Meditations On The Life Of The Blessed Virgin For Every Day Of the Month, Suitable for all seasons and especially the month of May.
ADORATION OF THE MAGI.
"We have seen His star in the East, and are come to adore Him." —St. Matt, ii. 2.
Let us return to the stable at Bethlehem; there we have worshipped our Saviour laid on the straw of the manger; we have knelt by the side of the shepherds, His first friends, we have united our thanksgivings with theirs, when they " returned praising and glorifying God for all the things they had heard and seen."
Let us return there this evening, and let us kneel once more in this poor shelter in which the Lord of the universe passed the first days of His life. Let us contemplate the Blessed Virgin, now seated on the dry rock of the grotto, holding her new-born Son in her arms, and soothing His first sufferings; now kneeling near the manger, looking at the Divine Infant as He sleeps, with a tenderness, mingled with wondering reverence. Let us remain near her; and ask her to teach us to love the Infant Jesus, and to listen to all that He teaches us from this humhle crib. This sweet Infant, the Eternal Word of God made man for us, cannot yet speak; the voice which commands the thunder, and says to the waves of the sea, "thus far thou shalt go, and no farther," can now only utter a feeble wail. And yet what inspired tongue could tell us all that He tells us ?
Do we not, as it were, breathe at the feet of Jesus and Mary charity without bounds, voluntary poverty, undeserved suffering, love and pardon for all ? Is it possible not to love God, seeing how much He has loved us? Is it possible not to love our neighbour, when we consider that this gentle Saviour came into the world for him as well as for us, that it is His will that we should all be brothers, and that we should love our brethren as He has loved us ? Can we complain and fret at our sufferings, alas! too well merited, when we see the Lamb without spot born in poverty, and suffering and weeping in the manger of a stable.
We all love the house in which our fathers were horn. When a man, after having made a journey, returns to his native village, the sight of the paternal roof, however poor it may be, brings the tears into his eyes. What then must be the sight or even the thought of the crib, to us who are born the children of God and of the Church ? Happy the Christian who is able to cross the seas, and to kneel at the place in which the Saviour was born ! At the extreme end of the village of Bethlehem, below the grotto in which Joseph and Mary found shelter, stands an ancient church, built more than fifteen hundred years ago, by St. Helena, mother of the first Christian Emperor of Rome. Helena was an illustrious servant of God, whose virtue had inspired her son with a reverence for Christianity, and who only made use of her earthly greatness to work without ceasing for the deliverance of the Church, and for the propagation of the faith. Her first care, when the persecutions ceased, was to erect sanctuaries in all the places in Judea already consecrated by the memory of the life and Passion of our Saviour. The Christians had already built over the stable at Bethlehem a chapel, which a heathen emperor had dared to pull down, and to place in its stead an abominable idol. But the triumph of brute force over the Church of God is never of long duration. St. Helena destroyed the idol, and rebuilt with still greater magnificence the sanctuary of the Nativity. Here pilgrims are received as brothers by Franciscan friars; conducted by one of them, the Christian of our day goes down into the underground chapel which is under the sanctuary of the church, with a taper in his hand. Here the light of day cannot penetrate, but thirty-two silver lamps hanging from the roof burn night and day before the altar. All the kings of Christendom have thought it an honour to send a lamp to the grotto of Bethlehem, and one of the most beautiful which burns on the marble slab near the altar, fastened to the rock, was given by one of the Kings of France. Here it is that the pilgrim prostrates himself with an emotion which I shall not attempt to describe, for under the altar, on the pavement of the Grotto, worked in the most precious marbles, are the words, "Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary."
But let us, who are not able to pray in this sanctuary, take heart; for the Divine Sun which rose out of the stable at Bethlehem, has shed its beams over the whole earth. Let us be of good cheer, for the heart which has learnt to love the Infant Jesus, has learnt thereby how to go to Him without difficulty, how to find Him in the humble shelter which faith and devotion have turned into a temple, since He brought these virtues on the earth. When He came into the world, the rocks and the bare ground were naked and cold like the souls of men. Mary and Joseph alone, whilst they protected His feeble limbs from the severity of winter, cheered by the fervour of their love the Redeemer whom the world was already denying and rejecting. Let us join our love to theirs. Let us tell our gentle Saviour that He has not come into this world for ungrateful hearts alone, that we will not be of the number of those who still daily abandon Him.
It was not for one night alone that the Grotto of Bethlehem sheltered the Holy Family. According to the custom among Jewish women, Mary was to stay there forty days. " Joseph," says St. Bonaventura, "closed the entrance as best he could, to protect the Mother and the Child from the winter wind: and the dark rock became a sanctuary such as the earth had never before possessed."
Now the third day after the birth of our Saviour, the heavens were suddenly kindled with an unwonted light; a brilliant star, appearing first on the extremity of the horizon, seemed to advance in the skies, and illuminate the plain. Then, from afar, on the road which leads from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, was seen appearing a long train of travellers. Horsemen, and camels laden with luggage, shewed themselves on the plain. At the head of the procession appeared men clothed in rich garments of foreign fashion. Both horses and riders were covered with dust, and seemed tired after a long journey. Three of these strangers, whom their noble features marked as the leaders, with their heads uplifted towards the star, seemed to seek no other guide, and hastened in the direction in which it seemed to move before them. All of a sudden a wonderful brightness surrounded the Hill of David; the travellers climbed it, and entered the city, traversed it without stopping, and without answering the astonished looks of the crowd. Sinking, while they watched it, from the height of the heavens, the star had stopped above a cave which seemed to be a rustic stable. Immediately, without hesitating, the strangers stopped, and dismounting, prepared to ask at this strange palace for the King whom they came to seek.
We can imagine the wonder which Joseph and Mary must have felt when they heard the noise of this crowd, and saw this heavenly light shine upon their poor dwelling. Mary took her Divine Son in her arms, and retired to the recesses of the Grotto. The strangers entered the stable; they prostrated themselves before the Infant God; they worshipped Him with their foreheads in the dust. If we open the Gospel we shall learn who are these new worshippers.
"When Jesus, therefore, was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews ? For we have seen His star in the East, and are come to adore Him. And King Herod, hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda. Eor so it is written by the prophet: And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come forth the Captain that shall rule My people Israel. Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them, and sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go, and diligently inquire after the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word again, that I may also come and adore Him. And when they had heard the King they went their way; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And entering into the house, they found the Child, with Mary His Mother, and falling down, they adored Him; and opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts ; gold, frankincense and myrrh."
These magi were great and venerable men, to whom learning had made known the truth, without filling their hearts with that pride which shuts out the inspirations of God. They came, it is said, from that ancient land of the Chaldees, from whence had come Abraham, in which Jacob had kept the flocks of his uncle Laban, and in which the passage of the patriarchs had left a remembrance of the true God. Pagan superstitions had indeed been mingled with it; the inhabitants of Chaldea were wont to observe the course of the stars, and confounding little by little the Creator with the creature, they had come at last to worship the sun as king of the heavens, and fire as an emanation from the sun. They believed that by a close observation of the position of the stars in the sky they could read in them the different events of the lives of men; and as they had mingled idolatry with the recollection of the true God, so they mingled gross superstitions with their true science.
From the most ancient times we find amongst them men celebrated for their learning, to whom the people attributed a kind of power, and one of the most interesting narratives in the Bible proves to us that there may have been those among them who were led to the knowledge of the true God by a more complete learning, or by a nobler nature. When the Israelites, having left Egypt, were led over the desert by the Lord, and arrived at the boundary of the promised land, the people who occupied their inheritance were troubled. Balac, the King of the Moabites, sent to bring from afar Balaam, one of the sages of Chaldea, to avert the danger by cursing the Children of Israel. Balaam was about to. start, when God spoke to him in his sleep, saying : " Thou shalt not curse the people, because it is blessed." The King of the Moabites sent again to Balaam, promising him riches and honours. For an instant the temptation was too strong, and he set forth; but an angel stopped him, and commanded him to say nothing but what God should put in his mouth, and when Balaam reached the Princes of Moab, the fear of the Lord mastered both the fears and hopes of this world. "How," he cried, " shall I curse him whom God has not cursed ? By what means should I detest him whom the Lord detesteth not?
I was brought to bless, the blessing I am not able to hinder." Four different times he blessed the people of God in spite of the growing anger of Balac. How beautiful are thy tabernacles, O Jacob, and thy tents, O Israel! He announced to the trembling Moabites around him, the approaching victories of those whom he was not able to curse; and as if God revealed to him the most wonderful secrets of futurity in proportion as he obeyed Him, the sage became a prophet, and hailed from afar the Messias promised to Abraham. "I shall see Him," he says, " but not now; I shall behold Him, but not near. A star shall rise up out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel, and shall strike the chiefs of Moab, and shall waste all the children of Seth... but Israel shall do manfully. Out of Jacob shall He come that shall rule." We may well believe that the remembrance of this prophecy was preserved in the country of the Chaldees. Long afterwards the Children of Israel were led captive into the very country of Balaam. On the banks of the Babylonian rivers the prophets of the true God called the people to repentance, and promised them pardon for their ingratitude, and the coming of the Saviour. Daniel, one of the greatest of these prophets, he who announced the precise time at which the Saviour was to be given to the world, was reverenced at the court of King Nabuchodonosor for his great learning as well as for his great virtues. He rose very high in the favour of this haughty king, whom he boldly reproved for his pride, and was appointed by him head of the magi. This was the name given to the depositories of that science of which the Chaldeans were so proud, the priests of their religion, the men who preserved the history and the traditions of the kingdom, whose advice was respectfully asked on all important occasions. When, after Nabuchodonosor's death, the impious Balthasar had drawn down upon himself the anger of God, and when in the middle of a banquet an invisible hand traced upon the wall the condemnation of the guilty king, Daniel was called in to read it. And the same night Cyrus entered Babylon, and accomplished the vengeance of God. He reverenced Daniel, who had predicted his coming, and who shewed him this prophecy of Isaias, written more than a hundred years before: " I say to Cyrus, thou art My shepherd, and thou shalt perform all My pleasure. I say to Jerusalem, thou shalt be built; and to the temple, thy foundation shall be laid I will subdue nations before his face, and turn the backs of kings, and open the doors before him." And Cyrus, accomplishing the will of God, restored the people of God to liberty and honour. We cannot be surprised that the recollection of these miracles had remained in the country itself in which they had been accomplished; that the magi had kept the memory of Daniel's prophecy, and of the four hundred and ninety years which were to pass before the coming of the Saviour, before the rising of the star predicted of old by Balaam, and that the expectation common to all the nations of the earth was still more lively amongst them. When at last the true star announced by the prophets rose in the stable at Bethlehem, God permitted the appearance in the heavens of a new and miraculous star, which attracted the attention of the magi of Chaldea. Three amongst them were found whose hearts were strong enough in faith, love of truth, and courageous obedience, to answer to His call, and to follow the mysterious star without thinking of the perils of the journey. " A star which appeared only to the eyes," says the great Bishop Bossuet, "would not have sufficed to draw the magi to the new-born King. It was necessary that the star of Jacob and the light of Christ should rise in their hearts. While He gave them an external sign, God touched their hearts by that inspiration of which Jesus said: 'No man can come to Me, except the Father, who hath sent Me, draw him.' " (ossuet, Elev. sur les Myst., iii. Elev. 17 semaine.)
Let us here find our lesson for to-night. Can Christians, on whom the star of the Saviour has shone from their earliest days, he less devoted to their faith than these strangers, who saw His light shine suddenly in the midst of the darkness of idolatry ? As soon as they recognised the star, these strangers left their home; they crossed deserts, mountains, and torrents swelled by the winter rains; nothing stopped them. And we, on the contrary, by what trifles do we allow ourselves to he hindered from following the call of God, the inspiration of conscience, the star of the Saviour, which shines in us ? There is not one among us who does not hear within him this call of God in his time of need, and if we neglect it, it is because it is drowned in the din of earthly passions, because the mists of earth arise to obscure the brightness of the star. Let us then take courage, and in imitation of the magi let us follow the call without fear. Were there not many voices in their distant land dissuading them from this long journey ? Did not the clouds more than once hide the star from them? Let us say to our gentle Saviour: We have seen Thy star, and we are come; we saw it, and we set out.
But whither ? This we know not as yet; let us begin by leaving the land of our birth, that is, the corrupt nature in which we were born; let us follow God everywhere, even where it becomes difficult, even where great faith and great efforts are required. Let us never be discouraged, or murmur if our toil seems poorly rewarded, or even if the result seems contrary to our expectations. In the same way that the Eternal Word was hidden under the appearance of a poor child to the eyes of the magi, so may a great grace be hidden under the appearance of a failure, a blessing under that of a misfortune. Take courage then: when God calls us, it is the tenderest of Fathers calling His children. Never will weariness be more magnificently recompensed than that which we may suffer in following His voice.
Holy Virgin, who art called the morning star, whose humble apparition made way for the rising of the Sun of Justice, may thy gentle and pure light lead us in our turn to the cradle of the Saviour. Fill us with the faith and obedience of these great ones of the earth, who came from afar. Teach us to offer, like them, to thy Divine Infant, the gold of love, the incense of prayer, and the myrrh of repentance. We are not kings, but a heart animated with thy love contains treasures of charity more precious and more powerful than gold. We place them at the feet of Jesus, to consecrate them to His service, and to the service of our brethren.
Inspire us with those fervent prayers which rise up to God like the smoke of incense, and which are so agreeable to Him when presented by thee. And as the myrrh which served for the embalming of the dead, is the emblem of repentance, by which we die to sin, teach us to strip ourselves of our passions, our evil feelings, and our bad habits, and to present ourselves to thy Divine Son with the humble and contrite heart which He will never despise. Such are the gifts which the most humble of His children offer to the Infant Jesus. Receive them, holy Virgin, as thou didst receive those of the magi, and may we, like them, return strengthened and purified to our homes by another 'road, leaving the paths of sin to follow those of virtue.
To answer quickly to the call of God, and never to fear either weariness or sacrifices in the accomplishment of a duty.