Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, FIRST SORROW

Slightly modified from "A crown of tribulation: being meditations on the Seven Sorrows of our Blessed Lady Mary", 1920
THE SWORD PREDICTED BY SIMEON

Deliver, God, my soul from the sword. 
- Psalm xxi. 21

He will crown her with a crown of tribulation.
- Isaias xxii. 18.

OUR Blessed Lady received her first dolour in the Temple of Jerusalem, in the house of God.  St. Luke tells us that after the days of purification, according to the Mosaic Law, were accomplished, Mary and Joseph journeyed from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to present the Infant Jesus formally to the Lord that the command might be fulfilled: "Every male child opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord."

According to the Levitical Canons the rite of purification was followed by an expiatory sacrifice which might be either a lamb, one year old, or two turtle doves, or two pigeons.

In order, then, that the law might be fulfilled, Our Blessed Lady and St. Joseph made the journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem though, as the Virgin-Mother of the Son of God, it was quite unnecessary that she should submit to the cleansing rite imposed upon the mothers of Israel. With fervent gratitude Our Lady apprized the signal favour conferred upon her by God in permitting her to bring into this world, in immaculate purity, Jesus Christ the Eternal Son of God. She was Mother and Virgin in one; unspotted and unstained. "A Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son" (Isaias vii. 14). And Mary knew the wondrous miracle wrought in her. She had surrendered her body to her Creator that His Will and His purpose might be effected in her: "She conceived by the Holy Ghost." "May it be done unto me according to Thy word." "And the Word was made Flesh and dwelt in her."

In radiant purity Mary became the Mother of the Son of God; and in overwhelming gratitude could exclaim: "He that is mighty hath done great things to me"; yet in humility and lowliness of spirit she submitted to the enactments of the Jewish Law lest, perchance, by not complying with them, scandal might be given to those around her.

 "And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord."

At the moment Our Blessed Lady and St. Joseph entered the Temple to present Our Lord to His Eternal Father, Simeon was guided by the Holy Spirit to enter also, and his gaze fell upon the Holy Family. There was nothing to the casual observer to mark them out from the ordinary pilgrims frequenting the Temple save their air of piety and recollection. They were poorer, perhaps, than most; but with prophetic insight Simeon had marked the sinless Babe in His Mother’s arms; the purity of the Mother; the quiet dignity and simple faith of the Foster-Father; and hastened forward to meet them, exclaiming in love and gratitude: "Now dost Thou dismiss Thy servant, Lord, according to Thy word in peace. Because my eyes have seen Thy salvation."

Simeon's hour had come; and the "Desired of all nations" was in his arms, for this helpless Babe was the Omnipotent God. The clouds of darkness which had enveloped the earth for so many centuries were swept aside; here in his arms was the "Light of the world "; the "Glory of Israel"; here was the Redeemer of the human race, the long-promised, long-desired Messiah.  "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen" (Isaias ix. 2). "And there shall come a Redeemer to Sion" (Isaias lix. 20).

No longer need the world be plunged in darkness and desolation; no longer need its inhabitants grieve in sadness and misery of spirit, for here, in this little Child, was the Saviour of the world, the new life given to it, so weary of itself; so tired of its existence; so perplexed with its problems and experiences. "Arise, be enlightened, Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee" (Isaias Ix. i).

Here was the World’s Salvation; its only Hope; but how could the Most High, the Incomprehensible, the Lord of heaven and earth, enter His own creation in a stable at Bethlehem, housed with the beasts of the field? How could He be born of a Virgin-Mother, an unknown maiden? How could the world with its intelligence and attainments believe in such abject humiliation? How could it accept the teaching of One who said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven"; of One whose command was: "Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you; and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you"; of One who said to all: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me"; of One whose precept to the world was: "Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you."

How could the world, with its accumulated knowledge and philosophy, so far forget itself as to put all these on one side; how could it become simple and elementary again and follow the teaching of a reputed Son of a carpenter; how could it embrace the strange, singular maxims of the Nazarene?

And Simeon, seeing all this, and the hard imminent struggle which the world would have in accepting as its Saviour one who was born as an outcast, and was to die a criminal’s death, said to the Mother of the world’s Redeemer: "This Child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce."

"For the fall and the resurrection of many in Israel." The supreme Figure in the world’s history has been Jesus Christ. No personality, no teaching, no influence, has ever aroused such fierce, unintermittent discussion as His. Christianity, brought into the world with His Teaching and His Example, has been at one and the same time the world’s Gospel of Hate and the world’s Sacrament of Love. It has been the great dividing force, the great means of separation between nation and nation; the barrier, the obstacle, between kindred and kindred; the great upheaval in human life, human society. No one has ever had so many bitter enemies as Jesus Christ. No one has ever had so many ardent lovers as He. Jesus Christ has been the most hated, and the most passionately loved figure in the world’s history. He has torn the world asunder by the force of His Teaching, by the irresistible power of His Personality, by His claims upon the hearts of men, by His persistent appeals to follow Him. He speaks and man breaks his life asunder, as it were. For His sake thousands have given up their lives in cruel warfare; have faced the horrors of infidel persecution in every clime, dying of love for Him whose infinite love for them has evoked, in response, all that is greatest in human nature. Even days the commands of Jesus Christ are lovingly embraced by thousands; not a day, not an hour, passes but they are violated and trampled under foot by His ungrateful children and the children of the devil. Every day the enemies of Jesus Christ the devil, the world, and the flesh are vanquished and conquered by His grace; every day thousands forsake Him and, going over to the enemy, make a truce with the Evil One, the "Prince of Darkness."

Attracted by His wondrous Personality, souls, hearing the Call of Christ, embrace His evangelical counsels and clothe them selves with His Poverty, His Chastity, His Obedience. In the strength of man hood and flower of womanhood they leave all things to follow Him; surrendering all to Him, for Him. Ridiculous and abject in the eyes of the world, they seek and find Him, in mortification and penance, in humiliation and suffering, for He whom they seek is "Christ crucified" Every day, in the ceaseless pursuit of Mammon, Jesus Christ is ignored, denied. The world, in its folly and madness, embraces the tyranny of its passions its greed and sensuality, its materialism and ungodliness vainly and pathetically believing itself to be free thereby; knowing nothing of the freedom of Christ’s yoke, nothing of the infinite mercy of its Saviour, deaf and insensible to His pleading appeal: "Come to Me, all you that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you" (St. Matthew xi. 28). "I am forsaken of many for the sins of my children because they departed from the law of God" (Baruch iv. 12).

"This Child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted." "And thy own soul a sword shall pierce." Our Blessed Lady entered the Temple in radiant happiness. She left it in sorrow and in grief. She had given up her Child into the arms of Simeon, full of love and gratitude; she received Him back with an aching heart. It grieved the kindly old Simeon to tell her of the dolorous future which confronted, her, of the sorrow which would come upon her, of the severe ordeal through which she would have to pass to testify to an incredulous world her love for Jesus Christ, her Son; her resignation to God’s Holy Will and her ardent love for the children of earth. She was so blessed in her wondrous Motherhood; so far removed from sin and suffering. But this beautiful Babe was to become the "Man of Sorrows" one day; He was to become a stumbling-block, a scandal, to His own people and to the world at large; and His Mother must know of it, must be prepared to suffer with Him and for Him; must share His anguish and His woe. "Thy own soul a sword shall pierce." Fain would Simeon have spared Mary this knowledge; but the word of God must be spoken. Mary’s share in the suffering of her Son must be brought before her with all its sacrifice.

Our Blessed Lady’s sorrows began at the very moment the Incarnation was accomplished; but with the delicacy which characterized her in all her sufferings, Mary kept these to herself. Now, at the word of Simeon, they were publicly announced to her in the Temple of God; the veil which partially hid the future was raised, and she became conscious of all she would have to bear. "He will crown thee with a crown of tribulation," (Isaias xxii. 18).

Would Our Lady rather have known of her life of sorrow, or would she rather have been left in ignorance of what was to come upon her? Would she, as the mother of the "Man of Sorrows," wish to suffer for His sake {right from the beginning of His earthly life, or would she rather be spared much of His pain and suffering, and enter into it only in the last scenes of His public life? Ah, who can doubt? As a human being Mary, like everyone else, shrank from suffering, even as her Divine Son did in the Garden of Olives; but she understood better now, perhaps, what it meant to be the Mother of the Incarnate Son of God. To be the Mother of God was to partake of the life of sacrifice of Him who had not whereon to lay His Head. From her veins that Blood was drawn which was destined to flow on Calvary. It was a wonderful privilege to be the Mother of Bethlehem’s Babe; it was a far greater, far more wonderful privilege to be the Mother of Calvary’s crucified Christ.

Knowing the sorrow which must come upon her through her Child, she loved Him the more even as human love becomes more exalted, more beautiful, when sanctified by suffering. And who can measure Mary’s sorrow from the first moment she heard Simeon’s words? Her own life became a moving Calvary; and she understood from then that in every moment of her Son’s life He was nearing His Calvary; that she had brought Him into the world for that purpose that was why the mystery of the Incarnation had been wrought in her; that as she watched over Him with loving care and supplied His material needs, she was but nurturing Him to be the "Man of Sorrows"; that this little Child, resting so peacefully in her arms now, would, one day, be placed there again as the crucified Saviour of the world.

And yet there was not a word or a murmur from Mary as she heard Simeon’s prophecy. Perfect in her love for her Child, she was perfect in her submission to Him. Her will was to do His Will; and since His Will was to suffer for the sins of men, Mary's will was to suffer too. She accepted in loving resignation all the pain which was to come upon her through Him. She did not question it; but opened her heart to sorrow and suffering when she heard Simeon’s words, desiring no life apart from Him who was her Child, her Saviour, and her God. "In the head of the book it was written of me that I should do Thy Will; O my God I have desired it, and Thy law in the midst of my heart" (Psalm xxxix. 8-9).

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