths of self-annihilation which He could not have reached had He been less than God. This then is the first example which Mary gives us,---an example whose importance and significance are greatly increased when we regard it in connection with devotion to the Sacred Humanity. It is only by an intense spirit of adoration that the heavenly virtues of these devotions are extracted and distilled into our souls.
The first fruit of humility is joy. The grace which we find in the depths to which we sink is spiritual buoyancy; and our lightness of spirit is in proportion to the profoundness of our abasement.
A mother's joy over her first-born has passed into a proverb. But no creature has ever rejoiced as Mary did. No joy was ever so deep, so holy, so beautiful, as hers. It was the joy of possessing God in a way in which none had possessed Him heretofore, a way which was the grandest work of His wisdom and His power, the greatest height of His inexplicable love of creatures. It was the joy of presenting to God what was equal to Himself, and so covering His Divine majesty with a coextensive worship. It was the joy of being able by that offering to impetrate for her fellow-creatures wonderful graces, which were new both in their abundance, their efficacy, and their excellence. It was the joy of the beauty of Jesus, of the ravishing sweetness of His Countenance, of the glorious mystery of every look and touch of Him, of the thrilling privileges of her maternal love, and of the contagion of His unspeakable joy, which passed from His Soul into hers. The whole world, by right of its creation, by right of having been created by a God so illimitably and adorably good and bright and loving, is a world of joy. Joy is so completely its nature that it can hardly help itself. It blossoms into joy without knowing what it is doing. It breaks out into mirthful songs, like a heedless child whose heart is too full of gayety for thought. It has not a line or form about it which is not beautiful. It leaps up to the sunshine, and, when it opens itself, it opens in vernal greenness, in summer flowers, in autumnal fruits, and then rests again for its winter rest, like a happy cradled infant, under its snowy coverlet adorned with fairy-like crystals, while the pageantry of the gorgeous storms only makes music round its unbroken slumber. Mary, the cause of all our joy, was herself a growth of earth, a specimen of what an unfallen world would have been; and it was on an earthly stem that Jesus Himself, the joy of all joys, blossomed and gave forth His fragrance. Thus nature and life tend to joy at all hours. Joy is their legitimate development, their proper perfection,----in fact, the very law of living; for the bare act of living is itself an inestimable joy. Nothing glorifies God so much as joy. See how the perfume lingers in the withered flower: it is the Angel of joy who cannot take heart to wing his flight back from earth to Heaven, even when his task is done. It is self which has marred this joy. It is the worship of self, the perpetual remembrance of self, the making self a centre, which has weighed the world down in its jubilee and almost over-ballasted it with sadness. It is humility above all other things which weakens or snaps asunder the holdfasts of selfishness. A lowly spirit is of necessity an unselfish one. Humility is a perpetual presence of God; and how can self be otherwise than forgotten there? An humble man is a joyous man. He is in the world, like a child, who claims no rights, and questions not the rights of God, but simply lives and expands in the sunshine round about him. The little one does not even claim the right to be happy: happiness comes to him as a fact, or rather as a gracious law, and he is happy without knowing of his happiness,---which is the truest happiness of all. So is it with him whom humility has sanctified. Morever, as joy was the original intent of creation, it must be an essential element in all worship of the Creator. Nay, is it not almost a definition of grace, the rejoicing in what is sad to fallen nature, because of the Creator's will? Thus Mary's devotion to the Babe of Bethlehem was one of transcending joy. There is no worship where there is no joy. For worship is something more than either the fear of God or the love of Him. It is delight in Him.
With Mary's joy, if not out of it, came also a fresh increase of her unutterable purity, a grace whose perfection is the complete loss of self in God. There is something in purity which is akin to infinity. It implies a detachment from creatures, an emancipation from all ignoble, even though sinless, ties, which sets us free to wing our flight to God and to nestle in Him alone. All attachment to creatures narrows our capacity for holding God. There are many earthly loves which ennoble us; but they do so by saving us from lower things, not by leading us to higher. When the competition is between earthly love and Divine, it is the last which suffers, because it is its nature to possess hearts, and not to share them. Multitudes of men often come to love God by loving men. It belongs to the Saints to have a love of men, which is nothing else than a portion of their love of God. Mary could love her Child with all the passionate fondness of a heroic mother; for her fondness was literally worship also. The excess of human love, which we name idolatry in others, in her was simple adoration. The mystery of our Lord's Nativity was in itself a mystery of purity. It was a new miracle adorning her virginity. It would therefore of itself immensely increase her purity, and render it yet more sublime. But her heavenly joy brought with it also an augmentation of this loveliest of graces. Purity is the proper gift of joyous spirits. Its home is in the sunshine, and its voice an endless song. Even while clouds and light are struggling for the mastery on earth, purity turns faith into sight; for the pure in heart wait not for Heaven. They see God now, and they see Him everywhere; and as joy brought purity, so purity brings fresh joy; for what is the sight of God but jubilee?
From our Blessed Lady's purity came her deep simplicity. This is a grace which belongs to the regions near God. In our close valleys we know but little of it. It is the soul's highest imitation of the Divine Nature. It betokens already that great victory of grace when oblivion of self no longer requires an effort, but has become like a second nature. Mary did not reflect upon herself. She did not refine with the subtleties of her lofty science on the mystery before her. She blended the earthly and Divine in her one act of worship, with something like the simplicity with which they were blended in the union of the Incarnation. Her worship sought for nothing. It rested in its object, and was content. It was not aware of itself. It took no count of things. It had lost itself in God. Yet this simplicity, whose life is in self-oblivion, how thoughtful does it make us of others, of multitudes of others, of no less a multitude than all the dwellers upon earth! Mary gives away her joy as soon as she has got it. She gives Him away for us. In the very heaven of Bethlehem she consents to the horrors of Calvary. Her first devotion to the Sacred Infancy ends in devotion to the Passion. What else but a spirit of oblation could come of such unselfishness? How many lessons are there for us in all this! How beautifully can the devotion that is forever unselfing itself perfect itself in all its various degrees by copying Mary at the feet of her new-born Babel It is a venturous humility, and yet, after all, a true humility, which dares to take no less a pattern for its worship than that of God's Own Mother, who worshipped for all God's creatures with a worship to which their united worship, endlessly prolonged, never can come near. St. Joseph presents us with a similar, yet somewhat different, type of devotion to the Sacred Infancy. We know nothing of the beginnings of this wonderful Saint. Like the fountains of the sacred river of the Egyptians, his early years are hidden in an obscurity which his subsequent greatness renders beautiful, just as the sunset is reflected in the dark and clouded east. He was doubtless high in sanctity before his Espousals with Mary. God's eternal choice of him would seem to imply as much. During the nine months the accumulation of grace upon him must have been beyond our powers of calculation. The company of Mary, the atmosphere of Jesus, the continual presence of the Incarnate God, and the fact of his own life being nothing but a series of ministries to the unborn Word, must have lifted him far above all other Saints, and perchance all Angels too. Our Lord's Birth, and the sight of His Face, must have been to him like another sanctification. The mystery of Bethlehem was enough of itself to place him among the highest of the Saints. As with Mary, self-abasement was his grandest grace. He was conscious to himself that he was the shadow of the Eternal Father, and this knowledge overwhelmed him. With the deepest reverence he hid himself in the constant thought of the dignity of his office, in the profoundest self-abjection. Commanding makes deep men more humble than obeying. St. Joseph's humility was fed all through life by having to command Jesus, by being the superior of his God. The priest who has most reason to deplore the poverty of his attainments in humility is humble at least when he comes to consecrate at Mass. For years Joseph lived in the awful sanctity of that which to the priest is but a moment. The little house at Nazareth was as the outspread square of the white corporal. All the words he spoke were almost words of consecration. A life worthy of this, up to the mark of this,---what a marvel of sanctity it must have been!
With some there are seasons, seasons which come, and do their work, and go, during which they seem blessedly possessed with the spirit of Bethlehem, and in those times nothing is seen of Calvary but its blue outline, like a mountain on the horizon. Grace has something special to do in the soul, and it does it in this way. St. Joseph must be our patron at those seasons, as having been sanctified himself with an apparent exclusiveness by these very mysteries of Bethlehem. Yet it was not with him, neither will it be with us, a devotion of unmingled sweetness. At the bottom of the Crib lies the Cross; and the Infant's Heart is a living Crucifix, for all He sleeps so softly and looks so fair. From Joseph's first fear for Mary, and the mystical darkness of his tormenting perplexity, to the very day when he laid his tired head on the lap of his Foster-Son, and slept his last sleep, it was one continued suffering, the torture of anxiety without the imperfection of disquietude. The very awe of the nine months must have killed with its perpetual sacred pressure all that was merely natural within him; and our inner nature never dies a painless death, as the outer sometimes does. Poverty must have appeared to him in a new light, less easy to bear, when Jesus and Mary were concerned. The rude men and unsympathizing women of Bethlehem were but the forerunners of the dark-eyed idolaters of Egypt, with their jealous suspicions of the Hebrew stranger, while his weak arm was the only rampart God had set round the Mother and the Child. The flight into Egypt and the return from it, the fears which would not let him dwell in the Holy City, and the rustic unkindliness of the ill-famed Nazarenes,----all these were so many Calvaries to Joseph. Sweet and beautiful as is the look of Bethlehem, they who carry the Infant Jesus in their souls carry the Cross also, and where He pillows His head he leaves the marks behind Him of an unseen Crown of thorns. In truth, the death of Joseph was itself a martyrdom. He was worn out with love of the Holy Child. It was love, Divine love, which slew him; so that his devotion was like that of the Holy Innocents, a devotion of martyrdom and blood.
The foundation therefore of Joseph's devotion was, as with Mary, his humility. Yet his humility was somewhat different from hers. It was another kind of grace. It was less self-forgetting. Its eye was always on its own unworthiness. It was a humility that forever seemed surprised at its own gifts, and yet so tranquil that there was nothing in it either of the precipitation or the ungracefulness of a surprise. He was unselfishness itself, the very personification of it. His whole life meant others, and did not mean himself. This was the significance of his vocation. He was an instrument with a living soul, an accessory, not a principal, a superior, only to be the more a satellite. He was simply the visible providence of Jesus and Mary. But his unselfishness did not take the shape of self-oblivion. Hence his peculiar grace was self-possession. Calmness amid anxiety, considerateness amid startling mysteries, a quiet heart combined with an excruciating sensitiveness, a self-consciousness maintained for the single purpose of an unintermitting immolation of self, the promptitude of docility grafted on the slowness of age and the measuredness of natural character, unbroken sweetness amid harassing cares, abrupt changes and unexpected situations, a facile passiveness under each movement of grace, each touch of God's finger, as if he were floating over earth rather than rooted in it, the seeming victim of a wayward romantic lot and of dark Divine enigmas, yet calm, incurious, unquestioning, unbewildered, reposing upon God,---these are the operations of grace which seem to us so wonderful in Joseph's soul. It was a soul which glassed in its pellucid tranquillity all the images of heavenly things that were round about it. When mysterious graces were showered down upon him, there is hardly a stir to be seen upon his silent passiveness. He seems to take them as if they were the common sunshine, and the common air, and the dew which fell on all men and not on himself alone. He was like the speechless, silver-shining, glassy lake, just trembling with the thin, noiseless rain-drops, while it rather hushes than quickens its only half-audible pulses on the blue gravelled shore. It almost seems as if joined with his self-possession there was also an unconsciousness of his great graces, if we could think that great Saints did not know their graces as none others know them. He was not a light that shone, he was rather an odor that breathed, in the house of God. He was like the mountain-woods in the wet weeping summer. They speak to Heaven by their manifold fragrances, which yet make one woodland odor, like the many dialects of a rich language,---as if the fresh wind-driven drops beat the sensitive leaves of many hidden and sequestered plants, and so made them give out their perfumes, just as sorrow by its gentle bruising brings out hidden sweetness from all characters of men. So it was with St. Joseph. He moves about among the mysteries of the Sacred Infancy, a shy, silent figure. Between the going and coming of great mysteries we just hear him, as we hear the rain timidly whispering among the leaves in the intervals of the deep-toned thunder. But his odor is everywhere. It is the very genius of the place. It clings to our garments, and lingers in our senses, even when we have left the Cave of Bethlehem and gone out into the world's work.
His mind was turned inward, upon his dread office, rather than outward, on the harvest of God's glory among men. This follows from his self-possession. He stood in an official position; but it was only toward God, not toward both God and men, as was our Lady's case. Hence there was less of the spirit of oblation about Joseph than about Mary. He and God were together. He knew not of others, except as making him suffer, and so winning themselves titles to his love. The sacerdotal character of Mary's holiness was not apparent in him. He was a priest of the Infant Jesus, neither to sacrifice Him nor to offer Him, but only to guard Him, to handle Him with reverence and to worship Him. Like a deacon he might bear the Precious Blood, but not consecrate it. Or he was the priestly sacristan to whose custody the tabernacle was committed. This was more his office than saying Mass. All this was in keeping with his reserve. It was to be expected that the shadow of the Eternal Father should move without sound over the world. Shadows speak only by the shade they cast, deepening, beautifying, harmonizing all things, filling the hearts they cover with the mute eloquence of tenderest emotions. God is perhaps more communicative than He is reserved. For, though He has told us less than He has withheld, yet how much more, out of sheer love, has He told us than we needed to know! And what has He kept back except that which because of our littleness we could not know, or that which for our good it was better we should not know? Some Saints represent to us this communicativeness of God, and others His reserve. St. Joseph is the head and father of these last. It is strange that, while Saints have often shown forth to men the union of justice and of mercy which there is in God, or the combination of swiftness and of slowness in the Divine operations, and others of the apparent contrarieties in God, no Saint appears to have ever copied him in the union of communicativeness and of reserve. We find that illustrated only in the Incarnate Word and His Immaculate Mother. St. Joseph was the image of the Father. The Father had spoken once, speaks now, His unbroken Eternal Word. Joseph needed but to stand by in silence and fold gently in his arms that Word which the Father was yet speaking. The manifested Word, the outpoured Spirit, of them Joseph was not the representative. They only hung him round with the splendors of Their dear love, because he was the image of the Father. Such does he seem to our eyes, such is the image of him which rests in our loving hearts,---mute, rapture-bound, awe-stricken, with his soul tranquil, unearthly, shadowy, like the loveliness of night, and the beautiful age upon his face speaking there like a silent utterance, a free, placid, and melodious thanksgiving to the Most Holy
We find our third type of devotion to the Infant Jesus in St. John the Baptist. As to Joseph, so also to John, Jesus came through Mary, as He comes to us. In the sweet sound of Mary's voice came the secret power of the Infant Redeemer's absolving grace. John worshipped behind the veil Him Who also from behind His veil had absolved him from his Original Sin, had broken his fetters, fulfilled him with eminent holiness, and anointed him to be His Own immediate Precursor. He too, like Joseph, was simply to be an instrument. He too was to prepare the way for the Child of Bethlehem. His light was to fade as the light of Jesus grew fuller on the sight of men. He too,---strange tenant of the wilderness, in grotesque apparel, companion of Angels and of wild beasts, a feeder on savage food!---he too was to be hidden from the gaze of men during the long first years of his life, as Joseph had been, and as his own forerunner Elias was to be through the long revolving centuries of his closing life up to the very scenes which should herald the coming Doom. Like Joseph, the Baptist was withdrawn from Calvary, and stood on the borders of the Gospel light, only half emerging from the shadows of the Old Testament. Like Joseph, he was bidden to be our Lord's superior, but, with humility unlike that of Joseph, and yet a veritable humility, he argued against his own elevation, and bowed only to the gentle command of Him Who sought Baptism at his hands, and gave for others a cleansing sacramental power to the water that could but simulate ablution to his spotless Soul. His too was a hermit spirit, like Joseph's; but his was calmly cradled in the solitudes of the desert, not chased ever more by the crowding of uncongenial men. He was a light that burned as well as shone; and of him it was that the Incarnate Word declared that none born of woman had yet been so great as he. He also belongs, like Joseph, to the Sacred Infancy, handing over his followers to Jesus, ending where his Lord began, like the moon setting as the sun rises, and, like the Holy Innocents, worshipping his Savior with his blood.
The Baptist was our Lord's first convert. His redemption was, so to speak, the first sacrament which Jesus administered. Through Mary's voice the gift of original justice was miraculously given him, the complete use of reason conferred upon him, and the immense graces communicated to him which were implied in his extraordinary office and our Lord's marvellous words about him. When we consider all these things, our Lord's quickening his Mother's steps to go and work this stupendous conversion, the grandeur ot. the mission to which Elizabeth's unborn child was destined, his exulting use of the reason supernaturally anticipated in his soul, his redemption as the first work of our Lord's love of souls in person, and possibly the next steps in the scale of graces to the Immaculate Conception, and his reception of all these things through the sweet mouth and salutation of Mary, we may form some idea of the characteristics of his devotion to the Babe of Bethlehem. Christian art has loved to depict them as children together. Yet the thought is most overwhelming, when we come to meditate upon it. Art can never express our Lord's Divinity; and so all devotional pictures fall short of the visions of our prayers. With what haste---as if Mary's haste to him were passed into his spirit and had become the law and habit of his life---would not St. John press into the presence of Jesus, his soul bounding with the exultation of his sinless sanctity, his heart overflowing with the exuberance of speechless gratitude, feasting his eyes on the beauty of that Face, while the mother's accent in the Child's voice thrilled through his whole being, like the keen tremulous piercings of an ecstasy! Yet how, while he ran forward with all this in his soul, would it not be arrested all at once, and changed to something unspeakably higher, as he passed within the circle of our Lord's Divinity! How his thanksgiving, which ought to be so eloquent, would be offered in a song-like silence to the Incarnate God, while sacred fear would turn his spell-bound gladness to mutest adoration, and his gratitude become speechless before the majesty of the Eternal thus transparently veiled in human flesh! He would tremble with delighted awe, while he felt the streams of grace, ever flowing, ever new, flooding his glorious soul from the nearness of the Divine Child. Exultation, gratitude, generosity with God, a magnificent incapacity of consorting with earthly things,---these were obviously the characteristics of his devotion to the Babe of Bethlehem. Happy they who catch his spirit! Happy they on whom God bestows an especial attraction to this resplendent Saint!
Attraction to St. John the Baptist is one of the ways to Jesus, and a way of His Own appointment, and upon which therefore a peculiar blessing rests. He was chosen to prepare men's hearts to be the thrones of their Lord. It was even he who laid the foundations of the college of the Apostles in Peter and Andrew and John, who were his disciples. Attractiveness was hung around the Baptist like a spell. In what did it consist? Doubtless, in gifts of nature as well as grace; for such is God's way. Yet it is difficult to see in what it resided. As the world counts things, he was an uncouth man. The savage air of the wilderness affected his rugged sweetness. His austerity, we might have imagined, had not the lives of the Saints in all ages taught us differently, would have driven men away from him either as an example or a teacher. His teaching was ungrateful to corrupt nature. It was reforming, unsparing, and dealt mainly in condemnations. Its manner was vehement, abrupt, and singularly without respect of persons. Yet all men gathered near him, even while he taught that his teaching was not final, that his mission was but a preparation, and that he was not the deliverer Whom they sought. All classes, trades, ranks, and professions fluttered around him, like moths round the candle, sure to be scorched by his severity, yet, whether they would or not, attracted to his light. What could his attraction be, but the sweet spirit of Bethlehem, the spirit of exultation, of generosity, of earthliness, of the freshness of abounding grace? The whole being of that austere man, most awe-inspiring as he was of all anchorets that ever were, was overflowed with gladness. He had drunk the wine of the Precious Blood when it was at its newest, and he was blessedly intoxicated to the last. It was said of him before he was born, that at his birth men should rejoice, and yet there seemed no obvious reason that it should be so. When he heard the sound of Mary's voice, he leaped with exultation in his mother's womb. It was the gladness of grace. It was the triumph of redeeming love. It was the first and freshest victory of the little Conqueror of Bethlehem. When his ears were first opened with the new gift of reason, the sounds that smote them were from Mary singing her Magnificat. How could a life ever know sadness that had so joyous, so musical a beginning? In very childhood he went away into the wilderness, lest the world should break the charm that was around his soul. He who did no miracles was himself a miracle. His life was a portent. As Elias is hidden now on some bare cloud-capped mountain or in the shades of unknown groves, wearing out in placid ecstasies his patient expectant age, so John, who was both successor and forerunner of Elias, was hidden in the wilderness, with the beautiful spirit of Bethlehem within his soul, alluring Angels to the desert spot, soothing the fierce natures of the beasts, making him insensible to the wayward tyranny of the elements, and nurturing his soul in spiritual grandeur. Innocent as he was, he would do penance as if he were a sinner, partly because he would not be outdone in generosity by God, and partly because the spirit of Bethlehem led him, like the Holy Child, to love hardship and to espouse poverty. Such was the child of the Precious Blood, whose unborn soul had been steeped in the beauty of the Magnificat. Such was the first conquest of the Babe of Bethlehem, the fair creation of grace which the Infant Creator in one instant made through the sound of His Mother's voice. Happy they who, by a special devotion to him, make themselves the companions of him who was the companion of the Infant Jesus!
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