The Adoration of the Shepherd and the Circumcision
From THE MYSTICAL CITY OF GOD, Ven. Mary Agreda
TAN Books and Publishers; With Ecclesiastical Appr.
After the courtiers of Heaven had thus celebrated the birth of God made man near the portals of Bethlehem, some of them were immediately dispatched to different places, in order to announce the happy news to those, who according to the Divine will were properly disposed to hear it. The holy prince Michael betook himself to the holy Patriarchs in limbo and announced to them, how the Only-begotten of the eternal Father was already born into the world and was resting, humble and meek, as they had prophesied, in a manger between two beasts. He addressed also in a special manner holy Joachim and Anne in the name of the blessed Mother, who had enjoined this upon him; he congratulated them, that their Daughter now held in her arms the Desired of nations and Him, Who had been foretold by all the Patriarchs and Prophets (Is. 7, 14; 9, 7, etc.). It was the most consoling and joyful day, which this great gathering of the just and the Saints had yet had during their long banishment. All of them acknowledged this new God-man as the true Author of eternal salvation, and they composed and sang new songs of adoration and worship in His praise.
Another of the holy Angels that attended and guarded the heavenly Mother was sent to Saint Elisabeth and her son John. On hearing this news of the birth of the Redeemer, the prudent matron and her son, although he was yet of so tender an age, prostrated themselves upon the earth and adored their God made man in spirit and in truth (John 4, 23). The child which had been consecrated as His Precursor, was renewed interiorly with a spirit more inflamed than that of Elias, causing new admiration and jubilation in the Angels themselves. Saint John and his mother requested our Queen through the Angels, that She in the name of them both, adore her most holy Son and offer Him their services; all of which the heavenly Queen immediately fulfilled.
Amongst all these, the shepherds of that region, who were watching their flocks at the time of the birth of Christ, were especially blessed (Luke 2, 8); not only because they accepted the labor and inconvenience of their calling with resignation from the hand of God; but also because, being poor and humble, and despised by the world, they belonged in sincerity and uprightness of heart to those Israelites, who fervently hoped and longed for the coming of the Messias, speaking and discoursing of Him among themselves many times. They resembled the Author of life, as they were removed from the riches, vanity and ostentation of the world and far from its diabolical cunning (John 10, 14). They exhibited in the circumstances of their calling the office, which the good Shepherd had come to fulfill in knowing His Sheep and being known to them. Hence they merited to be called and invited, as the first fruits of the Saints by the Savior Himself, to be the very first ones, to whom the eternal and incarnate Word manifested Himself and by whom He wished to be praised, served and adored. Hence the archangel Gabriel was sent to them as they watched on the field, appearing to them in human form and with great splendor.
The shepherds found themselves suddenly enveloped and bathed in the celestial radiance of the Angel, and at his sight, being little versed in such visions, they were filled with great fear. The holy prince reassured them and said: "Ye upright men, be not afraid: for I announce to you tidings of great joy, which is, that for you is born today the Redeemer Christ, our Lord, in the city of David. And as a sign of this truth, I announce to you, that you shall find the Infant wrapped in swaddling-clothes and placed in a manger" (Luke 2, 10, 12). At these words of the Angel, suddenly appeared a great multitude of the celestial army, who in voices of sweet harmony sang to the Most High these words: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will." Rehearsing this Divine canticle, so new to the world, the holy Angels disappeared. All this happened in the fourth watch of the night. By this Angelic vision the humble and fortunate shepherds were filled with Divine enlightenment and were unanimously impelled by a fervent longing to make certain of this blessing and to witness with their own eyes the most high mystery of which they had been informed.
The signs which the holy Angels had indicated to them did not seem appropriate or proportioned for attesting the greatness of the Newborn to eyes of the flesh. For to lie in a manger and to be wrapped in swaddling-clothes, would not have been convincing proof of the majesty of a king, if these shepherds had not been illumined by Divine light and been enabled to penetrate the mystery. As they were free from the arrogant wisdom of the world, they were easily made proficient in the Divine wisdom. Conferring among themselves the thoughts excited by this message, they resolved to hasten in all speed to Bethlehem and see the wonder made known to them by the Lord. They departed without delay and entering the cave or portal, they found, as Saint Luke tells us, Mary and Joseph, and the Infant lying in a manger. Seeing all this they recognized the truth of what they had heard of the Child. Upon this followed an interior enlightenment consequent upon seeing the Word made flesh; for when the shepherds looked upon Him, He also glanced at them, emitting from his countenance a great effulgence, which wounded with love the sincere heart of each of these poor yet fortunate men; with Divine efficiency it changed them and renewed them, constituting them in a new state of grace and holiness and filling them with an exalted knowledge of the Divine mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption of the human race.
Prostrating themselves on the earth they adored the Word made flesh. Not any more as ignorant rustics, but as wise and prudent men they adored Him, acknowledged and magnified Him as true God and man, as Restorer and Redeemer of the human race. The heavenly Lady and Mother of the Child took notice of all that they did interiorly and exteriorly; for She saw into their inmost hearts. In highest wisdom and prudence She preserved the memory of all these happenings and pondered them in her soul, (Luke 2, 19), comparing them with the other mysteries therein contained and with the holy prophecies and sayings of the Scriptures. As She was then the organ of the holy Spirit and the representative of the Infant, She spoke to the shepherds, instructing and exhorting them to persevere in Divine love and in the service of the Most High. They also conversed with Her on their part and showed by their answers that they understood many of the mysteries. They remained in the cave from the beginning of dawn until midday, when, having given them something to eat, our great Queen sent them off full of heavenly grace and consolation.
When for the first time She placed the infant God in his arms, the most holy Mary said to him: "My husband and my helper, receive in thy arms the Creator of Heaven and earth and enjoy His amiable and sweet company, in order that my Lord and my God may be delighted and recompensed by thy faithful services (Prov. 8, 31). Take to thyself the Treasure of the eternal Father and participate in this blessing of the human race." And speaking interiorly to the Divine Infant, She said: "Sweetest Love of my soul and Light of my eyes, rest in the arms of Joseph, my friend and spouse: do thou hold sweet intercourse with him and pardon me my shortcomings. Much do I feel the loss of Thee even for one instant, but I wish to communicate without envy the good I have received, to all that are worthy" (Wis. 7, 13). Her most faithful husband, acknowledging this new blessing, humbled himself to the earth and answered: "Lady and Sovereign of the world, my Spouse, how can I, being so unworthy, presume to hold in my arms God Himself, in Whose presence tremble the pillars of Heaven? (Job 26, 11). How can this vile wormlet have courage to accept such an exalted favor? I am but dust and ashes, but do thou, Lady, assist me in my lowliness and ask His Majesty to look upon me with clemency and make me worthy through His grace."
His desire of holding the infant God and his reverential fear of Him caused in Saint Joseph heroic acts of love, of faith, of humility and profoundest reverence. Trembling with discreet fear He fell on his knees to receive Him from the hands of His most holy Mother, while sweetest tears of joy and delight copiously flowed from his eyes at a happiness so extraordinary. The Divine Infant looked at him caressingly and at the same time renewed his inmost soul with such Divine efficacy as no words will suffice to explain. He broke out in new canticles of praise at seeing himself thus enriched with such magnificent blessings and favors. After having for some time enjoyed in spirit the sweetest effects of holding in his arms the Lord, Who contains Heaven and earth (Is. 40, 12), He replaced Him into the arms of His fortunate Mother, both of them being on their knees in receiving and giving Him. Similar reverence the most prudent Mother observed every time She took Him up or relinquished Him, in which also Saint Joseph imitated Her, as often as it was his happy lot to hold the incarnate Word. When they approached His Majesty, they also made three genuflections, kissing the earth and exciting heroic acts of humility, worship and reverence. Thus both the great Queen and the blessed Joseph observed all propriety in receiving or giving the Child from and to one another.From the moment the most prudent Virgin found Herself chosen as the Mother of the Divine Word, She began to ponder upon the labors and sufferings in store for her sweetest Son. As her knowledge of Scripture was so profound, She understood all the mysteries contained therein and She began to foresee and prepare with incomparable compassion for all that He was to suffer for the Redemption of Man. This sorrow, foreseen and expected with such a full knowledge of details, was a prolonged martyrdom for the most meek Mother of the sacrificial Lamb of God (Jer. 11, 19). But in regard to the Circumcision, which was to take place after the birth of the Child, the heavenly Lady had received no command or intimation of the will of the eternal Father. This uncertainty excited the loving solicitude and sweet plaints of the tender and affectionate Mother. Her prudent foresight enabled Her to conjecture, that, as her most holy Son had come to honor and confirm His law by fulfilling it and as He had moreover come in order to suffer for men, He would be constrained by His burning love and by other motives to undergo the pains of circumcision.
Most holy Mary issued from her prayer and requested Saint Joseph to take the necessary steps for the Circumcision of the Divine Infant. With rarest prudence She avoided felling Him anything of what She had been told in answer to her prayer. She spoke as if She wished to consult Him or ask his opinion in regard to the Circumcision, saying that the time appointed by law for the Circumcision of the Child had arrived and since they had not received any orders to the contrary, it seemed necessary to comply with it. They themselves, She said, were more bound to please the Most High, to obey more punctually His precepts, and to be more zealous in the love and care of His most holy Son than all the rest of creatures, seeking to fulfill in all things the Divine pleasure in return for His incomparable favors. To these words Saint Joseph answered with the greatest modesty and discretion, saying, that, as no command to the contrary had been given concerning the Child he wished in all things to conform himself to the Divine will manifested in the common law; that, although as God the incarnate Word was not subject to the law, yet He was now clothed with our humanity, and, as a most perfect Teacher and Savior, no doubt wished to conform with other men in its fulfillment. Then he asked his heavenly Spouse how the Circumcision was to take place.
The most holy Mary answered, that the Circumcision should be performed substantially in the same way as it was performed on other children: but that She need not hand Him over or consign Him to any other person, but that She would herself hold Him in her arms. And because the delicacy and tenderness of the Infant would make this ceremony more painful to Him than to other children, they should have at hand the soothing medicine, which was ordinarily applied at circumcision. Moreover, She requested Saint Joseph to procure a crystal or glass vessel for preserving the sacred relic of the Circumcision of the Divine Infant. In the meanwhile the cautious Mother prepared some linen cloths to catch the sacred Blood, which was now for the first time to be shed for our rescue, so that not one drop of it might be lost or fall upon the ground. After these preparations the heavenly Lady asked Saint Joseph to inform the priest and request him to come to the cave where, without the necessity of bringing the Child to any other place, he might, as a fit and worthy minister of so hidden and great a sacrament, with his priestly hands perform the rite of the Circumcision.
Then most holy Mary and Joseph took counsel concerning the name to be given to the Divine Infant in the Circumcision, and the holy spouse said: "My Lady, when the holy Angel of the Most High informed me of this great sacrament, he also told me that thy most sacred Son should be called JESUS."
The Virgin Mother answered: "This same name was revealed to me when He assumed flesh in my womb; and thus receiving this name from the Most High through the mouth of His holy Angels, His ministers, it is befitting that we conform in humble reverence with the hidden and inscrutable judgments of His infinite wisdom in conferring it on my Son and Lord, and that we call Him JESUS. This name we will propose to the priest, for inscription in the register of the other circumcised children."
While the great Mistress of Heaven and Saint Joseph thus conversed with each other, innumerable Angels descended in human forms from on high, clothed in shining white garments, on which were woven red embroideries of wonderful beauty. They had palms in their hands and crowns upon their heads and emitted a greater splendor than many suns. In comparison with the beauty of these holy princes all the loveliness seen in this world appeared repulsive. But pre-eminent in splendor were the devices or escutcheons on their breasts, on each of which the sweet name of Jesus was engraved or embossed. The effulgence which each of these escutcheons emitted exceeded that of all the Angels together, and the variety of the beauty thus exhibited in this great multitude was so rare and exquisite as neither human tongue can express nor human imagination ever compass. The holy Angels divided into two choirs in the cave, keeping their gaze fixed upon the King and Lord in the arms of His virginal Mother. The chiefs of these heavenly cohorts were the two princes, Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel, shining in greater splendor than the rest and bearing in their hands, as a special distinction, the most holy name of JESUS, written in larger letters on something like cards of incomparable beauty and splendor.
The two princes presented themselves apart from the rest before their Queen and said: "Lady, this is the name of thy Son (Matt. 1, 21), which was written in the mind of God from all eternity and which the blessed Trinity has given to thy Only-begotten Son and our Lord as the signal of salvation for the whole human race; establishing Him at the same time on the throne of David. He shall reign upon it, chastise His enemies and triumph over them, making them His footstool and passing judgment upon them; He shall raise His friends to the glory of His right hand. But all this is to happen at the cost of suffering and blood; and even now He is to shed it in receiving this name, since it is that of the Savior and Redeemer; it shall be the beginning of His sufferings in obedience to the will of His eternal Father. We all are come as ministering spirits of the Most High, appointed and sent by the holy Trinity in order to serve the Only-begotten of the Father and thy own in all the mysteries and sacraments of the law of grace. We are to accompany Him and minister to Him until He shall ascend triumphantly to the celestial Jerusalem and open the portals of Heaven; afterwards we shall enjoy an especial accidental glory beyond that of the other blessed, to whom no such commission has been given." All this was witnessed by the most fortunate spouse Joseph conjointly with the Queen of Heaven; but his understanding of these happenings was not so deep as hers, for the Mother of wisdom understood and comprehended the highest mysteries of the Redemption. Although Saint Joseph understood many more mysteries than other mortals, yet he did not penetrate them in the same way as his heavenly Spouse. Both of them, however, were full of heavenly joy and admiration, and extolled the Lord in new canticles of glory. All that they experienced in these various and wonderful events surpasses human language, and certainly my own powers, and I cannot find adequate words for expressing my conceptions.
The priest came to the gates or cave of the Nativity, where the incarnate Word, resting in the arms of His Virgin Mother, awaited him. With the priest came also two other officials, who were to render such assistance as was customary at the performance of the rite. The rudeness of the dwelling at first astonished and somewhat disconcerted the priest. But the most prudent Queen spoke to him and welcomed him with such modesty and grace that his constraint soon changed into devotion and into admiration at the composure and noblest majesty of the Mother; and without knowing the cause he was moved to reverence and esteem for such an unusual personage. When the priest looked upon the face of Mary and of the Child in her arms he was filled with great devotion and tenderness, wondering at the contrast exhibited amid such poverty and in a place so lowly and despised. The priest thereupon proceeded to his duty and circumcised the Child, the true God and man. At the same time the Son of God, with immeasurable love, offered up to the eternal Father three sacrifices of so great value that each one would have been sufficient for the Redemption of a thousand worlds. The first was that He, being innocent and the Son of the true God, assumed the condition of a sinner (Phil. 2, 7) by subjecting Himself to a rite instituted as a remedy for Original Sin, and to a law not binding on Him (2 Cor. 5, 21) .The second was His willingness to suffer the pains of circumcision, which He felt as a true and perfect man. The third was the most ardent love with which He began to shed His Blood for the human race, giving thanks to the eternal Father for having given Him a human nature capable of suffering for His exaltation and glory.
This prayerful sacrifice of JESUS our Savior the Father accepted, and, according to our way of speaking, He began to declare Himself satisfied and paid for the indebtedness of humanity. The incarnate Word offered these first fruits of His Blood as pledges that He would give it all in order to consummate the Redemption and extinguish the debt of the sons of Adam. All these interior acts and movements of the Only-begotten His most holy Mother perceived, and in her heavenly wisdom She penetrated the mystery of this sacrament, acting as His Mother and in concert with Her Son and Lord in all that He was doing and suffering. True to His human nature, the Divine Infant shed tears as other children. Although the pains caused by the wounding were most severe, as well on account of the delicacy of His Body as on account of the coarseness of the knife, which was made of flint, yet His tears were caused not so much by the sensible pain as by the supernatural sorrow caused by His knowledge of the hard-heartedness of mortals. For this was more rude and unyielding than the flint, resisting His sweetest love and the Divine fire He had come to enkindle in the world and in the hearts of the faithful (Luke 12, 49). Also the tender and affectionate Mother wept, like the guileless sheep, which raises its voice in unison with the innocent lamb. In reciprocal love and compassion the Child clung to His Mother, while She sweetly caressed Him at her virginal breast and caught the sacred relics and the falling Blood in the towel.
In the meanwhile the priest asked the parents what name they wished to give to the Child in Circumcision; the great Lady, always attentive to honor her spouse, asked Saint Joseph to mention the name. Saint Joseph turned toward Her in like reverence and gave Her to understand that He thought it proper this sweet name should first flow from her mouth. Therefore, by Divine interference, both Mary and Joseph said at the same time; "JESUS is His name." The priest answered: "The parents are unanimously agreed, and great is the name which they give to the Child"; and thereupon he inscribed it in the tablet or register of names of the rest of the children. While writing it the priest felt great interior movements, so that he shed copious tears; and wondering at what he felt yet not being able to account for, he said: "I am convinced that this Child is to be a great Prophet of the Lord. Have great care in raising Him, and tell me in what I can relieve your needs." Most holy Mary and Joseph answered the priest with humble gratitude and dismissed him after offering him the gift of some candles and other articles.
Being again left alone with the Child, most holy Mary and Joseph
anew the mystery of the Circumcision, commenting on the holy name of
amid sweet canticles and tears of joy, the fuller knowledge of which
also of other mysteries which I have mentioned) is reserved as an
accidental glory to the Saints in Heaven. The most prudent Mother
to the wound caused by the knife such medicines as were wont to be used
on such occasions for other children, and during the time while the
and the healing lasted She would not for a moment part with Him,
Him in her arms day and night. The tender love of the heavenly Mother
beyond all comprehension or understanding of man; for her natural love
was greater than any other mother was capable of, and her supernatural
love exceeded that of all the Angels and Saints together. Her reverence
and worship cannot be compared with that of any other created being.
were the delights of the incarnate Word (Prov. 8, 31), which He desired
and longed for among the children of men; and this was the recompense,
which His loving heart drew from the exceeding sanctity of the Virgin
for the sorrows occasioned Him by their behavior.
WORDS OF THE QUEEN
My daughter, I wish
thee to consider attentively the blessed favor conferred upon thee by
informed of the solicitous care and attention which I lavished upon my
most holy and sweetest Son in the mysteries just now described. The
High does not give thee this special light in order only to be regaled
by the knowledge of these mysteries; but in order to imitate me in all
these things as a faithful handmaid and in order to distinguish thyself
in rendering thanks for His works in the same measure as thou art
in knowing them more fully. Ponder, then, dearest, upon the small
given for the love of my Son and Lord by mortals, and how forgetful of
thanks even His faithful continue to be. Assume it as thy task, as far
as thy weak powers allow, to render satisfaction for this grievous
loving Him, thanking Him and serving Him with all thy powers, for all
other men who fail to do so. Therefore thou must be an angel in
most fervent and punctual on all occasions; thou must die to all
things, eliminating and crushing all human inclinations and rising upon
the wings of love to the heights of love designed for thee by the Lord.
Thou art not ignorant of the sweet efficacy contained in the memory of the works performed by my most holy Son: and although thou canst so copiously avail thyself of the light given thee to be thankful: yet, in order that thou mayest fear so much the more the danger of forgetfulness, I particularly inform thee that the Saints in Heaven, comprehending by the Divine light these mysteries, are astonished at themselves for not having paid more attention to them during their life. And if they were capable of pain, they would be deeply grieved for their tardiness and carelessness in not having, set proper value upon the works for the Redemption, and for failing in the imitation of Christ. All the Angels and Saints, by an insight hidden to mortals, wonder at the cruelty of human hearts against themselves and against Christ their Redeemer. Men have compassion neither for the sufferings of the Lord, nor for the sufferings they themselves stand in danger of incurring. When the foreknown, in unending bitterness shall recognize their dreadful forgetfulness and their indifference to the works of Christ their Savior, their confusion and despair will be an intolerable punishment, and it alone will be a chastisement beyond all imagination; for they will then see the copiousness of the Redemption, which they have despised (Ps. 44, 11). Hear me, my daughter, and bend thy ears to these counsels and doctrines of eternal life. Cast out from thy faculties every image and affection toward human creatures and turn all the powers of thy heart and soul toward the mysteries and blessings of the Redemption. Occupy thyself wholly with them, ponder and weigh them, give thanks for them as if thou alone wert in existence, as if they had been wrought solely for thee, and singly for each human being in particular (Gal. 2, 20). Thus thou wilt find life and the way of life, proceeding thus thou canst not err; but thou shalt find therein the light of thy eyes and true peace.