Meditations On The Life Of The Blessed Virgin For Every Day Of the Month, Suitable for all seasons and especially the month of May.
CHRISTMAS.—ADORATION OF THE SHEPHERDS.
"Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given." —Isaias ix. 6.
Mary spent in silence and retreat the time which was to pass before the birth of the Saviour. An angel of God visited Joseph in sleep, and made known to him to what high glory God had raised his spouse the Blessed Virgin, and the sacred trust which would soon be placed in their hands. Mary and Joseph, deeply recollected, in the expectation of so great a mystery, prepared themselves by prayer for the incomparable grace of receiving under their roof Him whose glory heaven and earth cannot contain. At that time the Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar, desired to know the number of inhabitants contained in his vast empire, which comprised almost the whole of the then known world. He ordered a census to be made in all the countries under his dominion. And governors arrived in the provinces, cities, and villages. The order was given to the inhabitants of every age and sex to come and be inscribed on that immense list of the subjects of the Roman Empire. Cyrinus, governor of Syria, arrived in Judea. Each one of the enslaved children of Israel was to repair to the town from whence his family drew their origin. Joseph and Mary, as descendants of David, had to go and enrol their names at the place where David their royal ancestor was born, in the humble house of his father Isai or Jesse. "What a wonderful thing is this! More than seven hundred years before, God had predicted by His prophet, that in that privileged city of Bethlehem was to be born the Saviour of the world. " And thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda: out of thee shall He come unto Me, that is to be the Ruler in Israel, and His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity." (Micheas v. 2.) The time being accomplished, Mary and Joseph left their dwelling at Nazareth. Although the day was at hand on which the Blessed Virgin was to bring her Divine Son into the world, she was forced to expose herself to the fatigues of this distant journey. Joseph, whom God had chosen to be the foster-father of His Son, "began that blessed ministry (Bossuet, V. Elevation.) by accompanying his holy spouse, and by seeking for her places of shelter and rest on this long journey. Obscure and unknown, they came to add their name to the list of the subjects of the empire, and doubtless he who inscribed amongst the descendants of David this young and feeble maiden, and this poor and aged man, smiled in pity at the sight of the depths of humiliation to which the royal race of the Jews had fallen. But the eyes of all heaven were fixed upon this poor maiden. She it was who was about to give to the world the Desire of all Nations. And that magistrate sent by Borne, the unconscious instrument of an earthly power, knew not that he was accomplishing the eternal designs of God in leading to Bethlehem Him who was there to be born for the salvation of the world.
"You princes of the world," cries the great Bishop Bossuet, "little know what you are doing when you put the whole universe in commotion that a list may be made of all the subjects of your empire! You wish to know its strength, its tribes, its future soldiers, and you begin to enrol them. It is this, or something similar, that you are about to do. But God has other designs, which you fulfil without knowing it. His Son is to be born in Bethlehem, the humble birthplace of David. He has caused this to be predicted by His prophet, more than seven hundred years ago, and behold, all the world is set in motion to fulfil this prophecy." (Bossuet, Elevations sur les Mysteries.)
These humble pilgrims, the depositories of the treasure for which the world is waiting, which the prophets have announced, reach Bethlehem. In the evening, after a long day of travelling, they reach the deep valley, upon which Bethlehem looks down. From all sides flocks of travellers are going towards the city of David. Joseph hastens the pace of the humble beast that bears Mary. He enters the town, he directs his steps towards the inn, where, according to eastern custom, the poor as well as the rich should find hospitality. " But there was no room for them in the inn," the holy Gospel tells us. Then, rapping at the doors of the city of his fathers, the descendant of David asks for one night's shelter, in order that his young spouse may rest from her wea-ness. But the houses, like the inns, are invaded by a crowd of travellers. Joseph comes empty-handed, and the doors are shut against him. The shades of a cold winter night are already falling on the inhospitable town, and on the streets full of a stirring crowd, not one of which troubles himself about their distress. Joseph with a heavy heart continues humbly to ask for shelter, and more than once, perhaps, Mary's gentle voice unites with his in vain. Behold them shortly at the outskirts of the town. Has Bethlehem, then, refused to receive her Saviour ?
In the side of the mountain, not far from the last houses of the town, is a cavern hewn out of the rock. Joseph and Mary hear the sounds of some domestic animals within, "This cavern, the entrance of which faces the north, and which grows narrower in the interior, serves as a common stable to the Bethlehemites, and sometimes as a shelter for the shepherds on stormy nights, Mary and Joseph bless God for having guided them to this place of shelter." (Vie de la Sainte Vierge, par l'Abbe Orsini.)
They enter, and there is the sanctuary that Bethlehem has prepared for Him whose predicted birth has been for seven hundred years its glory. And somewhere close to them a doctor of the law, treated by all with reverence, and received with all the attentions of hospitality, is opening the holy books at the page in which is written, "And thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda, out of thee shall He come forth unto Me, that is to be the ruler in Israel." (Micheas v. 2.) It is of this same Ruler in Israel that another prophet has said : " He shall grow up as a tender plant before Him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground. There is no beauty in Him, nor comeliness; and we have seen Him, and there was no sightliness that we should he desirous of Him: despised, and the most abject of men, a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief." (Isaias liii. 2-3) He Himself will one day say: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His Head." (St. Luke ix, 38.) In this stable, on this cold night, Mary " brought forth her first born Son, 55 says the Gospel, " and wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
Behold, then, the expected Saviour, the little Infant, the Son of God, made man, who is given to us. He whom the Holy Scriptures called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. A poor little Infant, moaning and weeping with the cold, like our own. Behold how, for the love of us, the Almighty God hath humbled Himself! Mary makes Him swaddling clothes from her veils, her virginal hands wrap them round Him to protect Him from the night wind; then in a hollow of the rock, where the ground sinks at the extremity of the cavern, and where the shepherds have thrown down a little straw, which the animals have warmed with their breath, the Blessed Virgin lays her new-born Child. This is the cradle of the Infant God.
Who are now His first worshippers ? Near the manger, her heart trembling with love and reverence, Mary worships her Son, whom she knows to be her God. A Father of the Church thus renders her first prayer: "What shall I call Thee?" says she. " A mortal ?—but I conceived Thee by Divine operation A God? but Thou hast a human body. Shall I come to Thee with incense, or offer Thee my milk ? Shall I lavish on Thee all the cares of a tender mother, or serve Thee with my brow in the dust ? O wondrous thought! the heavens are Thy dwelling, and I rock Thee on my knee! Thou art on the earth, and Thou art not separated from the inhabitants of the heavenly realms. The heavens are with Thee." (St. Basil.) Prostrate by Mary's side before the manger, Joseph worships his God with all the ardour of his soul, and at the same time adopting the feeble Infant lying before him, with fatherly tenderness, he engages to serve and love Him, and to defend Him, at any cost, from suffering and danger.
In the meantime, at the foot of the hill of Bethlehem, some shepherds were guarding their flocks in the valley. They were devout' children of Israel, " imitators of the holy patriarchs, and the most innocent and simple company in the world." (Bossuet, Elevations sur les Mysteres.) "They were keeping the night watches over their flock," says the holy Gospel, " and behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them, and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them: Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people. For this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory be to God in the highest: and on earth peace to men of good will. And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another : Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord had shewed to us. And they came with haste. And they found Mary and Joseph, and the Infant lying in the manger. And seeing* they understood of the word that had been spoken to them concerning this Child, And all that heard wondered: and at those things that were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them." (St. Luke ii. 8-20.)
"A few poor shepherds, the most innocent and simple company in the world." These were, with Mary and Joseph, the first worshippers of God made man. The Doctors of the Law remained in their blindness, and the mighty ones of the earth in their pride. Those whom God first called to His crib were the poor, men of simple heart, men of good will. Rejoice, my brethren, you the poor whom God loves, whom we also love because you were His first friends. See our Lord calls the humble to Himself, and raises them from their low estate.
Do you then return, like shepherds of Bethlehem, praising and glorifying God, and ask from Him how to render your poverty great and holy, like that of Joseph and Mary, dear to God, like that of the shepherds of Bethlehem. Sing with the angels, " Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will." And know beforehand that it is in these words, upon which we shall meditate together, that this great secret is contained. And then, while pondering in your hearts the lessons of the holy Christmas nights, picture to yourselves the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God and our Mother, going from door to door, asking from the inhabitants of Bethlehem a shelter which they refuse to her. Never see a mother, an old man, and a little child poorer than yourselves, without seeing in them Mary, Joseph, and the Infant Jesus, Never let your poverty close your heart to the poverty of others. Which one of you was ever so poor as Mary and Joseph, without shelter and bread, on Christmas night? "Which one of you, however poor he may be, gives his children a manger for a cradle ? Jesus is the only one whom we see thus abandoned, and it is by this mark that He desires to be recognised.
O Mary, meek and obedient in thy journey to Bethlehem, patient and resigned when no house opened to give thee shelter, obtain for us humble obedience and resignation in suffering and in desolation. O Mary, kneeling before the manger, obtain for us humility in joy as in suffering, and above all, a spark of Thy love for Jesus. Make us understand and love the Divine teaching of the manger. Give us a place among the souls of good will, to whom thy Divine Son has brought peace, 0 holy Mother, obtain for us the faith of the shepherds of Bethlehem; so that in all simplicity we may bring to Jesus our humble presents, our hearts, the poverty of which we know, but which we desire to give wholly to Him. Amen.
To come often in spirit to the manger, with the shepherds of Bethlehem.