- Jeremias xiv. 8.
"Arise, and take the Child and His Mother and fly into Egypt." What a terrible trial for the Mother of God! And yet, what wonderful faith and confidence in Him Mary must have had. She instantly obeyed the command brought her by St. Joseph because she knew it to be the behest of God, though no details of His plans were unfolded to her.
There was no revelation on the part of God as to when Mary might hope to return to her own country: "Be in Egypt until I shall tell thee"; nevertheless, she did not hesitate to go, or stop to ponder why God was ordering her to take her Son away from His own people whom He had come to save. Our Lady was always ready to do the Will of God; and so, in the face of the trying ordeal, Mary showed perfect submission and obedience. She knew, and had fully realized, the power of God within her. Was she not the "handmaid of the Lord"? Her confidence in God was never shaken. He had tried her sorely; but He had never forsaken her. Did she not perceive God’s power made manifest in her Virgin and Mother in one? Mary knew that her purity was intensified by the dwelling within her of the Spotless Lamb of God; that her virginity was not diminished in any way by giving birth to a Man-Child.
Our Blessed Lady was perfectly conscious of this; as we, in our sinfulness, can but very imperfectly recognize it. It was the feature which, perhaps, stood out pre-eminently in her spiritual life at that time; and recognizing the special Providence of God in her regard, Mary, with profound humility and love, obeyed the command brought her by St. Joseph.
But the pathos of it! "It will come to pass that Herod will seek the Child to destroy Him." She had suffered day and night since Simeon’s words fell upon her ears; had lived in constant dread that some terrible harm would come to her Child; and now she hears that Herod seeks to kill Him. Her mother’s heart is torn with anguish as she thinks of the cruel fate awaiting her little Child sleeping so tranquilly near her. Yet she makes the necessary preparations quietly and simply. There is no bustle, no confusion, no repining; and in a few minutes she is ready. With a heart full of pity and love, torn with grief, she takes the Child up in her arms and presses Him against her breast. He clings to her in His assumed helplessness; and she shelters Him under her mantle from the chill of night, insensible to her own personal discomfort; and goes forth with Him into exile to save Him from a cruel inhuman death.
"Who will give me in the wilderness a lodging-place of wayfaring men; and I will leave my people and depart from them, because they are all adulterers, an assembly of transgressors " ( Jeremias ix. 2).
As Our Blessed Lady travelled along with the Holy Child and St. Joseph, her heart was wrung with sorrow. The cruel, sinister words rang in her ears: " Herod will seek the Child to destroy Him." Already her innocent Babe was an object of hatred to the world; already He was driven out by men because of their evil passions and iniquitous lives. " There was no room for Him in the inn." There was no room for Him in His own country; no room for the Creator of the world amongst His own creatures, His own nation! He must go forth, driven away by those He had come to save. "How happeneth it, O Israel, that thou art in thy enemies land?" (Baruch iii. 10).
"He came unto His own, and His own received Him not"! And we ourselves, have we not repeatedly driven Him out of our lives by our attachments to creatures; by our sins; by our habits of sin? Have we not sent Him far away out of our lives and filled ourselves with the empty, wretched pleasures of this world? Perchance we have tried to live without Him; without whom all is darkness and desolation; apart from whom life is so meaningless and futile.
"I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." Oh, the folly of our lives! "Too late have I known Thee, O Ancient Truth; too late have I loved Thee, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new."
As Mary carried her Child into exile in the deathlike stillness of the night, her Motherhood rose in her like a great wave, enveloping her, and she was lost in its tenderness and love. What matter if she felt the fatigue and hardships of the journey if she could only save Him a little from them? What matter if she suffered hunger and thirst if He could get sustenance? What matter if she never closed her weary, tear stained eyes as long as He slept safely on her breast? "I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids" (Psalm cxxxi. 4). What matter if she felt the bitter cold as long as He was warm in the shelter of her arms? What mattered it if her whole body was steeped in pain, if every sense was dulled by suffering, as long as her Child was spared? What sacrifice on her part could be too great if she could only save this tender Babe some of the pain which, in the future, awaited the "Man of Sorrows"?
Her compassionate heart went out with loving sympathy to those poor mothers in Bethlehem whose babes were to be torn from their breasts and murdered before their very eyes. If she could only ward off the cruel sorrow which was to come upon them! Her eyes turned with affection to St. Joseph walking by her side. She was so grateful to have him with her. He was so silently sympathetic, so patient and resigned to God’s Will; yet she knew that he, too, must be suffering; not indeed, as she suffered, but the anxiety and physical strain of the journey must have weighed very heavily upon him. And he was so utterly unselfish. His only thoughts were for her Child, and for her. At the end of that long, sad journey there was the difficulty of finding a suitable dwelling where the Holy Family could live during their time of exile; and Mary felt again the pathos of not having a home, however poor, for her Child.
"The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man hath not whereon to lay His Head"(St. Luke ix. 58).
Tradition has many charming legends in connection with the stay of the Holy Family in Egypt; but the Holy Scriptures, with conspicuous reticence, tell us nothing about their duration in that pagan land. It must have been a very humble dwelling which sheltered them, probably near the frontier of Egypt, as we do not know precisely how long the Holy Family was compelled to remain in exile. But whether long or short, Our Blessed Lady felt acutely the sadness and humiliation of the position. Her Child, St. Joseph and she were exiles in a land of immorality. She viewed with pain and abhorrence the idolatrous practices of the people round about her; the infidelity and ingratitude of the Jews of the Dispersion. The Holy of Holies was compelled to live in this sin-laden atmosphere; the Sinless One was here in the midst of sin. Mary suffered, too, in exile from the non-observation of the Mosaic Law.
She missed the public regard for the Sabbath, the visits to the Temple to which she had been accustomed from her childhood. In that pagan land she could make no friends. She was isolated because of her Child and her own sinlessness. "Friends and neighbours Thou hast put from me, and my acquaintance because of my misery" (Psalm Ixxxvii. 19). Every day her mind was full of anxious care as she watched over her Child in that infidel land, not knowing how long it would be her lot to remain there, yet perfectly resigned to God’s Holy Will. This second dolour of Our Lady was, in truth, an agonizing one full of mental suffering and physical discomfort, attended by continual harrowing experiences, wounding to the quick the sensitive nature of the Mother of God.
"And He was there until the death of Herod." "Because Israel was a Child and I loved Him, I called My Son out of Egypt" (Osee xi. i). The time had now come for the Holy Family to return to their own land; and St. Joseph desired that they should settle in Bethlehem, the city of David, where the Child had been born; but being warned in a dream that Archelaus reigned in the place of his father, St. Joseph decided to dwell in Galilee; and they came to a city called Nazareth that it might be fulfilled which was said by the prophets: "That Jesus should be called a Nazarite."
And in lowliness and poverty He dwelt there with His Virgin Mother and chaste Foster Father; this wondrous Child who, one day, was to save His people from their sins; above whose thorn-crowned
Head on Calvary’s hill was to be written: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews"!