Meditations On The Life Of The Blessed Virgin For Every Day Of the Month, Suitable for all seasons and especially the month of May.
CALLING OF THE FIRST APOSTLES.
"Jesus said to them: Come ye after Me, and I will make you to be fishers of men........ And they forthwith left their nets, and father, and followed Him." —St. Matt. iv. 19, 22.
"Meanwhile, Jerusalem was moved by the preaching of St. John the Baptist, and the great Council of the Jews, whose business it was to superintend religious matters, sent to him priests to question him on his person and ministry. Those who were chosen were of the sect of .the Pharisees. The messengers asked him this question: 'Who art thou?' And he confessed that he was not the Christ. The messengers insisted, and said to him: 'What then, art thou Elias ?' And he said, 'I am not' 'Art thou the prophet?' (He whom they called thus, was Jeremias, whom the Jews culled the prophet, and who, together with Elias, was, according to the general opinion, to appear once more amongst them.) But John answered, 'No.'
Then they said to him: 'Who art thou then? What answer shall we give to them that sent us ? What sayest thou of thyself?' John answered: 'I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the Prophet Isaias.' The messengers asked him again, 'Why then dost thou baptize if thou he not Christ, nor Elias, nor the prophet ?' John answered : 'I baptise with water, hut there hath stood One in the midst of you, whom you know not. The same is He that shall come after me, who is preferred before me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose. These things were done in Bathabara, (M. Foisset quotes from a different reading. The English Douay version reads " Bethania.") beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing." (History of Jesus Christ, by M. Foisset See St. John i. 21-25.)
This place called Bethabara, or house of passage, was celebrated in the history of the Jews, There it was that, after the death of Moses, the people of God, led by Josue, passed the Jordan dry-shod, the waters of the river reverently retiring, as the priests who bore the sacred ark descended into it. An altar, built on the shore by Josue's orders, of twelve stones taken out of the bed of the river, and another built in th£ middle of the river, of twelve stones taken from the shore, marked the place for the reverence of future generations. On this holy spot, on which God had opened the promised land to His people, John had baptized Him who came to open heaven to the new people of God, who are drawn from all nations of the earth. At this same place John paid Him a first and solemn homage.
It was at the time when the vanquished tempter left our Saviour, and when the angels of heaven ministered to Him on the mountain. "Our Lord," says St. Bonaventure, "desiring to return to His Mother, came down from the mountain. Let us follow Him in spirit on this journey, and, seeing Him, the Lord of the world, walk thus barefoot, and without escort, let us not refuse Him our lively compassion." (St. Bonaventure Meditations sur la Vie de J. C.)
Our Lord does not allow the angels to bear Him on their wings; it is His will to suffer both the fatigues of the journey and the heat of the day. Next morning He reached the banks of the river, His feet wounded like those of an ordinary traveller. What was the holiness of the ark of the covenant compared to the holiness of that God Himself, Whose power forced the waters of the Jordan to withdraw before it ? And yet the mountains did not tremble, the Jordan did not turn back, and amongst the people who surrounded John the Baptist, not one recognised in this traveller, who appeared to them but as an ordinary penitent, their King, who came to them meek and full of love. (St. Matt. xxi. 5.)
But St. John the Baptist, raising his voice, bore witness, and cried, "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who taketh away the sin of the world." (St. John i. 29.)
Let us carefully consider the testimony borne by the holy forerunner, for he makes known, says Bossuet, "a deep mystery of Jesus Christ, Day by day, and morning and evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the temple, and this was the unceasing and perpetual sacrifice. This is what made John speak the words we have just read. It may even have been that Jesus drew near at the very hour, well known to all, at which this sacrifice was being offered up. John had said the day before, that the Christ, who was to follow him, had preceded him by His eternal origin; he now made Him known as the victim of the world. Do not imagine that that lamb which is sacrificed morning and evening in a perpetual sacrifice, is the true Lamb, the true Victim of God. Behold Him, who, coming into the world, has taken the place of all other victims. He it is Who is the great Victim of the human race, and Who alone can expiate and remove that great sin which is the beginning of all others, and which for that reason may be called the sin of the world, that is, the sin of Adam, which is that of the universe Behold this Lamb of God, Whom Isaias saw in spirit, when he represented Him as the Lamb Who suffered Himself not only to be shorn, but even, so to speak, to betrayed, and to be sacrificed without complaint, and whom Jeremias saw and represented in hi$ own person when he said: I am as an innocent lamb borne to the sacrifice. Behold this Lamb, so gentle, so simple, so patient, without guile, without deception, Who is to be sacrificed for all sinners."
The multitude listened in wonder to the words of John. "This is He of whom I said: After me there cometh a Man Who is preferred before me; because He was before me. And I knew Him not." For John had passed his youth in the desert, whilst Jesus grew up far from him. "But I come baptizing with water, that He may be made manifest in Israel. I saw the Spirit coming down as. a dove from heaven, and He remained upon Him. Once more I knew Him not, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me He upon Whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, He it is that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
I saw and 1 gave testimony that this is the Son of God." (Vie de Jesus Christ, M. Foisset--St. Jean. i. 24)
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. And seeing Jesus passing he said to them : Behold the Lamb of God. At these words the two disciples followed Jesus. And Jesus turning, and seeing them following Him, saith to them, " What seek you ?" " Master," said they, "where dwellest Thou?" Jesus said, " Come and see;" They went and saw where He abode, and stayed with Him that day. Jesus was now about to call the first companions of His preaching and of His sufferings, the first of those whom we venerate under the name of Apostles, the first members, and afterwards the first princes of His Church, who, after the example of their Divine Master, laboured and died for our salvation. Let us observe with attention the details of their divine calling. Struck to the heart by the homage rendered to our Saviour by St. John the Baptist their master, and encouraged doubtless by the Forerunner himself to follow this greater Master, as soon as John said, " Behold the Lamb of God" they followed Jesus in silence. "And when this good Master, who ardently desired their salvation, turned towards them to encourage them, and said to them, ' What seek you ?' they humbly asked Him where He dwelt, that they might follow Him. Jesus said to them, 'Come and see.' (St. Bonaventure, sur la Vie de Jesus Christ.)
And it was doubtless in some wild shelter in the desert that they passed the rest of the day, listening to His word. The next day their faith was great, for Andrew, one of the two, who was a fisher of Bethsaida in Galilee, met Simon his brother and said to him, " We have found the Messias." He brought him to Jesus. And Jesus, looking upon him, said, " Thou art Simon, the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas," which is interpreted Peter. This fisherman, upon whom Jesus at once fixed His eyes, and to whom He gave a new name, is the same to whom He afterwards said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. " (St. Matt. xvi. 18.) He is the first Head, the first Pope of the infant Church; it is his successor whom we venerate at the present time as. the head of that holy Church, ancient in years but young in ever-renewed vigour, of that Church against which the gates of hell, that is to say, evil, have not prevailed for centuries, in spite of so many attacks, and against which they will not prevail in our day, in spite of so many dangers.
The next day Jesus desired to return into Galilee, where was His holy Mother. "He findeth Philip, and Jesus saith to him, Follow Me, Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathaniel, and saith to him, We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth. And Nathaniel said to him, Can anything of good come from Nazareth ? Philip saith to him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to Him, and He saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile. Nathaniel saith to him, Whence knowest thou me ? Jesus answered and said to him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathaniel answered Him and said, Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, thou believest; greater things than these shalt thou see." (St. John i. 43.)
This fig tree being far away and out of sight, our Saviour thus convinced Nathaniel that His power was greater than that of man. With what simplicity did Nathaniel recognize the miracle, with what ardour did he confess it, and acknowledge Jesus for his Master and his God! This "Israelite indeed in whom there was no guile" is believed to be the brother of Philip, the Apostle St Bartholomew. (Bartholmai, son of Tholmai or Ptolemee. "Histoire de J. C." M. Foisset.)
After having called these five first Apostles of the New Law, Jesus returned to His Mother. Let us rejoice in her joy, after such long days of solitude. St. Bonaventure describes Mary recognizing her Son from afar, and hastening to meet Him with an inexpressible joy, and Jesus greeting her with tender reverence.
The Gospel does not say positively that Jesus took His disciples with Him to Nazareth. We may, however, suppose it, since three days afterwards, at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, " Jesus also was invited, and His disciples, to the marriage." ("Vocatus est autem Jesus et discipuli ejus ad nuptias."—St John ii. 2.)
We know that the first disciples did not at this time continually follow the steps of their master, and were not finally called till after the miraculous draught of fishes. But Jesus, who suffered them to return to their nets, doubtless often saw them, either in His journeys through Galilee, or at Nazareth, and we may well believe that she, whom the Church calls the Queen of Apostles was often present at those first conferences, in which our Saviour sowed in these hitherto unprepared souls the seeds which were to produce such marvellous fruits; she opened her maternal heart to those who were to become the first servants of her Son. She loved them, served them, and by her prayers caused the holy words which struck their ears to descend likewise into their hearts. Now the little flock of the chosen of the Lord, was increased by some of those whom the Jews of Nazareth called the brethren of Jesus, because they were His kinsmen. They were James, and Simon, and Jude, sons of the faithful friend of the Blessed Virgin, Mary the wife of Cleophas. (It is believed that Cleophas, or Alpheus, was the brother of St Joseph, and that thus Mary was the sister in law of the Blessed Virgin. Perhaps there was some other connection between them besides.) Two other fishermen of Bethsaida joined themselves to them, James and John, sons of Zebedee, and this chosen army, which was to conquer the world to the Gospel, began to be formed under the eye of God, around Jesus and Mary.
Who would have said that these fishermen of Galilee, these simple men, ignorant of all human science, these poor disciples of a poor master, were destined to overthrow all that great pagan civilization, the queen and mistress of the whole universe, in whose hands were strength, riches, and science, and whose support were all the wicked passions of the human heart? What attractions had they to offer to men in the place of what they came to destroy? They said to the proud: " You are but dust; to the rich, intoxicated by their riches, "Feed your brethren the poor, and lay up for yourselves treasures which the moth and rust cannot destroy;" to homicides, and there were many at a time in which human life went for-nothing, "Not a hair falleth from an innocent head but God seeth it, and avengeth the oppressed to the monsters of impurity, whose crimes were a terror to the whole earth, they cried, " Repent, for sooner or later the vengeance of God will smite you."
And what were the arms they made use of to secure the triumph of this severe doctrine over the corrupt world, which rejected it with all its strength? Prayer, suffering, humiliation, and death.
And they have conquered. Fishermen, labourers, and peasants have shown themselves wiser than all philosophers, more eloquent than all orators, and stronger than that pagan civilization which thought to crush them with a single blow. A day came on which they assembled for the last time, and then separated never to meet again on this earth; and alone, with no other guide than the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, with no weapon but His grace, they bore the Gospel to the extremities of the earth, and when the Lord saw that His good servant had laboured enough, each one of them finished his Work, and sealed his testimony by dying,, alter the example of his Saviour, for the salvation of souls. Their deaths were not attended by earthly glory. Unknown for the most part, martyred for from their country, and treated like criminals or madmen, God and a few hidden and. persecuted disciples were the only witnesses of their last sufferings. And yet God has in so wonderful a manner preserved for us the memory of these obscure deaths, that at the present time, the best argument against infidels is that saying of a great man, "I believe willingly a doctrine the witnesses of which died to prove it."
The first Pope of the Church of God was to give as it were, a louder testimony than the others, and according to the word of our Saviour, to be the light placed on a candlestick, to enlighten all men from afar; thus St. Peter died on the top of a hill y in the midst of mighty Rome, the capital of the whole world-He was crucified like his Master, hut, being unwilling to accept the glory of exactly resembling Jesus on the cross, he asked his executioners to crucify him head downwards. His first successors were all martyred, and as brave soldiers fearlessly take the place of their dead companions, so, in the army of the Lord, the place was never vacant; the soldiers died! around their chief, and each sex and every age shared one glorious fate. Christian mothers encouraged their children in their sufferings, and died after them, blessing the Lord. The blood of martyrs is the seed of martyrs, and when the sins of the wicked had exhausted the patience of God, He swept them from the face of the earth, and the Church rose up from the ruins of empires, in immortal youth. The Church is ever the same. Time has not weakened her strength. Ever weak in that which is the power of human empires, she is durable and powerful, because she can suffer and die, and is ever rising again, like her Divine Founder, from the tomb in which the wicked think to bury her. As of old she still has her apostles, the depositories of the promises of Jesus Christ, inheritors of the power left by Him to the twelve fishermen of Galilee. These apostles are our bishops and priests; and as everything in the Church of Christ is renewed and perpetuated, we see the successors of the apostles and the princes of the Church chosen from all classes, as of old they were taken from among the sons of David, the peasants of Galilee, and the publicans. The brothers, the sons, and the comrades of the poorest Christian may be called to this apostolate, for which God requires no other nobility, no other treasure, and no other power, than that of sanctity. When the choice of God has fallen on a soul, when He has brought him from his father's house, and has confided him to the hands of the Church, to form him, to appropriate him to His holy ministry, He works in that soul miracles of grace and of transformation, and we recognise the hand of the same God who made of twelve ignorant men, the conquerors of the world, and the wonder of all ages.
Apostle signifies messenger. In all times, and in all places, there will be found in the midst of the Church the messengers of the Lord. In all times the Church, inspired by God, will send other messengers of the Lord to bear the light to those unhappy people whom it has not yet reached. "To go to the end of the world to save a soul and then die 1" cried St. Francis Xavier. How many holy missionaries have repeated this generous cry, and have died in those distant lands, having sown with their blood the seed of Faith, and now look down from heaven upon the abundant harvest gathered in by their successors in the work. It is sometimes said that our century is not capable of these miracles of self-devotion, which were the glory of the first ages. Let us not calumniate our times. Who carried the light of the Gospel to China and Cochin-China, so long closed to civilization and truth ? Who but holy missionaries and apostles, worthy successors of the Apostles of Jesus Christ; martyrs, worthy successors of the first martyrs? They watered with their blood these heathen lands, and Faith sprang up. The Annals of the Propagation of the Faith relate their sufferings and victories.
The Society for the Propagation of the Faith sends missionaries across the seas and maintains them in those ungrateful lands which reject them, as the land of Israel once rejected the Apostles of Jesus Christ. An alms of an halfpenny a month, and there are few too poor to give as much, sends out the necessary help to these generous missionaries our brethren, and helps to save thousands of souls. By giving a halfpenny a month, children may contribute to the work of the Holy Childhood, and fiend into vast countries of idolaters good servants of God, who receive poor little children, abandoned through pagan barbarity, baptize them when in danger of death, and enrich heaven with thousands of innocent souls.
These alms are one means of contributing from afar to the labours of the Apostles whom the Church sends continually to gain souls. But there is another way of giving apostles to the Church, which is to make ourselves apostles, not to distant lands or to idolaters, but in the bosom of our family and in society. True, we have not the powers which Jesus Christ has given to His Apostles, and of which our Bishops and Priests are the sole inheritors. But in the family, the mother who teaches her children to know and love God, and whose blameless life is a fit model for her daughter—the father, who, by his example, leads his son in the path of honour and virtue—-the faithful wife, whose patience, love, and constant gentleness, attracts her husband to the home which she endears to him—the young girl among her companions, the child at school, at catechism, or at home—can they not all be so many apostles, preaching, not so much in words as in actions ? Is not a good Catholic family a living sermon in the world ? Were we, each in our place, the imitators of the Apostles, and true children of the Saints, how beautiful the world would be! It would be the reign of God on earth.
O Mary, Queen of the Apostles, may we, by thy help, understand the Faith and the self-devotion of the first friends of Jesus Christ. Obtain for us the grace to obey those whom the Church places over us as their successors and representatives; to believe them with the same faith as if thy Divine Son Himself spoke to us by their mouth. Obtain for us the grace to fulfil the apostolate which God confides to each of us; and never to deny our Faith by word or action. Since God has placed us in a Christian society, in which we have not to confess Jesus Christ by a martyr's death, may we at least confess Him daily by a truly Christian life. Gather us often, O Mary, in thy sanctuaries, and may the holy truths revealed by thy Divine Son, sink into our souls, and, by the help of thy holy prayers, may they produce fruits of blessing for us and for others. Amen.
To show frankly and courageously by our actions the Faith we have in our hearts.