In The Bosom of Mary
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In the Bosom of Mary

Excerpted from BETHLEHEM BY
FR. FREDERICK WILLIAM FABER, D.D.
Priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri
1814-1863
With Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur

Part One

THE Incarnation lies at the bottom of all sciences, and is their ultimate explanation. It is the secret beauty in all arts. It is the completeness of all true philosophies. It is the point of arrival and departure to all history. The destinies of nations, as well as of individuals, group themselves around it. It purifies all happiness, and glorifies all sorrow. It is the cause of all we see, and the pledge of all we hope for. It is the great central fact both of life and immortality, out of sight of which man's intellect wanders in the darkness, and the light of a Divine life falls not on his footsteps. Happy are those lands which are lying still in the sunshine of the faith, whose wayside crosses, and statues of the Virgin Mother, and triple Angelus each day, and the monuments of their cemeteries, are all so many memorials to them that their true lives lie cloistered in the single mystery of the Incarnation! We too are happy, happy in thinking that there are still such lands, few though they be and yearly fewer, for the sake of Him Whom we love and Who reaps from them such an abundant harvest of faith and love. Yet who is there that does not love his own land best of all? To us it is sad to think of this western island, with its world-wide empire, and its hearts empty of faith and the true light gone out within them. Multitudes of Saints sleep beneath its sod, so famous for its greenness. No land is so thickly studded with spire and tower as poor mute England. In no other kingdom are noble churches strewn with such a lavish hand up and down its hill and dale. Dearest land! Thou seemest worth a martyrdom for thine exceeding beauty! It must be the slow martyrdom of speaking to the deaf, of explaining to the blind, and of pleading with the hardened.

    Time was, in ages of faith, when the land would not have lain silent, as it lies now, on this eve of the twenty-fifth of March. The sweet religious music of countless bells would be ushering in the vespers of the glorious feast of the Incarnation. From the east, from central Rome, as the day declined, the news of the great feast would come, from cities and from villages, from alpine slope and blue sea-bay, over the leafless forests and the unthawed snow-drifts on the fallow uplands of France. The cold waves would crest themselves with bright foam as the peal rang out over the narrow channel: and if it were in Paschal-time, it would double men's Easter joys; and if it were in Lent, it would be a very foretaste of Easter. One moment, and the first English bell would not yet have sounded; and then Calais would have told the news to Dover, and church and chantry would have passed the note on quickly to the old Saxon-mother church of Canterbury. Thence, like a storm of music, would the news of that old eternal decree of God, out of which all creation came, have passed over the Christian island. The Saints "in their beds" would rejoice to hear Augustine, Wilfrid, and Thomas where they lie at Canterbury, Edward at Westminster, our chivalrous protoMartyr where he keeps ward amidst his flowery meads in his grand long Abbey at St. Alban's, Osmund at Salisbury, Thomas at Hereford, Richard the Wonderful at Chichester, John at Beverley, a whole choir of Saints with gentle St. William at York, onward to the glorious Cuthbert, sleeping undisturbed in his pontifical pomp beneath his abbey fortress on the seven hills of Durham. With the cold evening wind the vast accord of jubilant towers would spread over the weald of Kent, amid its moss-grown oaks and waving mistletoe. The low, humble churches of Sussex would pass it on, as day declined, to Salisbury, and Exeter, and St. Michael's fief of Cornwall. It would run like lightning up the Thames, until the many-steepled London, with its dense groves of city churches, whose spires stand thick as the ship-masts in the docks, would be alive with the joyous clangor of its airy peals, steadied as it were by the deep bass of the great national bell in the tower of Old St. Paul's. Many a stately shrine in Suffolk and Norfolk would prolong the strain, until it broke from the sea-board into all the inland counties, sprinkled with monasteries, and proud parish churches fit to be the cathedrals of bishops elsewhere, while up the Thames, by Windsor, and Reading Abbey, and the gray spires of Abingdon, Oxford with its hundred bells would send forth its voice over field and marsh to Gloucester, Worcester, and even down to Warwick and to Shrewsbury, and its southern sound would mingle with the strain that came across from Canterbury, amid the Tudor churches of the orchard-loving Somerset, at the foot of Glastonbury's legendary fane, and on the quays of Bristol, whose princely merchants abjured the slave-trade at the preaching of St. Wulstan. In the heart of the great fen, where the moon through the mist makes a fairy-land of the willows and the marsh-plants, of the stagnant dikes and the peat embankments and the straight white roads, the bells of the royal sanctuary of Ely would ring out merrily, sounding far off or sounding near as the volumes of the dense night-mist closed or parted, cheating the traveler's ear. A hundred lichen-spotted abbeys in those watery lowland would take up the strain; while great St. Mary's, like a precentor, would lead the silvery peals of venerable Cambridge, low-lying among its beautiful gardens by the waters of its meadow-stream. Lincoln from its steep capitol would make many a mile of quaking moss and black-watered fen thrill with the booming of its bells. Monastic Yorkshire, that beautiful kingdom of the Cistercians, would scatter its waves of melodious sound over the Tees into Durham and Northumberland, northward along the conventual shores of the gray North Sea, and westward over the heath-covered fells and by the brown rivers into Lancashire, and Westmoreland, and Cumberland, whose mountain-echoes would answer from blue lakes, and sullen tarns, and the crags where the raven dwells, and the ferny hollows where the red deer couches, to the bells of Carlisle, St. Bees, and Furness. Before the cold white moon of March has got the better of the lingering daylight, the island, which seemed to rock on its granite anchors far down within the ocean, as if it tingled with the pulses of deep sound, will have heard the last responses dying muffled in the dusky Cheviots, or in the recesses of gigantic Snowdon, and by the solitary lakes of St. David's land, or trembling out to sea to cheer the mariner as he draws nigh the shore of the Island of the Saints. Everywhere are the pulses of the bells beating in the hearts of men. Everywhere are their hearts happier. Everywhere, over hill and dale, in the street of the town, and by the edge of the fen, and in the rural chapels on the skirts of the hunting-chase, the Precious Blood is being out-poured on penitent souls, and the fires of faith burn brightly, and holiest prayers arise; while the Angels, from the southern mouths of the Arun and the Adur to the banks of the brawling Tweed and the sands of the foaming Solway, hear only, from the heart of a whole nation, and from the choirs of countless churches, and from thousands of reeling belfries, one prolonged Magnificat.

    These things are changed now. Let them pass. Yet not without regret. It is the Feast of the Incarnation. God is immutable. Our jubilee must be in Him. We must nestle deeper down in His Bosom, while science, and material prosperity, and a literature which has lost all echoes of Heaven, are thrusting men to the edge of external things, and forcing them down the precipice. It may be a better glory for us, if our weakness fail not in the wilderness, that our faith should have to be untied from all helps of sight and sound, and left alone in the unworldly barrenness where God and His eagles are. Poor England! Poor English souls! But it is the Feast of the Incarnation. God is immutable. Our jubilee must be in Him.

God is incomprehensible. When we speak of Him, we hardly know what we say. Faith is to us instead both of thought and tongue. In like manner those created things, which lie on the edges of His intolerable light, become indistinct through excess of brightness, and are seen confusedly as He is Himself. Thus He has drawn Mary so far into His light, that, although she is our fellow-creature, there is something inaccessible about her. She participates in a measure in His incomprehensibility. We cannot look for a moment at the noonday sun. Its shivering flames of black and silver drive us backward in blindness and in pain. Who then could hope to see plainly a little blossom floating like a lily on the surface of that gleaming fountain, and topped everywhere by its waves of fire? So is it with Mary. She lies up in the fountain-head of creation, almost at the very point where it issues from God; and amid the unbearable coruscations of the primal decrees of God she rests, almost without color or form to our dazzled eyes; only we know that she is there, and that the Divine light is her beautiful clothing. The longer we gaze upon her, the more invisible does she become, and yet at the same time the more irresistible is the attraction by which she draws us toward herself. While her personality seems to be almost merged in the grandeur of her relationship to God, our love of her own self becomes more distinct, and our own relationship to her more sweetly sensible.

     It was a wonderful life which the Eternal Word led in the Bosom of the Father. It fascinates us. We can hardly leave off speaking of it. Yet behold! He seeks also a created home. Was His eternal home wanting in aught of beauty or of joy? Let the raptured seraphs speak, who have lain for ages on the outer edge of that uncreated Bosom, burning their immortal lives away in the fires of an insatiable satiety, fed ever from the vision of that immutable Beatitude. There could be nothing lacking in the Bosom of the Father. God were not God, if He fell short of self-sufficiency. Yet deep in His unfathomable wisdom there was something which looks to our eyes like a want. There is an appearance of a desire on the part of Him to Whom there is nothing left to desire, because He is self-sufficient. This apparent desire of the Holy Trinity becomes visible to our faith in the Person of the Word. It is as if God could not contain Himself, as if He were overcharged with the fulness of His Own essence and beauty, or rather as if He were outgrowing the illimitable dimensions of Himself. It seems as He must go out of Himself, and summon creatures up from nothing, and fall upon their neck, and overwhelm them with His love, and so find rest. Alas! how words tremble, and grow wild, and lose their meanings, when they venture to touch the things of God! God's love must outflow. It seems like a necessity; yet all the while it is an eternally pondered, eternally present, freedom, glorious and calm, as freedom is in Him Who has infinite room within Himself. What looks to us so like a necessity is but the fulness of His freedom. He will go forth from Himself, and dwell in another home, perhaps a series of homes, and beatify wherever He goes, and multiply for Himself a changeful incidental glory, such as He never had before, and scatter gladness outside Himself, and call up world after world, and bathe it in His light, and communicate His inexhaustible Self inexhaustibly, and yet remain immutably the Same, awfully reposing on Himself, majestically satiating His adorable thirst for glory from the depths of His Own Self. Abysses of being are within Him, and His very freedom with a look of imperiousness allures Him into the possibilities of creation. Yet is this freedom to create, together with the free decree of creation, as eternal as that inward necessity by which the Son is ever being begotten, and the Holy Spirit ever proceeding. All this becomes visible to us in time, and visible in the Person of the Word, and only visible by supernatural revelation, which reason may corroborate, but never could discover.

    The Word in the Father's Bosom seeks another home, a created home. He will seem to leave His uncreated home, and yet He will not leave it. He will appear as though He were allured from it, while in truth He will go on filling it with His delights, as He has ever done. He will go, yet He will stay even while He goes. Whither, then, will He go? What manner of home is fit for Him, Whose home is the Bosom of the Father, and Who makes that home the glad wonder that it is? All possible things lay before Him at a glance, as on a map. They lay before Him also in the sort of perspective which time gives, and by which it makes things new. His home shall be wonderful enough; for there is no limit to His wisdom. It shall be glorious enough; for there is no boundary to His power. It shall be dear to Him beyond word or thought; for there is no end to His love. Yet even so, nothing short of an infinite condescension can find any fitness for Him in finite things. Nevertheless such as a God's power and a God's wisdom and a God's love can choose out of a God's possibilities, His created home shall be. Who then shall dream, until he has seen it, what that thrice infinite perfection of the Holy Trinity shall choose out of His inexhaustible possibilities? Who, when he has seen it, shall describe it as he ought? The glorious, adorable, and eternal Word, in the ample range of His unrestricted choice, predestinated the Bosom of Mary to be His created home, and fashioned, with well-pleased love, the Immaculate Heart which was to tenant it with Himself. O Mary, O marvelous mystical creature, O resplendent mote, lost almost to view in the upper light of the supernal fountains! who can sufficiently abase himself before thee, and weep for the want of love to love thee rightly, thee whom the Word so loved eternally?

    There were no creatures to sing anthems, in Heaven, when that choice was made. No angelic thunders of songs rolled round the Throne in oceans of melodious sound, when the Word decreed that primal object of His adorable predilection. No creations of almost Divine intelligence were there to shroud their faces with their wings, and brood in self-abasing silence on the beauty of that created Home of their Creator. There was only the silent song of God's Own awful life, and the eternal voiceless thunder of His good pleasure. Forthwith---we must speak in our own human way---the Holy Trinity begins to adorn the Word's created home with a marvelous effluence of creative skill and love. She was to be the head of all mere creatures, having a created person as well as a created nature, while her Son's created nature, with the Uncreated Person, was to be the absolute Head of all creation, the unconfused and uncommingling junction of God and of creation. She was to be a home for the Word, as the Bosom of the Father had been a home for Him, realized and completed in unity of nature. The materials which the Word was to take for His created nature were once to have been actually hers, so that the union between the Word and herself should be more awful than words can express. Each Person of the Holy Trinity claimed her for His Own by a special relationship. She was the eternally elected daughter of the Father.  There was no other relationship in which she could stand to Him, and it was a reflection of the eternal filiation of His uncreated Son. She was the Mother of the Son; for it was to the amazing realities of that office that He had summoned her out of nothing. She was the Spouse of the Holy Ghost; for He it was Who was wedded to her soul by the most transcendent unions which the kingdom of grace can boast, and it was He who out of her spotless Blood made that undefiled Flesh which the Word was to assume and to animate with His human Soul. Thus she was marked with an indelible character by Each of the Three Divine Persons. She was Their eternal idea, nearest to that Idea which was the cause of all creation, the Idea of Jesus; she was necessary, as They had willed it, to the realization of that Idea; and she came before it in priority of time and in seeming authority of office. Such is the bare statement of the place which Mary occupies in the decrees of God. All we could add would be weak compared with this. Words cannot magnify her whom thought can hardly reach; and panegyric is almost presumption,---as if what lies so close to God could be honored by our approval. Our praise of Mary, in this one respect like our praise of God, of which it is in truth a part, is best embodied in our wonder and our love.

     Was it as if God lost something, when He realized His beautiful ideas, and so creatures came in some way to share with Him in the enjoyment of their beauty? Was it as if, when His idea thus escaped Him in act, He was bereaved of His treasures, and was less rich a God than He was before? Surely not; for what was all creation, but the immensity of His communicative love finding undreamed-of outlets into unnumbered worlds? Yet the Divine Persons seem---again it is seeming of which we must speak, we whose tenses and moods are always dishonoring the inexplicable present of eternity---to brood, and wait, and ponder, and feed upon the wisdom and loveliness which lay hid in Their idea of the Word's created home. To create was to unveil the sanctuary, and They appeared to pause. At length, after an eternity which could have no Afterward, actual creation began. Angels, and matter, created together that spirit might be humble in its precedence, and then men, were as three enchanting preludes to Jesus and Mary, preludes of surpassing sweetness, full of types and symbols and shadows cast forward from what was yet to be in act, though it was prior and supreme in the Divine decrees. The Fall has come, and still God waits. The sun has set on the now tenantless Eden, but the decrees make no haste. They quicken not their pace. Four thousand years are truly as nothing, even in the age of the planet; yet they are long when souls are sinning, and hearts are pining, and the footsteps of generations fainting, because of the delay of the Messias. God still lingers. His glory seems to stoop and feed on the desires of the nations and the ages, while the shadows of doubt and the sickness of deferred hope gather round them so disconsolately. As the Sacred Humanity is the head of creation and the fountain of grace both to Angels and to men, and perhaps to other species of rational creations still unborn, so was it meet, in the Divine dispensations, that the Precious Blood of Jesus should merit all the graces necessary to ornament the Word's created home. Now that the Incarnate Word was to come as a Redeemer, His Mother must be redeemed by Him with a singular and unshared redemption. Beautiful as she was in herself, and incalculable as were her merits, her greatest graces were not merited by herself, but by that Precious Blood which was to be taken from her own. The first white lily that ever grew on that ruddy stem was the Immaculate Conception; and when the time for Mary's advent came, that was the first grace with which the Divine Persons began Their magnificent work of adorning. It was a new creation, though it was older in the mind of God, as men would speak, than the first-born Angels, or the material planet, which, if we are to credit the tales of science. so many secular epochs and millenniums had at last matured for the Incarnation.

 

Part Two

     It was on the eighth of December that those primeval decrees of God first began to spring into actual fulfillment upon earth. Like all God's purposes, they came among men with veils upon their heads, and lived in unsuspected obscurity. Yet the old cosmogony of the material world was an event of less moment far than the Immaculate Conception. When Mary's soul and body sprang from nothingness at the word of God, the Divine Persons encompassed Their chosen creature in that selfsame instant, and the grace of the Immaculate Conception was Their welcome and Their touch. The Daughter, the Mother, the Spouse, received one and the same pledge from All in that single grace, or well-head of graces, as was befitting the grandeur of her Predestination, and her relationship to the Three Divine Persons, and the dignity she was to uphold in the system of creation. In what order her graces came, how they were enchained one with another, how one was the cause of another, and how others were merely out of the gratuitous abundance of God, how they acted on her power of meriting, and how again her merits reacted upon them,---all this it is beside our purpose to speak of, even if we could do so fittingly. But the commonest grace of the lowest of us is a world of wonders itself, and of supernatural wonders also. How then shall we venture into the labyrinth of Mary's graces, or hope to come forth from it with any thing more than a perplexed and breathless admiration? It was no less than God Who was adorning her, making her the living image of the August Trinity. It was that she might be the mother of the Word and His created home, that omnipotence was thus adorning her. To the eye of God her beautiful soul and fair body had glided like stars over the abyss of a creatureless eternity, discernible amid the glowing lights and countless scintillations of the Angelic births, across the darkness of chaos and the long epochs of the ripening world, and through the night of four thousand years of wandering and of fall. How must she have come into being, if she was to come worthily of her royal predestination, and of the decrees she was obediently to fulfill, and yet with free obedience!

     Out of the abundance of the beautiful gifts with which God endowed her, some colossal graces rose, like lofty mountain tops, far above the level of the exquisite spiritual scenery which surrounded them. The use of reason from the first moment of her Immaculate Conception enabled her to advance in grace and merits beyond all calculation. Her infused science, which, from its being infused, was independent of the use of the senses, enabled her reason to operate, and thus her merits to accumulate, even during sleep. Her complete exemption from the slightest shade of venial sin raised her as nearly out of the imperfections of a creature as was consistent with finite and created holiness. Her confirmation in grace made her a heavenly being while she was yet on earth, and gave her liberty and merit a character so different from ours that in propositions regarding sin and grace we are obliged to make her an exception, together with our Blessed Lord. So gigantic were the graces of that supernatural life, which God made contemporaneous with her natural existence, that in her very first act of love her heroic virtues began far beyond the point where those of the highest Saints have ended. All this is but a dry theological description of the Word's created home, as it was when the Divine Persons clothed and adorned it as it rose from nothingness. Yet how surpassingly beautiful is the sanctity which it implies! Fifteen years went on, with those huge colossal graces, full of vitality, uninterruptedly generating new graces, and new correspondences to grace evoking from the abyss of the Word new graces still, and merits multiplying merits, so that if the world were written over with ciphers it would not represent the sum. It seems by this time as if her grace were as nearly infinite as finite thing could be, and her sanctity and purity have become so constrainingly beautiful that their constraints reach even to the Eternal Word Himself, and He yields to the force of their attractions, and anticipates His time, and hastens with inexplicable desire to take up His abode in His created home. This is what theology means when it says that Mary merited the anticipation of the time of the Incarnation.

     But let us pause for a moment here. St. Denys, when he saw the vision of Mary, said with wonder that he might have mistaken her for God. We may say, in more modern and less simple language, that Mary is like one of those great scientific truths, whose full import we never master except by long meditation, and by studying its bearings on a system, and then at last the fertility and grandeur of the truth seem endless. So it is with the Mother of God. She teaches us God as we never could else have learned Him. She mirrors more of Him in her single self, than all intelligent and material creation beside. In her the prodigies of His love toward ourselves became credible. She is the hill-top from which we gain distant views into His perfections, and see fair regions in Him, of which we should not else have dreamed. Our thoughts of Him grow worthier by means of her. The full dignity of creation shines bright in her, and, standing on her, the perfect mere creature, we look over into the depths of the Hypostatic Union, which otherwise would have been a gulf whose edges we never could have reached. The amount of human knowledge in the present age is overwhelming: yet, the deepest thinkers deem science to be only in its infancy. Many things indicate this truth. Just as each science is yearly growing, yearly outgrowing the old systems which held it within too narrow limits, so is the science of Mary growing in each loving and studious heart all through life, within the spacious domains of vast theology; and in Heaven it will forthwith outgrow all that earth's theologies have laid down as limits, limits rather necessitated by the narrowness of our own capacities than drawn from the real magnitude of her whom they define.

    Yet we should ill use Mary's magnificence, or rather we should show that we had altogether misapprehended it, if we did not use it as a revelation of God, and an approach to Him. What was it in her which so attracted God? What drew the Word from the Bosom of the Father into her Bosom with such mysterious allurement? It was as if He were following the shadow of His Own beauty. It was because the delights of the Holy Trinity were so faithfully imaged there. All was His. It was to His Own He went. It was His Own which drew Him. He was but falling in love with His Own wisdom, when He so loved her. Her natural life was His Own idea, her beauty a sparkle of His science, her birth an effortless act of His Own almighty will. Her graces were all from Him. She had nothing which she had not received. Like the moon, her loveliness was all from borrowed light, softening and glorifying even in her a thousand craters of finite imperfection, which would have yawned black and dismal if the endless shining of the sun had not beaten full upon her, making beautiful and almost luminous the very shadows that are cast from her unevenness. Her grandest realities are but pale reflections of Himself. Her mmense sanctity is less than a dew-drop of His uncreated holiness, which the beautiful white lily has caught in its cup and holds up trembling to the sunrise. Thus it is that God is all in all. Thus it is that the higher we rise in the scale of creatures, the less we see that is their own, and the more we see that all is His. The Angels gleam indistinguishably bright in their individual brightnesses, because they lie so near to God. In Mary, character, personality, special virtues, cognizable features, the creature's own separate though not independent life, are to our eyes almost obliterated, because the bloom of God flushes her all over with its radiance, making herself and the lineaments of self as indistinguishable as a broad landscape beneath the noonday sun. The orb must have sloped far westward before we can measure distances, and discern the separate folds of wood, and the various undulations of the champaign. With Mary, the Orb will never slope westward. It will stand vertical forever. But we shall have a light of glory, like a new sense, fortifying our souls, and we shall go into the blaze, and see her there with magnificent distinctness lying deep in the glow of God. She will be a million times more great and beautiful to us then than she is now, and yet we shall see that less than a mote is to the magnitude of the huge sun, so much less that it is a littleness inexpressible, is Mary, the creature, to the greatness, the holiness, the adorable incomprehensibility of her Creator! Yet in Him, not in her, will be our rest. Even Him we shall see as He is! Oh, dizzy thought! Most overwhelming truth! Yet nothing less than this Vision, to the very least of us, was the almost incredible purpose of our creation, the glorious consequence of our faint similitude to that Incarnate Word of Whom Mary was the elected Mother!

The Divine decrees came forward in their mysterious slowness. They appeared on earth, and then paused, as it seemed, for fifteen years, and then, as it were, leaped precipitately and out of course to their fulfillment. There is almost always this double appearance, first of slowness and then of precipitation, in all Divine works. It is a characteristic of them, the pondering of which will reward us when we have leisure to do so. It is as if wisdom waited and was slow, till love called in omnipotence to its aid, and forthwith gained its end. Meanwhile we must wait on the grand decree which is trembling on the very verge of its accomplishment. The Eternal Word is about to assume His created nature. All things are subordinate to this. The magnificence of Mary is but His road, His instrument, His means. Her magnificence is simply in her ministering. The day, the hour, the place, the messenger, all come at last; for His beautiful created Home is ready for Him, shining with the greatness of its graces, fragrant with the perfume of its holiness. The day has come. According to our counting, it is Friday the twenty-fifth of March. Why has it been so long delayed? This is a mystery which does not concern us. Why is it that preparation always forms so much greater a part of the Creator's works than it does of the creature's? Is it wholly for the creature's sake, or is it indicative of some perfection in the Creator? It is at least a disclosure of His character, which fixes our attention, and is not without its influence on our conduct. Why was He so long in preparing the world for the habitation of man? What means the old age of the lifeless rocks? Wherefore were those vast epochs of gigantic foliage, as if it were not beneath the minute considerateness of His love to be laying in wealth and power for generations of unborn men? Why were land and sea distributed and redistributed again and again, as if He were a fastidious artist Who could not please Himself because He could not express His idea except through repeated experiments? What end did those secular periods of huge sea-monsters and terrific creeping things subserve? Why was man so late a birth in the epoch of those perfect animals which were either his predecessors or his companions? Why should earth have to be the teeming burial-ground of dynasties dethroned and tribes extinct, before the true life for which it was meant came upon it? Who can tell? Perhaps it was not so. But, if it was so, it was His will. The delay of the Incarnation is parallel to what geology professes to reveal to us of the fitting and adorning and re-touching of the planet, if that can be called re-touching which was doubtless the simple development of a vast and tranquil uniformity. But the day came at last, the twenty-fifth of March, ever memorable among men as the date of the Incarnation. There was doubtless some deep and beautiful reason why it was not on the twenty-fourth or on the twenty-sixth, and why it should be on the anniversary of Adam's fall, and hereafter of the Crucifixion,---there was doubtless some deep reason, because God has no surface; all things are deep which are in Him.

    But of the chosen day the first moment was chosen also. The stars had scarcely marked the midnight in the sky, when the decree accomplished itself. Perhaps the greatest silence of created things, the hush of the nocturnal earth, was most suited to the Creator's coming, just as it was with Adam in the old Asiatic Paradise. Goodness, also, like evil, though for opposite reasons, affects darkness and obscurity. God seem[s] marvelously to shun witnesses. The Resurrection manifests this to us, that unwitnessed mystery, the witnessing of which was nevertheless to be a main function of the college of Apostles. Yet they even were only allowed to bear witness, not to its taking place, but to its having undoubtedly taken place. So it is in science, in all questions of life, in the creation of species, in God's viewless omnipresence, in the operation of His supernatural Sacraments, in the actual communications of grace, in all positive contacts with Him, our research is baffled on the very threshold of discovery. We just reach the point where we should see God the next moment; and without any visible obstacles, without walls or rocks or any palpable fences, we are mysteriously stayed. We can advance no further. We seem to hear the sound of God working, almost to feel His breath; but He will not be witnessed. He remains invisible. As it is in His lesser works, so was it in this His greatest. He came in the dark night, when men were unsuspecting: yet He did not take them by surprise; for, when the morning broke, He did not even tell them that He had come. Do we not know ourselves that, although we are God's creatures, and creation is full to overflowing of Him, and is meant to raise us to Him, we nevertheless feel we are most with God when least occupied with His outward creation, and draw nearest to Him in proportion as we draw back furthest from creatures? So, on His side, He seems to keep aloof, even when He is coming in closest contact with us. He shrinks from view, Whose blaze we could not bear.

    The place, where the Word's assumption of His created nature was to be effected, was the inner room, or woman's apartment, of the Holy House of Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph dwelt. It was an obscure dwelling of humble poverty in a rustic and sequestered village of a small land, whose days of historic glory had passed away, and whose destiny in the onward march of civilization would seem, as philosophical historians would speak, to be exhausted. The national independence of the people had come to an end. The questions, which divided their sects, were narrow and trivial. Jerusalem, long since eclipsed by Athens and outgrown by Alexandria, sat now, humbled and silent, beneath the somber shade of Rome. Even in this land Nazareth was almost a byword of contempt. Filled with pastoral green hills which shut it up within itself, its men were known beyond their own hills only for a coarse and fierce rusticity, with perhaps a reputation for something worse. The Eternal God was about to become a Nazarene. He, Whose eye saw down into every wooded hollow and penetrated every sylvan glen upon the globe, Who saw the white walls of fair cities perched jealously on their hill-tops or basking in the sunshine by the blue sea, chose that ill-famed, inglorious Nazareth for the scene of His great mystery. Who can deem that aught with God is accidental, or that anything happened as it might chance to happen with the central wonder of the Incarnation? It was His choice; and to us Nazareth, and its Holy House, exiled, wandering, and angel-borne, Syrian, Dalmatian, Italian, all by turns, are consecrated places, doubly consecrated by their old memories, and also by their strange continued life of local graces and the efficacious balm of a Divine Presence, awful and undecayed.

    The occupations of that Holy House at Nazareth must not pass unnoticed. The minutest feature in the most ordinary circumstance of the Creator's assumption of a created nature must be full of significance. From the Gospel narrative of the Annunciation [Luke 1: 26-40] we should infer that Mary had received no warning of what was about to happen, still less therefore of the time when the mystery should be accomplished. Great events commonly cast a peaceful trouble into great souls before they come, as if there was deep down in heroic natures something like a natural gift of prophecy. Such vibrations awakening yet indistinct, may have thrilled through Mary's soul. Otherwise the mystery took her unawares; and, till the moment came, the greatness of her science and the wonder of her conscious holiness had not so much as excited a suspicion in her beautiful humility. Her unpreparedness thus gives a greater significance to her occupations at the time. The night was still and calm around her. We know not whether Joseph was wakefully pondering on the Divine mercies, or whether that man of heavenly dreams was resting from the toils of the artisan's rude day in holy sleep. When the shadow of the everlasting decree stole upon her, Mary the wonderful and chosen creature, was alone, and, according to the universal belief, immersed in prayer. She was spending the hours of the silent night in closest union with God. Her spirit, then, as always, was doubtless raised in ecstasy to heights of rapturous contemplation. It was in the act of her prayer that the Word took possession of His created home. It was perhaps the immense increase of merit, and so the immense increase of her interior beauty, in that very prayer, which ended the delay, and precipitated the glorious mystery. It was perhaps one of her intense aspirations, an aspiration into which her whole soul and all the might of its purity were thrown, that drew the everlasting Son so suddenly at last from the Bosom of the Father. How often have the desires of the Saints been their own immediate fulfillment, because of their intensity! But what desire ever had such intensity as Mary's yearning for Messias, unless indeed it were His Own eternal longing for His created nature? It was at least in an hour of awe-stricken worship that God visited her. Her created spirit was busied in adoration, when the Uncreated came, and took His Flesh and Blood, and dwelt within her. In all this too we see the fashion of God's ways.

     Yet His coming was not abrupt. He sent His messenger, before He came himself. We know nothing of the antecedents of the individual Angels; but Gabriel appears throughout Scripture, in the days of Daniel as well as those of Mary, to be the Angel of the Incarnation. 1 There was doubtless something in his own character, something in his special graces, something in the part he had taken against the rebellious Angels, which peculiarly fitted him for this office, to which also he had unquestionably been predestinated from all eternity. It implies an extreme beauty of character, and a special relationship to each of the Three Divine Persons, and also a peculiar angelical similitude to Mary. He had been throughout the official herald of the decrees regarding the Incarnation, and he appears at this time in the midnight room at Nazareth, because the weeks of Daniel have run out, and he is preceding now, hardly by a moment, the everlasting decrees. But what is the especial purpose for which he has come? To ask in the name of God for Mary's consent to the Incarnation. The Creator will not act in this great mystery without His creature's free consent. Her freedom shall be a glorious reflection of His own ineffable freedom in the act of creation. The Omnipotent stands on ceremony with His feeble, finite creature. He has already raised her too high to be but a blind instrument. Moreover, the honor of His own assumption of a created nature is concerned in the liberty wherewith creation shall grant Him what he requires. He would not come, claiming His rights or using His prerogatives. Sometimes we have seen the tide pile up its weltering waves one upon another, as if it were building a tower of water, before some insignificant obstacle which the pressure of one rolling billow would have driven before it far up the sounding beach. This is a picture to us of the moment of the Incarnation. Innumerable decrees of God, decrees without number, like the waves of the sea, decrees that included or gave forth all other decrees, came up to the midnight room at Nazareth, as it were to the feet of that most wonderful of God's creatures, with the resistless momentum which had been given them from eternity, all glistening with the manifold splendors of the Divine perfections, like huge billows just curling to break upon the shore; and they stayed themselves there, halted in full course, and hung their accomplishment upon the Maiden's word.

     It was an awful moment. It was fully in Mary's power to have refused. Impossible as the consequences seem to make it, the matter was with her, and never did free creature exercise its freedom more freely than did she that night. How the Angels must have hung over that moment! With what adorable delight and unspeakable complacency did not the Holy Trinity await the opening of her lips, the fiat of her whom God had evoked out of nothingness, and Whose Own fiat was now to be music in His ears, creation's echo to that fiat of His at whose irresistible sweetness creation itself sprang into being! Earth only, poor, stupid, unconscious earth, slept in its cold moonshine. That Mary should have any choice at all is a complete revelation of God in itself. How a creature so encompassed and cloistered in grace could have been free in any sense to do that which was less pleasing to God is a mystery which no theology to be met with has ever yet satisfactorily explained. Nevertheless the fact is beyond controversy. She had this choice, with the uttermost freedom in her election, in some most real sense of freedom. But who could doubt what the voice would be, which should come up out of such abysses of grace as hers! There had not been yet on earth, nor in the Angels' world, an act of adoration so nearly worthy of God as that consent of hers, that conformity of her deep lowliness to the magnificent and transforming will of God. But another moment, and there will be an act of adoration greater far than that. Now God is free. Mary has made Him free. The creature has added a fresh liberty to the Creator. She has unchained the decrees, and made the sign, and in their procession, like mountainous waves of light, they broke over her in floods of golden splendor. The eternal Sea laved the queenly creature all around, and the Divine complacency rolled above her in majestic peals of soft mysterious thunder, and a God-like Shadow falls upon her for a moment, and Gabriel had disappeared, and without shock, or sound, or so much as a tingling stillness, God in a created nature sate in His immensity within her Bosom, and the eternal will was done, and creation was complete. Far off a storm of jubilee swept far-flashing through the Angelic world. But the Mother heard not, heeded not. Her head sank upon her bosom, and her soul lay down in a silence which was like the peace of God.

The Word was made flesh.

     Even to us in the retrospect it is a moment of unutterable gladness. Love ponders it many times, when the world presses heavily and life goes wearily. When all things, but God, give way, because they are void and empty, and our pursuits are like the colored ends of rainbows, seen through even while we pursue them, and always receding before us as we advance, then we find such rest and such sufficiency and such transcending calm in God, that love weeps over the weakness of its own worship, and frets with a tranquil fretfulness because it cannot love Him more. It is then that the first act of love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus rises consolingly to our remembrance. It was a finite act, and yet of value infinite. Then first was the blessed majesty of God worshipped as it deserved to be. His glory lay outspread in all its broad perfection, in all its unembraced immensity, and that first act of love embraced it. Its worship was as broad as the uncomprehended breadth that lay before it. To our thoughts, to the foolishness of our venturous thoughts as finite beings, there was something desolate in that creatureless eternity of God. It was not an uncompanioned life, because of the Three Divine Persons in One God. But worship is our highest thought, and there is something dreary in the idea of an unworshipped splendor, something appalling, like a scene oppressively sublime, in an unworshipped God. It is our own foolishness, our own littleness. Yet what vent has love except in worship? We turn from our own worship of God as beneath even the complacency of our own vain-glory. We think with joy of the Saints and of the Angels, whose adoration reaches so much nearer to the Throne. Mary's worship of God is all but rest to our eagerness to see Him loved exceedingly and worthily. But love's rest, love's sweet satiety, is in the worship of the Sacred Heart, and there alone. So that, in the first moment of the Incarnation, not only were the amazing decrees of everlasting wisdom fulfilled, and creation with incredible magnificence completed, but the creation thus completed turned round as it were to the Face of the Creator, and worshipped Him with a worship equal to Himself. When the heart is sick because "truths are diminished among the children of men," and the weight of unintelligibly triumphant and abundant sin lies heavy on it, and the mind is dragged through thorny places till it bleeds, then the frightened soul flies back to that moment of the first love of Jesus, and rests there with the more full assurance and abiding calm, because it knows that that first act of love is not ended yet. It has stretched from that old midnight at Nazareth to this hour, and is not weakened by the stretch. It can bear the weight of millions of new creations. It will wear for untold eternities. Old as it is, it is new still. It is unending. Its arms are round the majesty of God, its kiss is on His feet, for evermore.

    Thus had the Eternal Word begun His created life on earth. He had taken possession of that fair home which He had predestinated for Himself from everlasting. He had begun to live a life so full and broad and deep, that, if all the lives of Angels and men ran into one confluent stream, they would make but an insignificant and impoverished rill compared with the flood of real, enduring, solid, efficacious life which was His. It was a life without intermittence, without experiments, without failures, without inequalities. It was always at hightide, always succeeding, always reaching the ends at which it aimed, always fulfilling its purposes in the loftiest manner. It was a life without advance, without growth, beginning with its fullness both of science and of grace. It was a life which had measures, but its measures were practically immeasurable. Its worth was infinite, even while it was not absolutely infinite itself. It was a life also which comprehended all lives both of Angels and of men, touched them, vivified them, ennobled them, immortalized them. It ran over and abounded in mysteries, in merits, in satisfactions. It was the perpetual plenary indulgence of all other life that ever was. It was a life of the most absorbed contemplation, and at the same time of the most beneficent and heroic activity. It was a life of incomparable intellectual excellence, of unsurpassed moral wisdom, and of unexampled sanctity. It was a life so real and so true, so self-conscious and substantial, creating, perfecting, consolidating so much, that all other life by the side of it is but a shadow of life, a bare taking hold and letting go again, a mere ineffectual clutching of the hands in sleep. It was the life on which all noble, manful, divine lives were to be modeled, and moreover it contained the energetic cause and efficacious prophecy of all such lives within itself.
 

Part Three

   Such was the existence which began that night in Mary's Bosom. If we look at it in the general, so as to get a view of its characteristics, it seems to us, first of all, a life of oblation. Worship was its predominant idea. Adoration was the mold in which it was cast. It continually reflected God. Yet it was not a private life, not a life which looked only to God and itself, and so was sanctified. Its oblations were not simply its individual worship of God, but they belonged to all creation, and were offered in its name. They were coextensive with creation. They covered all the ground which created worship could cover, and satisfied all the claims of the Creator. In this life oblation was not so much a distinct virtue, as the attitude of all its virtues. Its destiny was that of a victim, and from its place and bearing as victim it never stirred for one moment, not even when it was working miracles. It contained within itself the infinite materials of an infinite and endless sacrifice. The business set before it was to consume these materials perpetually for the glory of God.

Thus it was incense, as well as victim, incense ever rising up with all commingled aromas of created sanctity, before the Throne on high. It was always burning, and never burned itself away. Its human soul was the thurible in which it was fragrantly consumed, offered, asleep or waking, by night or day, with every pulse of its human life. It was the priest also, as well as the victim and the incense. With a Divine bravery it slew itself. It was incessantly slaying itself, and delighting in the slow martyrdom. The unction of an eternal priesthood was upon it, raising its self-sacrifice far above the level of mortal heroism. The mere thought that created life, a human life, should have reached the height, which that life reached, is a joy forever.

     This was the grand characteristic of the life, its posture of oblation, its ever-smoking unconsumed sacrifice, its ministration at its own altar. Then it was also a life of imprisonment. Broad, exulting, magnificent as it was, it was imprisoned. It was imprisoned while it was outflowing over all creation. Confinement in the little created home of Mary's Bosom was the lot of that which was almost infinite. Darkness was around the life which was the beacon of all ages, the far-reaching light of all created spirits. Obscurity environed that life over which the Angels were keeping jubilee, and which was in God's eye as thought it were no less than all creation, including, comprehending, imaging, surpassing all. Its energy needed not the limits of our activity. A cloistered life among men may cover the whole earth with its activity, if it be a life of worship, while the conqueror, the statesman, or the man of letters have at most but a circle which they only influence partially, and in which their influence is but one of many influences. Worship alone is power, intellectual power and moral power, the power of world-wide change and of all beneficent revolution. We not only learn this lesson from the life of confinement which the Incarnate Word led in Mary's Bosom, but it is that life which gives our life power to become universal like itself.

      It was a life of silence also. The great Teacher, the utterer of the marvelous parables, the preacher of the world-stirring sermons, the oracle Whose single words have become vocations, institutions, and histories, finds silence no bar to the fertility of His action. Silence has ever been as it were the luxury of great holiness, which implies that it contains something Divine within itself. So it is the first life which He, the eternally silent-spoken Word of the Father, chooses for Himself. All His after-life was colored by it. In His childhood He let speech seem to come slowly to Him, as if He were acquiring it like others, so that under this disguise He might prolong His silence, delaying thus even His colloquies with Mary. Mary also herself, and Joseph, caught from Him, as by a heavenly contagion, a beautiful taciturnity. In His years of hidden life, silence still prevailed in the holy house of Nazareth. Words, infrequent and brief, trembled in the air, like music which was too sweet for one strain to efface another, while the first still vibrated in the listening ear. In the three years' Ministry, which was given up to talking and teaching, He spoke as a silent man would speak, or like a God making revelations. Then in His Passion, when He had to teach by His beautiful way of suffering, silence came back again, just as an old habit returns at death, and became once more a characteristic feature of His life. So now He, Who was the expressive eloquence of all the hidden grandeurs of the Father, was mute and dumb in Mary's Bosom.

     It was a life also of weakness. Helplessness, humiliation, and a kind of shame were round about Him. He chose them as His first created state. This choice was one of the primary laws of the Incarnation, as a mission to fallen man. He clung to it through the Three-and Thirty Years. He made it to be the supernatural condition of His Church, that sort of continual triumphant defeat in which her life so visibly consists. He perpetuated it for Himself in the Blessed Sacrament. It was as if weakness was so new to omnipotence that there was an attraction in its novelty. To show forth power in weakness, to be feeble and yet to be strong also, and not only strong together with the weakness, but actually because of it-----this was to display one of those hidden and nameless perfections in God, which we should perhaps never have seen except by the light of the Incarnation, though by that light we see it now in nature also. Yet what was the strength of all creation to that single created weakness of His! All the world's helpfulness was but a ray out of His helplessness. No man's work, be it for himself or for his fellows, has any true strength in it, no man's strength is any thing better than effort and gesticulation, except the weakness of Christ have touched it, nerved it, and made it manful with a heavenly manfulness. What are half the literatures and philosophies in the world but gesticulation, men in attitudes which effect nothing, voices raised to screaming partly from irritation at the sense of impotence and partly to save appearances and counterfeit strength by noise? The strong man is he who has gone deepest down into the weakness of Christ. The enduring work is that which Christ's humiliation has touched secretly, and made it almost omnipotent.

    His life in Mary's Bosom was also a life of poverty. This is perhaps the most notable among all His predilections. He loved poverty among things, as He loved Mary among persons. It was an acting out in the multiplicity of creation the unity of the Creator. The soul is hampered by material helps. Strength is in fewness. Work lies in singleness of purpose. The victory is with him who has nothing to lose, and, if so be, needs less than the nothing he has got. Though God Himself is untold wealth, riches are not godlike. For it is not so much that God has wealth, as that He is His Own wealth. They are rich who possess God; but they are richest who possess nothing but God. All creation belongs to him to whom God is his sole possession. The idea of wealth would uncrown Jesus in our minds, and desecrate the sacredness of the Incarnation. Humanity, at its highest point of holiness, is ever enamored of poverty. Yet it was almost more as God than as man, that Jesus put riches away from His Sacred Humanity. For His poverty went further than created riches. Although He had so marvelously endowed His human nature with the riches of the Godhead, there were many mysterious ways in which during His whole life, and especially in His Passion, He put aside from His Sacred Humanity even the riches of His Godhead, and the legitimate, we might have said inevitable, inheritance of the Hypostatic Union, as if even that wealth were an encumbrance. Look at the Eternal Word, first in the Bosom of the Father, and then in the Bosom of Mary, and say whether a lower depth of poverty can be conceived. Is it not one of those things which comes so nigh to a change in the Unchangeable, that we hardly see how it is not a change?

     Such was the character of the life which God began to lead in His own creation, as soon as ever He had assumed His created nature. It is surely a most unexpected one, and full of disclosures which take away our breath by their Divine strangeness. It is most deeply to be studied, giving us as it does almost an insight into the interior of God, and making us acquainted with Him in a different way from His great attributes, of which theology takes direct cognizance. Surely this life is a fact in history, more significant than all its other facts put together; nay, rightly considered, it is itself the true significance of those other facts. But let us pass from His manner of life to His actual occupations, and endeavor to construct a biography of the Eternal Word during those Nine Months in Mary's Bosom.

     His chief and sovereign occupation was in adoring God as the author both of nature and of grace. His infused science, in union with His incomparable holiness, rendered His worship of God quite a distinct service from ours, though it is both the cause and the example and the merit of ours. It was a pouring out before God of multiplied infinities of worship. He saw in their entireness the immeasurable claims of God's glory, and He sent forth continuous streams of worship to all points at once. He saw reasons we can never see for adoring God, and He saw them also transcendentally and eminently, and in a certain most true sense He satisfied all of them to the full. He covered, and covered at once massively and beautifully, every perfection of the Divine Majesty with the pure gold of His oblation. This was His incessant occupation. All other occupations centered in this, resolved themselves into this, identified themselves with this. It is the single occupation, of which the rest are manifold developments. Hence also, as we shall see hereafter, He occupied Himself with rejoicing in His created nature, and not least of all because, by its seeing God clearly, it possessed such an idea of worship, which the Hypostatic Union gave Him the capabilities of satisfying.

     Incessantly also was He sanctifying Mary with the most marvelous operations of unitive love. She was penetrated, as with innumerable arrows, by the constant, keen, effulgent irradiations of His grace. Her whole being was saturated with His. She was transformed into His image as no Saint has ever been. It is impossible for us to imagine how He was occupied with her, or how her finite nature and limited capacities gave Him so much to do. The variety of her graces, as well as their eminence, is beyond our comprehension. Nevertheless He had been using His wisdom, His power, His providence, His mercy, and His love, upon this single planet of ours perhaps for millions and millions of cycles of ages, advancing and developing His idea, like some sublime workman, without changing or modifying, even while He was variegating His original and irreformable conception. So was it with the cosmogony of grace in Mary. She had her epochs, and her generations, and her developments, in the long life of her sanctification, longer than it can be counted by mere days and months; only that in her nothing passed away, no graces became extinct. They grew in size, and they multiplied in virtue. New species were created in her constantly, but the old ones did not die away, either before the face of the new ones, or to make room for them. She was a world, in which He occupied Himself perpetually; and, if His paradise was so beautiful to begin with that it drew Him down from the Father's Bosom, what must have been His love of us which drew Him out of it nine months afterward, when by His Own handiwork it had become so unspeakably more beautiful!

    The government of the world was another of His occupations in the Bosom of Mary. Worlds far off in the starry distances presented Him with innumerable occasions every hour for His far-reaching providence. The countless meteors that flashed through space were guided by Him. The ripening of invisible worlds, or worlds which from Nazareth seemed but like a needle's point of unsteady light, and which perhaps were one day to be the abode of rational creatures, was presided over by Him, and none of its minutest details was without Him. His influence was felt in incessant vibrations all through the vast realms of space, while He lay hidden in His obscure planetary residence in the Bosom of Mary. In that same recess mighty effluxes of glory went forth from Him, like the outpouring of an ocean through ample straits, into the wide realm of Angels. He managed with minutest management the health and sickness, the joy and sorrow, the fountains of thought and the energies of action, of all the dwellers upon earth, who little deemed that their center and their cause was in the Bosom of a little Hebrew maiden. He was already occupied in that created home with our concerns of this far-distant age. He saw us in the light of His redeeming love, and apportioned to us that superabundant share of graces which we all feel that we have received---graces more than sufficient many times over to have secured our salvation. Already in that hiding-place was He saving souls. Already did men feel in temptation stronger helps of grace than they had felt before. Already was there a light round death-beds which there had seldom been in the elder times. Already did something like day begin to dawn on those who lay in honest questioning darkness. In the Bosom of Mary also He entered upon His office of judge. We know that He judges us, not as God, but as man. It is one of the grandest prerogatives of His Sacred Humanity. The grounds seem most insufficient for supposing that He delayed the exercise of this power until after the Resurrection. We believe therefore that the first soul that left its body after the moment of the Incarnation, and thenceforth all departing souls, were solemnly judged by Him in His created nature, and that for nine long months He held His solemn assize in Mary's Bosom. Heaven also, and Hell, and Purgatory, and Limbus, felt Him as He waved His scepter behind the curtain, pavilioned, true monarch of the Orient as He was, in the fragrant inner chamber of His Mother's life.

    There are flowers which give out their perfume in the shade, and grow more sweet as the sun mounts higher in the sky. They lie hidden under cool beds of rank green herbage, beneath the shadow of mighty trees; and yet when the warm air of the noon has heated the unsunny forest, these blossoms fill the foliaged aisles with their prevailing incense. Their odor gives a poetry and a character to the woodland scene, and by that odor the spot lives in our memory afterward. Such is the sweet fragrance of St. Joseph in the Church, stealing upon us unawares, perpetually increasing, and especially filling with itself all the shades of Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Egypt, but not reaching to the bare exposed heights of Calvary. Throughout the Sacred Infancy, St. Joseph is the odorous undergrowth of all its mysteries. We cause the perfume of his blossoms to rise up as we stir among them; and while we seem to be heeding it but little, because the Mother and the Child are so visible and beautiful, nevertheless we should miss it, and stay our steps, and wonder, if it were to cease. Who can doubt but that His dear and chosen foster-father was another of our Lord's occupations in Mary's Bosom? Of all sanctities in the Church, St. Joseph's is that which lies deepest down and is the hardest to see distinctly. We feel how immense it must have been. The honor of Jesus, and the office of St. Joseph toward His Mother and Himself, all point to an unusual effusion of graces upon him, while the lights, which transpire as it were through chinks in the Gospel, indicate a most divine, and at the same time a most deeply hidden, life. At times we seem to see renewed in him the character of one of the old patriarchs, especially Abraham when in his simple tent-life amidst the pastoral solitudes of Mesopotamia; or we are reminded of the first Joseph, like the second Joseph by contrast, on the margin of the Nile. Then again there are glimpses which betoken the fashion of New Testament sanctity, which make us hesitate in taking the view, in many respects so fitting, that in him the Old Testament holiness reached its highest and most beautiful development, and so touched Jesus, and abode in the circle of the Incarnation as representing that more ancient sanctity. At any rate, most marvelously must our Lord have enveloped St. Joseph with light and love, and wrought diligently in his soul with operations of the most astonishing and consummate grace. If magnificence is the inseparable accompaniment of all the Divine perfections, there are none which it accompanies in a more special, though at the same time hidden, manner than the attribute of justice; and it was peculiarly from God's justice that the exuberance of St. Joseph's graces proceeded. Who does not know the beautiful munificence of gratitude even among the sons of men? What then must gratitude be like in God? The sanctification of St. Joseph, the eminence of his interior beauty, must represent it. Our Lord as it were put Himself under obligations to St. Joseph, as well as in subordination to him. His fair and spotless soul was the cloister built round Mary's innocence. In his paternal fostering arms the Child was laid, Who had no father but the Eternal. On Mary's score, and on His Own, how much had Jesus condescended to owe to Joseph! His payment was in holiness. When therefore we think of the offices for which he was paid, and Who it was that paid him, must we not confess that Joseph also was a world by himself in the vast resplendent creation of grace, whose beautiful light and fair shining in its huge orbit we perceive with exultation, while it is hidden from us in its details by the immensity of its distance, and also by the strangeness of its phenomena, which will not altogether keep to our more limited analogies? On him truly the Word in Mary's Bosom spent much labor, in God's sense of labor, with jubilee of love, and exultation in the glorious perfection and variety of his loving work.

     The peerless jewel of redeeming grace, that highest point to which redeeming love ever attained, the Immaculate Conception, had been effected by Him, when he dwelt only in the Father's Bosom. In it He laid the foundation-stone of His created home, being Himself external to it; for it was yet unbuilt. Since He had taken up His abode in Mary's Bosom, His work on her had rather been the continuing and perfecting of that adornment of her in which we have already seen the Holy Trinity especially engaged. In the soul of St. Joseph also His work had been eminently one of sanctification, though of course sanctification through redeeming grace. But now, rejoicing like a giant to run His course, He will signalize His advent by work of sheer redeeming grace, which should be second to none but the Immaculate Conception, unless indeed the same unrevealed privilege had been accorded to St. Joseph. Hidden upon earth in His Mother's bosom, like Himself, there is an unborn child, somewhat older, indeed six months older, than Himself who is eternal. This child has been from everlasting elected to mighty things. He has been chosen to be our Lord's Precursor. He is the old world's second Elias, a burning as well as a shining light. His destiny is so great that hitherto no man born of woman has had a greater; and in some sense, therefore, was it greater than St. Joseph's. St. Joseph perhaps was more deeply embedded in the Divine light. God pressed him more closely to Himself, as a mother almost hides her child in her bosom by the closeness of her embrace; while the Baptist was more held forth at arm's length to men, that they might see His light, and His light shine free and full upon them. This child also is one of the Word's primal ideas, and one of His most beautiful elections, part of the gorgeous circle or hierarchy of the Incarnation. But at the present moment he lies in darkness. The stain of Original Sin is on that soul, so capable of such a mighty indwelling of Divine light. He is in the power of the evil one. God's great enemy has a kind of dominion in Him, and, by the common laws of things, He must be born before he will be capable of any merciful ordinance by which his fetters can be broken and he can be free to fly and nestle in the bosom of his Creator. The time of reason God in His compassion will anticipate for the children of all those who are in covenant with Him, but the time of birth He has never yet anticipated for anyone included in the decree of sin, unless it was for the prophet Jeremias, and for St. Joseph. By a wonderful untimeliness of mercy, the unborn Jesus will now go and redeem the Baptist gloriously, while he too is yet unborn. The unincarnate Savior redeemed millions before His actual Incarnation, His Mother singularly above the rest. The incarnate but unborn Savior too shall redeem millions in those nine months, the unborn Baptist singularly above the rest. Like a new pulse of impetuous gladness, the Babe in Mary's Bosom drives her forth. With swift step, as if the precipitate gracefulness of her walk were the outward sign of her inward joy, and she were beating time with her body to the music that was so jubilant within, the Mother traverses the hills of Juda, while Joseph follows her in an amazement of revering love. Like Jesus walking swiftly to His Passion, as if Calvary were drawing Him like a magnet, so the staid and modest virgin sped onward to the dwelling of Elizabeth in Hebron. The Everlasting Word within trembled in the tone of Mary's voice, and the babe heard it, and "leaped in his Mother's womb," and the chains of Original Sin fell off from him, and he was justified by redeeming grace, and the full use of his majestic reason was given to him, and he made acts of adoring love such as never patriarch or prophet yet had made; and he was instantaneously raised to a dazzling height of sanctity, which is a memorial and a wonder in Heaven to this day; and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost thrilled through his mother at the moment, and she was filled full of God, and her first act, in consequence of this plenitude of God, was a worshipful recognition of the grandeur of the Mother of God; and all these miracles were accomplished before yet the accents of Mary's voice had died away upon the air. Straightway the Word arose within His Mother's Bosom, and enthroned Himself upon her sinless heart, and, borrowing her voice, which had already been to Him the instrument of His power, the sacrament of John's redemption, he sang the unfathomable Magnificat, out of whose depths music has gone on streaming upon the enchanted earth all ages since.

     But what must a life of nine whole months have been, when such occupations as these were but a moment's miracle! Almost always we may be sure that what we see of God is less grand than what we do not see. He shows us what we can bear, and strengthens us to see much which our weak nature could never bear; and yet after all it is little better than the surface of His brightness, the back of His glory, as Moses calls it, which we see. Even the grandeur, which we see, we do not see in its real greatness, its absolute and essential gloriousness. Yet how wonderful are these few samples of the occupations of the Nine Months, which we have been allowed to see! If these are few, and superficial, and not in their true depth comprehended by us, what must have been the works of that active and contemplative life, so full of reality, energy, substance, and accomplishment, as we have already seen it to be! What must they have been in multitude, since these were momentary! What in grandeur, since these lie within our reach! What in unknown wonders, of whose existence we cannot dream, because they are so far down in God! It comes before us sometimes in confused sublimity at prayer. Our eyes are turned upward, like the eagle's in its flight, yet we feel that we are wheeling, nay, almost resting, over an abyss of unfathomable Divine depth below, having seemed to cross the edge from the firm land of faith in our fervor, and unconsciously to intrude upon the happier land of sight. But it is one of faith's gifts, and not its least, to find repose, security, and the sense of home precisely in the dark, vacant magnificence of the mysteries of God.



Part Four

     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 marvelous 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, 2 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 His 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 marvelous 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 unraveling 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 marvelous 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 godlike 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.

2. It is probable that our Lady had grace ex opere operato 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.

Part Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Feast of the Annunciation


March 25:

Taken From THE LITURGICAL YEAR by Dom Gueranger

THIS is a great day, not only to man, but even to God Himself; for it is the anniversary of the most solemn event that time has ever witnessed. On this day, the Divine Word, by Whom the Father created the world, was made flesh in the womb of a Virgin, and dwelt among us. [St. John i. 14] We must spend it in joy. Whilst we adore the Son of God Who humbled Himself by thus becoming Man, let us give thanks to the Father, Who so loved the world, as to give His Only-begotten Son; [Ibid. iii. 16] let us give thanks to the Holy Ghost, Whose almighty power achieves the great mystery. We are in the very midst of Lent, and yet the ineffable joys of Christmas are upon us: our Emmanuel is conceived on this day, and, nine months hence, will be born in Bethlehem, and the Angels will invite us to come and honour the sweet Babe.
   During Septuagesima week, we meditated upon the fall of our first parents, and the triple sentence pronounced by God against the serpent, the woman, and Adam. Our hearts were filled with fear as we reflected on the Divine malediction, the effects of which are to be felt by all generations, even to the end of the world. But in the midst of the anathemas then pronounced against us, a promise was made us by our God; it was a promise of salvation, and it enkindled hope within us. In pronouncing sentence against the serpent, God said that his head should one day be crushed, and that, too, by a woman.

  The time has come for the fulfillment of this promise. The world has been in expectation for four thousand years; and the hope of its deliverance has been kept up, in spite of all its crimes. During this time, God has made use of miracles, prophecies, and types, as a renewal of the engagement He has entered into with mankind. The Blood of the Messias has passed from Adam to Noe; from Sem to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; from David and Solomon to Joachim; and now it flows in the veins of Mary, Joachim's daughter. Mary is the woman by whom is to be taken from our race the curse that lies upon it. God has decreed that she should be Immaculate; and has thereby set an irreconcilable enmity between her and the serpent. She, a daughter of Eve, is to repair all the injury done by her mother's fall; she is to raise up her sex from the degradation into which it has been cast; she is to co-operate, directly and really, in the victory which the Son of God is about to gain over His and our enemy.

    A tradition, which has come down from the Apostolic ages, tells us that the great mystery of the Incarnation was achieved on the twenty-fifth day of March. [St. Augustine. De Trinitate, Lib. iv. cap. v] It was at the hour of midnight, when the most holy Virgin was alone and absorbed in prayer, that the Archangel Gabriel appeared before her, and asked her, in the name of the blessed Trinity, to consent to become the Mother of God. Let us assist, in spirit, at this wonderful interview between the Angel and the Virgin: and, at the same time, let us think of that other interview which took place between Eve and the serpent. A holy bishop and martyr of the second century, Saint Irenæus, who had received the tradition from the very disciples of the Apostles, shows us that Nazareth is the counterpart of Eden. [Adv. hæreses. Lib. v. cap. xix]

   In the garden of delights there is a virgin and an Angel; and a conversation takes place between them. At Nazareth a Virgin is also addressed by an Angel, and she answers him; but the Angel of the earthly paradise is a spirit of darkness, and he of Nazareth is a spirit of light. In both instances it is the Angel that has the first word. 'Why,' said the Serpent to Eve, 'hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?' His question implies impatience and a solicitation to evil; he has contempt for the frail creature to whom he addresses it, but he hates the image of God which is upon her.

   See, on the other hand, the Angel of light; see with what composure and peacefulness he approaches the Virgin of Nazareth, the new Eve; and how respectfully he bows himself down before her: ' Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou among women!' Such language is evidently of Heaven: none but an Angel could speak thus to Mary.

  Eve imprudently listens to the tempter's words; she answers him; she enters into conversation with one that dares to ask her to question the justice of God's commands. Her curiosity urges her on. She has no mistrust in the Serpent; this leads her to mistrust her Creator.

   Mary hears what Gabriel has spoken to her; but this most prudent Virgin is silent. She is surprised at the praise given her by the Angel. The purest and humblest of virgins has a dread of flattery; and the Heavenly messenger receives no reply from her, until he has fully explained his mission by these words: 'Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son: and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father: and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.'

   What magnificent promises are these, which are made to her in the name of God! What higher glory could she, a daughter of Juda, desire, knowing, as she does, that the fortunate Mother of the Messias is to be the object of the greatest veneration? And yet it tempts her not. She has for ever consecrated her virginity to God, in order that she may be the more closely united to Him by love. The grandest possible privilege, if it is to be on the condition of violating this sacred vow, would be less than nothing in her estimation. She thus answers the Angel: 'How shall this be done? because I know not man.'


   The first Eve evinces no such prudence or disinterestedness. No sooner has the wicked spirit assured her that she may break the commandment of her Divine Benefactor and not die; that the fruit of her disobedience will be a wonderful knowledge, which will put her on an equality with God Himself : than she immediately yields; she is conquered. Her self-love has made her at once forget both duty and gratitude: she is delighted at the thought of being freed from the two-fold tie which binds her to her Creator.

   Such is the woman that caused our perdition. But how different is she that was to save us! The former cares not for her posterity; she looks but to her own interests: the latter forgets herself to think only of her God, and of the claims He has to her service. The Angel, charmed with this sublime fidelity, thus answers the question put to him by Mary, and reveals to her the designs of God: 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren; because no word shall be impossible with God.' This said, he is silent, and reverently awaits the answer of the Virgin of Nazareth.

   Let us look once more at the virgin of Eden. Scarcely has the wicked spirit finished speaking than Eve casts a longing look at the forbidden fruit: she is impatient to enjoy the independence it is to bring her. She rashly stretches forth her hand; she plucks the fruit ; she eats it, and death takes possession of her: death of the soul, for sin extinguishes the light of life; and death of the body, which, being separated from the source of immortality, becomes an object of shame and horror, and finally crumbles into dust.

But let us turn away our eyes from this sad spectacle, and fix them on Nazareth. Mary has heard the Angel's explanation of the mystery; the will of Heaven is made known to her, and how grand an honour it is to bring upon her! She, the humble maid of Nazareth, is to have the ineffable happiness of becoming the Mother of God, and yet the treasure of her virginity is to be left to her! Mary bows down before this sovereign will, and says to the Heavenly messenger: 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.'

   Thus, as the great St. Irenæus and so many of the holy fathers remark, the obedience of the second Eve repaired the disobedience of the first: for no sooner does the Virgin of Nazareth speak her fiat, 'be it done,' than the eternal Son of God [Who, according to the Divine decree, awaited this word] is present, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, in the chaste womb of Mary, and there He begins His human life. A Virgin is a Mother, and Mother of God; and it is this Virgin's consenting to the Divine will that has made her conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost. This sublime mystery puts between the eternal Word and a mere woman the relations of Son and Mother; it gives to the almighty God a means whereby He may, in a manner worthy of His majesty, triumph over Satan, who hitherto seemed to have prevailed against the Divine plan.

   Never was there a more entire or humiliating defeat than that which this day befell Satan. The frail creature, over whom he had so easily triumphed at the beginning of the world, now rises and crushes his proud head. Eve conquers in Mary. God would not choose man for the instrument of His vengeance; the humiliation of Satan would not have been great enough; and therefore she who was the first prey of Hell, the first victim of the tempter, is selected to give battle to the enemy. The result of so glorious a triumph is that Mary is to be superior not only to the rebel Angels, but to the whole human race, yea, to all the Angels of Heaven. Seated on her exalted throne, she, the Mother of God, is to be the Queen of all creation. Satan, in the depths of the abyss, will eternally bewail his having dared to direct his first attack against the woman, for God has now so gloriously avenged her; and in Heaven, the very Cherubim and Seraphim reverently look up to Mary, and deem themselves honoured when she smiles upon them, or employs them in the execution of any of her wishes, for she is the Mother of their God.
   Therefore is it that we, the children of Adam, who have been snatched by Mary's obedience from the power of Hell, solemnize this day of the Annunciation. Well may we say of Mary those words of Debbora, when she sang her song of victory over the enemies of God's people: 'The valiant men ceased, and rested in Israel, until Debbora arose, a mother arose in Israel. The Lord chose new wars, and He Himself overthrew the gates of the enemies.' [Judges v. 7, 8] Let us also refer to the holy Mother of Jesus these words of Judith, who by her victory over the enemy was another type of Mary: 'Praise ye the Lord our God, Who hath not forsaken them that hope in Him. And by me, His handmaid, He hath fulfilled His mercy, which He promised to the house of Israel; and He hath killed the enemy of His people by my hand this night. . . . The almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the hands of a woman, and hath slain him.' [Judith viii. 17, 18]

 

Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke.
Ch. i.

At that time: the Angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a Virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the Virgin's name was Mary. And the Angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the Angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father: and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever, and of His Kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the Angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the Angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elizabeth she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: because no word shall be impossible with God. And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to Thy word.


By these last words of thine, O Mary! our happiness is secured. Thou consentest to the desire of Heaven, and thy consent brings us our Saviour. O Virgin-Mother! Blessed among women! we unite our thanks with the homage that is paid thee by the Angels. By thee is our ruin repaired; in thee is our nature restored; for thou hast wrought the victory of man over Satan! St. Bernard, in one of his homilies on this Gospel, thus speaks: 'Rejoice, O thou our father Adam! but thou, O mother Eve, still more rejoice! You were our parents, but you were also our destroyers; and, what is worse, you had wrought our destruction before you gave us birth. Both of you must be consoled in such a daughter as this: but thou, O Eve, who wast the first cause of our misfortune, and whose humiliation has descended upon all women, thou hast a special reason to rejoice in Mary. For the time has now come, when the humiliation is taken away; neither can man any longer complain against the woman, as of old, when he foolishly sought to excuse himself, and cruelly put all the blame on her, saying: "The woman, whom Thou gavest me, gave me of the tree, and I did eat." Go, Eve, to Mary; go, mother, to thy daughter; let thy daughter take thy part, and free thee from thy disgrace, and reconcile thee to her father: for, if man fell by a woman, he is raised up by a woman.

  'What is this thou sayest, Adam? "The woman, whom Thou gavest me, gave me of the tree, and I did eat ?" These are wicked words; far from effacing thy fault, they aggravate it. But Divine Wisdom conquered thy wickedness, by finding in the treasury of His Own inexhaustible mercy a motive for pardon, which He had in vain sought to elicit by questioning thee. In place of the woman, of whom thou complainest, He gives thee another: Eve was foolish, Mary is wise; Eve was proud, Mary is humble; Eve gave thee of the tree of death, Mary will give thee of the Tree of life; Eve offered thee a bitter and poisoned fruit, Mary will give thee the sweet Fruit she herself is to bring forth, the Fruit of everlasting life. Change, then, thy wicked excuse into an act of thanksgiving, and say: "The Woman, whom Thou hast given me, O Lord, hath given me of the Tree of life, and I have eaten thereof; and it is sweeter than honey to my mouth, for by it Thou hast given me life." ' [St. Bernard, Hom. 2, super Missus est]

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