The Holy Infancy: Short Meditations for Christmas, by Father Richard Frederick Clarke, SJ

ChristmasThe Nativity

Four thousand years had passed since God promised to our first parents that a Redeemer should come to free the world from the curse that had fallen upon it when Adam was disobedient to the divine command. Prophets and kings had desired to see the day when that promise should be fulfilled, but had not seen it. The whole world had long expected the day of redemption. God always is slow in His best gifts. Hence learn to be patient. “He will surely come. He will not tarry.”

All the world was at peace at the moment when Christ was born. The angry passions of men were hushed as if in compliment to the Prince of peace. He never comes where strife and confusion prevail. If I desire that He should come into my heart today, I must resolve to keep under my evil passions, and the self-will that dares to do battle against the will of God.

But when the gift came at last, it was a gift worthy of the divine generosity. It was a gift of infinite value, given to all and each of the sons of men. It was a gift in which God gave Himself to be wholly ours. That little Infant in the cradle before Whom I kneel today is the omnipotent God, loving me with an immeasurable love; my King, my Lord, my Redeemer, my best Friend, the divine Lover of my soul. Oh, would that I loved Him more!

The New-Born Child

In the cradle before us lies the new-born Infant wrapped in swaddling-clothes and laid in the manger. Let us contemplate Him for a few moments and see what lessons He teaches us.

He teaches us the unspeakable force of divine charity. How was it possible for the Eternal Word, the co-equal Son of God, to leave the bosom of His Father to clothe Himself with the flesh of sinful man? It seems an almost extravagant act of love, one unworthy of the dignity of God. Yet love puts everything aside except the burning desire to promote the welfare of the loved. The Son of God forgot all else in His divine compassion for us. How dearly He must love us! How great should be our confidence in His love!

He teaches us never to judge by appearances. If we had been told that God had come to dwell on earth, would not the stable of Bethlehem have been the last place where we should have sought Him? In how many a humble cottage there may still be found saints more dear to God than even those who have a worldwide repute for their holiness and virtue!

He teaches us the true dignity of self-abasement. God could not do anything unworthy of Himself when clad in human flesh. It therefore was no disparagement to the divine honor that He should thus infinitely condescend. Nay, it proved that the greatest possible likeness to God is attained by the most complete humiliation of self. How little I have learned to practise this lesson!

detail of a stained glass window of the Holy Family; by L. Collinet, year unknown; funeral chapel, tomb of André Corréa Mendès, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsThe Holy Mother

By the side of the manger where the Infant lies, His Mother is watching. Who is she?

A poor and humble maiden, but nevertheless the Mother of God. The Mother of God! How can this be? How can the Eternal, Infinite God have a human mother? Yet so it is; Mary has a privilege which raises her immeasurably above the highest of the seraphim. It makes her more perfect in her likeness to God than is possible to any other creature. If, then, we honor the saints and angels, how much more should we honor God’s own Mother!

Yet Mary has a still greater claim to our homage, a more fruitful source of blessedness even than the divine maternity. Her unswerving obedience to the inspirations of God is declared by Our Lord Himself to be a still higher privilege. “Yea, rather blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.” If only we realized the blessedness of unswerving obedience, how different our lot would be!

What are Mary’s thoughts as she sits watching there? She has no thought save of God. She is absorbed in Him. The hours pass like minutes, they are a sort of anticipation of Paradise. She sees her God face to face, and though His glory is veiled under the robe of flesh, yet Mary can pierce through it as none else ever could, and can bask in the Divinity which it conceals. O God, help me to realize now Thy presence when Thou art veiled under the sacramental species.

The Foster-Father

At no great distance from the Mother of God stands His holy foster-father Saint Joseph, the third person of that earthly trinity. What can we learn from him?

He is the true husband of Mary, united to her by a closer bond than any on earth save that which exists between the Mother and the Son. He is, moreover, the true earthly father of Jesus in everything except the fact of carnal generation. He has committed to him the care of God Himself, and of her who is dearer to God than all the world beside. He is, therefore, next to Mary, of all mankind the most privileged and the most exalted. How, then, can we honor him enough?

When God gives to any one an office, He gives him the virtues and the qualities which are required for its perfect exercise. What, then, must have been the virtues of Saint Joseph! He must have had every virtue, not only in an eminent degree, but in a degree to which none other of the sons of men ever attained. In prudence, justice, humility, charity, he was far above all others. I therefore must ask of him every grace that I need.

Above all, Saint Joseph was eminent for his unspotted purity. Many theologians assert that he was sanctified in his mother’s womb. None save Mary was ever so pure as he. This it was that qualified him for his intimate union with Jesus and Mary. If I desire to be united to them, I must be pure of heart. Saint Joseph, obtain for me this grace of purity!

The Little Maid

Tradition asserts that besides Joseph and Mary there was present in the stable at Bethlehem a little maid, who had accompanied them from Nazareth and ministered to Our Lady and the new-born Child.

Consider the happiness of this little servant who was privileged to wait upon the holy Mother of God. If to wait upon a queen is considered an honor worthy of maidens of the highest birth, how much more to wait upon the Queen of heaven! Angels must have envied her the task, and longed to be allowed to share in it. I, too, can wait upon Mary by walking in processions in her honor, by kneeling before her statue, by offering her flowers or votive candies, or, if this is out of my power, by declaring to her my loyalty and desire to serve her.

Consider this maiden had a still greater privilege. She ministered to God Himself as He lay in the manger. She had the singular honor of being the first after His Mother and Saint Joseph to wait upon the King of kings; nay, to carry Him in her arms, and to look upon the face of God; to fold Him to her bosom. How pure and holy she must have been! How pure and holy I ought to be who in holy Communion am brought into still closer contact with the sacred body of Christ!

Consider how you would have acted had you been that little servant. Imagine yourself ministering to the Infant Jesus. How unworthy of the task, yet how eager to fulfil it well, to anticipate the wishes of Mary! Do I thus minister to Him in His brethren?

The Angels Song

On the night of the Nativity a countless multitude of the heavenly host were singing the praises of the new-born King. Let us listen to them.

They are singing Gloria in excelsis Deo – “Glory to God in the highest!” It is the first song they have sung on earth since the Fall. It is sung on the occasion of the infinite humiliation of the Son of God. Yet they sing, Glory to God in the highest! It must, therefore, be a source of unspeakable glory to God that He has taken the form of a servant, that He has humbled Himself to the very dust. If this is such a source of glory to God, my true glory must consist in humbling myself.

They are also singing of peace to men. What sort of peace? Not external peace, for Christ came not to bring peace, but a sword; but true peace, internal peace, that tranquillity of soul that nothing can destroy. This is the boon that Christ gives to all who love Him, in proportion to their love.

But peace not for all, only for men of good will. Christ, indeed, brought peace to all, but all did not accept it, only those whose good will and loyal spirit of submission made them ready to acknowledge Him as their Lord, and whom, therefore, the good will of God had predestined to the eternal peace and joy of heaven. God grant that I may be one of these!

The Shepherds’ Visit

The first who came to pay their homage to the new-born King were the shepherds who were watching in the fields of Bethlehem, and to whom an angel had announced the birth of Christ the Lord. They received this honor because –

They were poor, and therefore were well suited to gather round the King Who came to live in poverty on earth. The Eternal Father chose poverty for His well-beloved Son, and therefore poverty must be better than riches. The poor are to be envied rather than pitied, so long as their poverty is not due to their own sin or folly. How many who have saved their souls in poverty would have lost them if they had been rich! Hence, if you are poor, do not regret your poverty, but rather rejoice in it.

They were simple of heart, untainted by the world’s deceits. None but good, simple men would have thus come in the darkness of the night, to the stable of Bethlehem, to find their Saviour and their King. God loves simplicity. “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome,” says Our Lord, and He thereby describes the happy lot of those whose one aim is to do their work with simplicity for God alone. Is this my spirit?

They were shepherds. The occupation is one which God seems to love. The man after God’s own heart was a shepherd. Our Lord calls Himself the Good Shepherd. The apostles’ dignity lies in the fact that they were shepherds of the flock. Every Christian is a shepherd, in that some sheep or lands are committed to his care. Am I a zealous shepherd of the sheep of Christ?

The Circumcision

On the first day of the year we commemorate the first shedding of the Precious Blood for us. Christmas week, as it draws to a close, introduces us to the new-born King in the weakness of the nature that He shared with sinful man. We now learn that He came, not to manifest His power and majesty, but to be made like unto us in all things as far as it was possible for One Who was the Eternal Son of God. We begin to appreciate that He is flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone.

To-day He also proclaims that He is come to suffer for us. We listen to His first cry of pain, and see the strange spectacle of the first commencement of that Life of which the agony upon the cross was the final consummation. How shall we ever thank Him as we ought? How great a joy we should consider it if we have the privilege of suffering some little pain for Him in return!

He also declares to us today that He is come to suffer with us, to take part in all the miseries of humanity, to learn by His own experience all that we have to endure in this valley of tears. This it is which should console us in all our troubles. Christ not only knows them all, but has in His mercy felt them all Himself in His sacred Humanity.

Mary at the Circumcision

The week succeeding the birth of her Son had been to Mary a week of exquisite joy, one long ecstasy of heavenly delight, with no sorrow to mar the brightness of the sunshine of His presence. But on the octave of His Nativity all was changed. She began to realize the fact that Jesus had come to suffer – that He Who was infinitely dearer to her than the whole world was to be the Man of Sorrows – and Mary’s joy was changed to bitter sorrow. Thus it is for all those who love God. The times when earth seems unable to contain the greatness of their joy are sure to be followed by sorrow and by pain.

It seemed but a trifle which thus changed the complexion of Mary’s life. The pain that Jesus had to suffer had but a passing smart. Why should she thus grieve over it? It was because it betokened the indignities that He would have to suffer, the character of a victim for sin that He had taken upon Himself. Often a mere trifle destroys the brightness of our life. God uses matters seemingly trivial to teach us our weakness.

Yet Mary would not have had it otherwise. She knew it was the will of God, and that was enough for her. Would that I could learn this lesson more perfectly! Then nothing would destroy my peace, as nothing destroyed Mary’s.

The Meaning of the Circumcision

It seems strange that the spotless Lamb of God should have been subjected to a rite which was the occasion on which Jewish boys were freed from original sin. Was it not derogatory to Jesus, and calculated to produce the false impression that He was not the Son of God, born of a virgin-mother, but a sinful son of Adam, like those around? Sometimes it is not only lawful, but a duty, to do what is calculated to mislead others, when God enjoins it or some higher motive exists for it.

What was this higher motive in the case of the circumcision of Jesus? It was that He might become like us in all things, sin only excepted; that He might be made sin for us, i.e., might bear all the consequences of sin, and the suffering that is the result of sin. O merciful Saviour! May my heart be ever full of gratitude to Thee for this Thy divine condescension!

Our Lord was circumcised also because He came to fulfil all the Jewish law, with all its rites and ceremonies. He exalted it by His obedience and exact accomplishment of all its details. So I ought to love and obey every enactment of the Church, every ceremony and every detail of her ritual and discipline.

The Humility of the Circumcision

One of the most difficult things in the world is to submit to anything that lowers us in the opinion of men and tends to give them a false impression respecting us. Our self-love revolts against the wrongful suspicion, and nature is eager to prove its injustice. Our Lord in the circumcision submitted to a rite which seemed to imply that He was born in sin, in order to teach us, at the very opening of His life, a willingness to be misunderstood and judged guilty of faults we have never committed, and to be credited with natural disadvantages which we do not really possess.

We cannot all aim as high as this, or at least we have not yet reached this love of being wrongly judged and despised without cause. But at least we can learn to recognize how utterly opposed to the spirit of Christ is any attempt to make ourselves out better than we are, and to try and lead others to attribute to us virtues or advantages that are not ours, whether it be generosity, or piety, or learning, or riches, or high birth, or wide influence, or a distinguished position in the world.

If we want to test our humility, we cannot have a safer touchstone than this willingness to be underrated or disesteemed without any fault of our own. Happy those who can rejoice to suffer shame without giving cause for it! Am I one of these?

The Name of Jesus

At the circumcision, Jewish children received their name as other children do at their baptism. Mary’s little Son received the name of Jesus or Deliverer, because He was to deliver men from the slavery of sin. This was His appointed office by the divine command: to put an end to the slavery in which men were held by the devil. He was sent to deliver me from the bondage under which I have long labored, the bondage to the opinion of men, the bondage to ill-temper, the bondage to passion, the bondage to selfishness, the bondage to self-will, the bondage to riches or comforts. O Jesus, Deliverer of those in bondage, by Thy sacred circumcision deliver me!

Jesus is also our Deliverer from the terrible consequences of sin. Our sins were remitted by the shedding of His Precious Blood. Without the shedding of blood, says Saint Paul, there is no remission. What reason I have to dread the consequences due to my sins! Yet Jesus can and will deliver me from them, if I love Him as I ought.

Jesus also is the Deliverer of all creation from the curse which came upon the whole earth at the Fall. He has sanctified it by the drops of His Precious Blood that fell upon it. Hence-forward it became a new earth, and one day He will cleanse it from all its impurities, and renew it to the heavenly beauty, and make it worthy to be the home of His elect.

The Epiphany

The Sun of justice that rose on Christmas morn did not shine on the Jews only. The light that shone upon the rejoicing earth was a light that was to enlighten the Gentiles as well as to be the glory of the people of Israel. The feast of the Epiphany was the declaration of the world-wide dominion of the new-born King. It proclaimed that the kingdoms of this world were to be the kingdoms of the Lord and of His Christ. Rejoice with the Infant King in His universal sovereignty, and pray that His kingdom may speedily be acknowledged by all His subjects.

Those who came to visit Jesus on the Epiphany were three kings. They came as the representatives of all earthly monarchies. They came to do homage and to adore the universal King of the whole earth. What a shadow of a shade is all temporal dominion compared with the dominion of Jesus! What unlimited homage we all owe Him! How we should rejoice to acknowledge Him our King and Lord by our loyal obedience to Him!

This festival is especially the festival of converts. Our ancestors were once pagans until the Vicar of Christ sent to our beloved country the apostle who proclaimed to us the faith of Christ. This faith in many lands has faded now, and mockery sits on Juda’s throne. Alas, to think that those who had the inheritance of the faith have lost it! How can I ever be grateful enough for the light that shines on me!

detail of 'Epiphany', by Fernando Gallego, c.1480, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OhioThe Magi

The three kings who came to do honor to Jesus on the feast of the Epiphany are also called the three Magi, or three Wise Men. They were the rulers of an eastern tribe at some distance from Bethlehem. Like Abraham, they left home and country at God’s command. If Abraham thus deserved to be called the Friend of God and Father of the faithful, so these Wise Men were not only the subjects but also the friends of Christ, and the spiritual fathers of all faithful Catholics. We are their spiritual offspring; the innumerable company of Christians in heaven willall have to thank them for having led the way to Jesus.

What led them to this long and apparently aimless journey? In their tribe there had long existed a tradition that one day or other a star would appear which the princes of the tribe were to follow, and following it, to find the King of heaven incarnate upon earth. How many generations had looked and longed for the promised sign! Yet it came at last. God always grants sooner or later the desires of those who long after Him.

When the star appeared, the Magi lost no time in setting out to follow it. Prompt obedience was their watchword; prompt obedience brought them to Jesus. Prompt obedience made them the earliest converts and the earnest of God’s saints. Prompt obedience to God’s holy will is the secret of all sanctity.

Their Journey

The journey of the Magi from their own country to Palestine, just because a star appeared in a certain quarter of the heavens, was very like a fool’s errand. Was a mere floating tradition a sufficient ground for undertaking a long and costly journey? Were not their duties at home of more importance, and had they not a greater claim than this strange apparition which tempted them away? What is folly with man is often wisdom with God. How often have similar arguments been used to dissuade Christians from consecrating themselves to God! Perhaps I may sometimes have followed the dictates of mere worldly wisdom, neglecting supernatural grace.

The star led the Magi on till they arrived at Jerusalem, and then it disappeared. In the bustle) of the city no star, in the palace of Herod no star. The busy hum of the crowd seems to be a hindrance to God’s holy inspirations.

Did the Magi, under these circumstances, accept the situation and devote their time to the sights and wonders of the Holy City? No, nothing would satisfy them except the fulfilment of their mission. What a lesson to us who are so easily diverted by worldly things from seeking after God!

The Magi’s Stay at Jerusalem

When the star disappeared, the Magi were not disconcerted. If God saw fit to withdraw His direct and extraordinary supernatural guidance, they must fall back on the ordinary means. So they sought for information from those on the spot as to the birthplace of the King of the Jews. Sometimes God leads us by His holy inspirations, sometimes He leaves us to discover His will by natural means. We cannot expect to live always in the blaze of supernatural light showing us the way.

When Herod heard of the arrival of these distinguished strangers, and of their inquiries after a new-born King, he was troubled. The tyrant dreaded lest he should be superseded. It is. one of the miseries of pride that it lives in continual dread of being set aside and humbled. Humility is never troubled, because it always loves the lowest place and rejoices in its own discomfiture.

The priests, when consulted, declared with one voice that Bethlehem is to be the birthplace of the King of the Jews. Yet they manifested no desire to follow the Magi thither. Their knowledge of the truth created in them no wish to carry it into practice. They could teach others, but they did not themselves act on the lessons they taught. How often have I done the same! I preach so well: I practise so ill.

The Magi: Their Arrival at Bethlehem

When the Wise Men had obtained the information they needed, they wasted no further time at Jerusalem, but turned their steps towards the village of Bethlehem. Their faith was being very sorely tried. The star had disappeared, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, instead of sharing their eagerness to find the new-born King, seemed to be either indifferent or positively hostile to the idea of His presence in their midst. So Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament lies waiting in the tabernacle for a visit from those whom He loves. They have no longing after Him, no desire for His company. Only a few faithful souls go to pay their court to Him. Ami one of them?

Scarce had they quitted the city when the star appeared again to their joyful eyes. There it is; there is no mistaking it. God has not deserted us. He is still guiding us, and we shall find Him Whom we seek. No wonder that they rejoiced with great joy. So to those who have persevered amid doubt and darkness God soon restores the light of His presence. Courage, faint heart, the star will soon re-appear.

At length the star, instead of moving above them in the heavens, came nearer to earth, and settled on the humble dwelling-place where Jesus and His Mother abode. What! the King of the Jews in that poverty-stricken shed? Yes, so it is; Christ scorns the gilded palace, and loves the humble hut. There He is at home; thither He invites His friends to come and see how He dwells with the poor and humble of heart.

The Magi: The Finding of Christ

It must have been rather a surprise to the Magi to find the new-born King so poorly housed and humbly clad. Their Eastern ideas of magnificence must have had rather a shock from the absence of all visible splendor from the cradle of the King of kings. Yet their faith never wavered. God was their teacher, and they had learned from Him the difficult lesson of not judging by outward appearances and the impressions of sense.

With beating hearts they knock at the door, and Joseph opens to them. Within they find Him Whom they were seeking, in the arms of Mary His Mother. That humble dwelling is full of a celestial light. Sweet songs of angel minstrelsy ring in their ears. Their hearts are full of an unspeakable joy and assurance that before them they have the King of the Jews, nay. the Lord of heaven and earth, their Saviour and their God.

The first impulse of their hearts is to fall prostrate before that little Child. They fell down and adored Him. What a happiness it was to them to make their submission to Him; to profess their loyalty; to declare that they belonged to Him body and soul for time and for eternity! O Jesus, to Thee, and to Thee only, I belong. Make me Thy faithful servant now and forever.

The Gifts of the Magi: Gold

Why did the Magi offer gold to the Babe in Mary’s arms? It was in recognition of Him as their King. It was the tribute by which they declared themselves His vassals, professed their loyal submission to His sway. This is the very foundation of all supernatural virtue, not only to acknowledge Christ asour King, but to pay Him the homage which is His due as the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth.

The Magi also by their offering of gold gave to Him the most precious gift they had to give. They were the first Christian almsgivers, and their almsgiving was a pattern to all who should follow them. They gave liberally; they gave royally; they gave gifts which cost them something. Is this the character of my almsgiving, or do I give sparingly and grudgingly? I must not forget that Christ sees and remembers not only the amount of the gifts I give to Him, but the spirit in which they are given.

The gold of the Magi also signifies the virtue of charity, without which we can do nothing to please God. Charity is the gold fire-tried which He counsels the tepid to buy of Him. It is the virtue which is the standard by which the value of all other virtues is tested. It is the virtue which caused Jesus Christ to come and dwell upon earth. Oh, that I had more self-denying charity to others, more of the gold wherewith heaven is bought!

The Gifts of the Magi: Frankincense

The offering of frankincense to any one has always been regarded by the common consent of mankind as an acknowledgment of inherent Deity. When the Christians were commanded to throw a grain of incense on the altar of Jupiter or Minerva, it was in acknowledgment of their divinity. The Magi, then, by this offering to Christ of incense, were the first Gentile witnesses to His Divinity. They made thereby an implicit act of faith in His Godhead, and proved the honor they paid Him to be that highest honor that belongs to God alone.

Frankincense is, moreover, a symbol of all that is sweetest and most fragrant. What so sweet to Jesus as the complete offering of ourselves to Him implied in the homage paid to Him as God! Jesus, my God, my all, I offer Thee my heart, my soul, my self!

Frankincense is the material symbol under which prayer is indicated in Holy Scripture. The angel offers in the Apocalypse the prayers of the saints in a golden censer, and there comes up continually from earth the cloud of prayers as a cloud of incense. Among them my prayers arise. Are they such as will be fragrant and pleasing to God?

The Gifts of the Magi: Myrrh

Myrrh is the herb used most largely for embalming. It has the power to prevent corruption and preserve the purity and freshness of the body which is in contact with it. It was offered to Our Lord as a testimony not only of the perfect and unsullied purity of those to whom He is united by the bonds of charity, but also in evidence of the power of His sacred body to save from corruption those who partake of it in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

Thus myrrh was offered to Our Lord as possessing a true human body, as truly Man as well as truly God. We must never lose sight of this fact of Christ’s Humanity, that He has all the sympathy and interest in all that concerns us that we have perhaps received from some kind earthly friend, all His desire to help us, all His wisdom, prudence, patience, appreciation of our griefs and sorrows; and all this to a degree compared with which our best friend on earth does not deserve the name. Why do I not have recourse to Him more?

Myrrh is also the symbol of mortification. If our bodies are to be pure, we must mortify our evil desires and give up what is very attractive to our lower nature. If we desire great purity of heart, we must mortify ourselves in things lawful, and deny ourselves even what we might enjoy without sin. Do I do this?

The Magi: Their Return Home

Before the Magi left Jerusalem for Bethlehem, Herod had enjoined upon them that they should return and tell him where the new-born King of the Jews was to be found, declaring that he, too, desired to come and adore Him. Hypocrite and treacherous liar that he was, his real object was to destroy his supposed rival. He made no scruple of plannirig the murder of one who might possibly supplant him. Those who love worldly honor are always unscrupulous. It has the power of blinding the eyes and deadening the conscience, and making men esteem evil good and good evil.

The Magi seem to have been deceived by Herod’s fair, words, and to have promised to return with the information he desired. Good men are always unsuspicious of evil. We all judge others by ourselves. If you want to know your own character, ask yourself whether your judgment of others is a charitable or uncharitable one.

When the Magi had finished their visit to Bethlehem, they prepared to return to Herod. But an angel warned them to avoid the city where he dwelt, and to go back to their own country by some other way. We need never fear lest our charitable judgments should do harm. God will provide against this; it is our harsh and severe judgments which are productive of so much evil to ourselves and others.

'Massacre of the Innocents', Peter Paul RubensHerod’s Vengeance

When Herod found that the Magi did not return with the information respecting the King Whom they were seeking, he became uneasy. The plan he had cunningly devised had come to naught; the rival Monarch seemed likely to escape his hands. One day perhaps he or his children would be dethroned by Him. O empty fears! That little Child seeks no worldly honor; He will not interfere with any earthly monarch. The secret fear that destroys the peace of unscrupulous men is often as empty as Herod’s. The terrors they suffer are the just rewards of their evil deeds. How often I have been anxious and troubled because my pride could not brook being humbled!

But Herod was utterly unscrupulous as well as ambitious. There was one way in which he could secure his end. By putting to death all the young children in the country round Bethlehem, he would compass the death of this royal Child Who threatened his safety. Pride and ambition not only blind men, but make them utterly indifferent to the sufferings of others and the laws of right and wrong. I, too, have often recklessly made others suffer to gratify myself and carry out my own selfish ends.

When Herod came to die, how awful must have been the terrors of his guilty conscience! The blood of those children slaughtered at his command had long cried out to Heaven for vengeance. Each one of them added to his remorse and eternal misery in hell. If evil men could foresee the consequences to themselves of the sins they commit, they would dread sin, even venial sin, far more than any earthly misery they could suffer.

Saint Joseph and AngelThe Angel’s Warning

One night when Joseph was peacefully sleeping at Bethlehem, an angel’s voice aroused him from his slumbers, and he saw before him one of the messengers of the Most High, who said; “Arise, and take the young Child and His Mother, and fly into the land of Egypt, for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” Hence observe:

That God’s ways are so different from ours. We should have expected that He would exert His divine power in behalf of His only-begotten Son, and that the soldiers of Herod would be struck with blindness on the road, or would somehow fail to discover where Jesus was, or perhaps would come and fall prostrate at the feet of the new-born King. How different the course enjoined by the angel! Apparently so clumsy a way of saving Jesus from His enemies! Yet such are God’s ways – clumsy in the eyes of men. What strange presumption it is that I should criticise the divine arrangements as I sometimes do!

That the conditions of safety seemed so unnecessarily hard. Why to Egypt – a pagan land, the very name of which was a synonym for bondage and misery? Was this the only way to preserve the life of the Son of God? To all this one answer: It was God’s will, and that was enough.

But after all it was but a vision of the night, perhaps a dream or a mere subjective fancy. Could anything so wild and imprudent come from God? To all this one answer: I know the message came from God, and I cannot and will not evade the divine command.

Joseph’s Obedience

No such questioning as we have supposed in our last meditation ever occurred to Saint Joseph’s mind. His duty, his pleasure, was to hear and to obey. Not a moment did he lose. He roused his virgin-spouse and told her what they had to do, and ere morning dawned, they had left Bethlehem far behind.

Yet there was no hurry or bustle or undue haste in the preparation they made; no rushing to and fro, no impatience, not a movement but such as was calm and deliberate, modest and dignified. It is one of the marks of sanctity to have thus under control every look and every action. How can I stand this test? When time presses, or my indignation is aroused, or my patience tried, am I gentle and peaceful and calm?

Observe, moreover, how there is not a single word of complaint or of grumbling, no expression of annoyance or word of mutual commiseration. Each seeks to lighten the work of the other. How cheerful both Mary and Joseph are! Almost joyous. It is a trial; yes, but more for the sake of the Divine Child than for their own. Even the thought of what Jesus may have to suffer never destroys their peace. O happy Joseph! O blessed Mary! make me more like you.

The Perils of the Way to Egypt

Out into the darkness of the night went Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Can these homeless wanderers really be the three whose value in the eyes of Heaven made all the rest of the world insignificant as a grain of sand compared with a continent? Yes, this is God’s way of treating those whom He loves best. Herod, in his luxurious palace, is feasting and revelling in luxury and ease: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are outcasts from their home, shivering in the cold and stormy night. How foolish, then, to desire ease and comfort, or to regret the hardships and disagreeables that befall me!

Whither were they going? To Egypt, along an unknown road to a distant and idolatrous country; not knowing the way, not knowing how long they should find subsistence from day to day. What was the trial of Abraham compared with this? He went forth with an escort of servants and camels, and with tents and a store of good things for the wav; the Divine Son of God and His parents, empty-handed and alone. Compassionate the Holy Family in their sufferings by the way.

What were those sufferings? Often they knew not where to lay their heads, and had to sleep under the starry sky. Often they had to beg their bread. Sometimes they were in danger from the rough banditti who infested the road. Sometimes the wild beasts howled around them. This is a model of the life of the Christian: sometimes deprived of all spiritual sustenance and of all human consolation; sometimes fiercely attacked by men, sometimes by evil passions and the rage of Satan; yet always safe under the watchful care of God.

The Arrival in Egypt

At length they reached the spot that God designed for their sojourn, in a land full of idols and idolaters. What uncongenial surroundings for the Holy Family, alone in the midst of those who worshipped a false god! So many a Catholic has to dwell in a most uncongenial atmosphere – perhaps among heretics, or bad Catholics, or those whose words and looks and actions continually jar and cause pain. Patience! Jesus and Mary know by experience what such have here to suffer.

When the Holy Family arrived in Egypt, in the town where they came to dwell, all the idols in the temples fell prostrate to the ground, and were shattered to pieces. Thus when Christ comes to dwell within the soul, all that opposes itself to God is destroyed by His sacred presence. If Jesus dwells with us, we shall no longer allow pride, envy, bitterness, self-will, discontent, to reign in our hearts.

The presence of the Holy Family in Egypt hallowed the spot where they sojourned. In early Christian times it was covered with the cells of the monks and hermits. Thus Jesus always leaves a blessing behind Him. When He comes to me in holy Communion, if only I put no obstacle in the way, my soul will flourish with virtues and good works as the effect of His presence.

The Long Waiting in Egypt

For seven long years the Holy Family remained in the land of Egypt. From day to day they knew not whether they were to spend all their days in banishment, far from the dear land of Israel, or to return thither it might be on the morrow; yet no shade of impatience ever marred the perfection of their peace and resignation to the will of God. How different from myself, who am so anxious and troubled about the future!

During all this time Saint Joseph supported his holy spouse and the Infant Jesus by working at his trade of a carpenter. They often felt the pinch of poverty, but never wanted for bread. God forsakes not His own, though He sometimes tries them to the very edge of their powers of endurance. He will not forsake me if I put my trust in Him.

How little the people of Egypt knew Who it was that dwelt for these long years amongst them! If they had known it, they would eagerly have cast aside their idols, and thrown themselves at the feet of the King of heaven and earth. So if those outside the Catholic Church knew that on every altar God Himself dwells in the Blessed Sacrament, how they would come in crowds to make their humble submission to Him! Hence teach a great charity to those outside the Church of Christ. It is often ignorance, not malice, that stands in the way of their conversion.

The Return Home from Egypt

At length, when it seemed as if God had almost forgotten His well-beloved Son, the summons came to return to the land of Israel. An angel appeared to Joseph with the welcome news that those who had sought the life of Jesus were dead, and that therefore they might go back in safety. Those who are willing to wait are sure to obtain their desires. It is impatience and the restless desire for immediate relief that leads to so many disappointments. In the things of God, as in all else, it is those who wait who win.

How full of joy were the hearts of Joseph and Mary as they neared once more their native land! Like all the saints, they had an intense love for their country and their people and their home. Holy indifference does not mean that we have no natural affections for kindred and for fatherland, but that those affections are entirely subordinate to the will of God.

If the people of Egypt knew not that their God was dwelling among them, they knew that they had amongst them those who were the special friends of God. Mary and Joseph had endeared themselves to all around by their gentleness, charity, patience, courtesy, humility, and thoughtful kindness to all. To them how terrible a grief was the departure of the Holy Family! Do I endear myself to those among whom I live?

The Arrival in Palestine

When Joseph arrived with Mary and her Divine Son in their own land, his first thought was to turn to Bethlehem, and to dwell in peace where he had dwelt so peaceably before. But to his sorrow he learned that the son of the impious Herod was ruling in his father’s place. He was not going to expose to any risk the treasure committed to him, and at once he determined to turn his steps elsewhere. Notice his prudence, and beware of running any risk with the treasures of grace God has committed to you. One serious sin will lose them all.

Whither should he go? It was all one to Saint Joseph, as long as he went whither God sent him. He was quite as ready to go to Nazareth as anywhere else, if God directed his steps thither. This should be my disposition, to be ready to go anywhere, and live in any place, where God may send me.

How did Saint Joseph decide where he was to dwell? By prayer and by good counsel. He asked of God to turn his steps whither He willed, and he also did not neglect the rules of human prudence. This is Saint Ignatius’ advice: (1) Act with prudence, but never forget to con- sult God. (2) While you trust all to God, do not lose sight of the importance of using natural means.

– text from The Holy Infancy: Short Meditations for Christmas, by Richard Frederick Clarke S.J.