Meditations On The Life Of The Blessed Virgin For Every Day Of the Month, Suitable for all seasons and especially the month of May.
THE ESPOUSALS OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN— NAZARETH.
"Joseph, her husband, a just man." — St. Matt. i. 19.
The Blessed Virgin remained in the temple until the age at which the young maidens brought up under the shadow of the sanctuary returned to their families, to be affianced to a righteous man, and devoted thenceforward to the holy duties of wives and mothers, for which a religious youth had excellently prepared them. What woman, indeed, would better know how to devote herself to these laborious duties, to be good and faithful in her affections, moderate in joy, calm in sorrow, self-sacrificing in all circumstances of life, than she who, from her earliest youth, has had God for her end, her witness, and her teacher? But it was reserved for the holy maiden who was about to leave the temple in obedience to the Jewish law, to set us the example of virtues which the Gospel would soon cause to be so highly honoured on earth. Already she had consecrated to the Lord not only her early youth, but the whole of her life; and without thinking of herself, casting the care of her future upon that God to whom she had offered herself without reserve, she accepted beforehand solitude and humiliation on earth, that she might preserve that spotless purity which had been celebrated in the prophecy of Holy Scripture, in the wonderful language of which she was called the lily among thorns, the mystical rose, the tower of ivory, dazzling with whiteness.
However, the wicked world in the midst of which she was to live and suffer, was not worthy to know the sublimity of Mary's vocation, and it entered into the designs of the Divine Wisdom to conceal under the humble appearance of an ordinary Jewish wife, the Virgin announced by the prophets, who was to give to the world the long-promised Emanuel. - God therefore chose a just man out of the whole human race, to whom He entrusted the Mother of His Son, and later His Son Himself; and now let your minds be full of solemn reverence while we learn to know and love the first man whom our Divine Saviour loved, and whom, during thirty years He called His father.
This man, raised to the highest dignity to which a son of Adam can ever attain, that of guardian, protector, and adopted father of the Saviour of the world, was a poor carpenter of Nazareth. Like Mary herself, he sprang from the race of David, and from the Kings of Juda. But the glory of this royal house had long since been destroyed, and Joseph, its obscure descendant, living by the work of his hands, in a village, the name of which was scarcely known, had preserved of the inheritance of David only faith in the promises of God and courage in adversity. Kinsman of St. Joachim and St. Anna, no doubt their neighbour and their friend, he perhaps had seen Mary while still quite a child; perhaps he had consoled the solitude of her aged parents. Be that as it may, ancient authors relate that when the time came that the Blessed Virgin was to leave the temple, several young Hebrews presented themselves at the same time as St. Joseph, to the high priest, who was to act as father to the orphan daughter of the race of David, and asked her of him in marriage. Amongst them Joseph was the humblest and most venerable for age and virtues, and the poorest. To guide the choice of the high priest each one laid before the altar of the Lord a staff, one of which was to blossom by a miracle. Aaron, the brother of Moses, had formerly-been chosen high priest because his staff was found in blossom amongst those of his rivals. Those who here renewed the same trial little knew with what a wonderful priesthood the spouse of Mary was to be invested. Meanwhile, Mary was praying to the Lord. The next morning the staff belonging to the humble Joseph had become green, and a beautiful lily of a spotless whiteness was blooming on its summit. The priests saw in this miracle an evident sign of the choice of God. The humble Virgin received with confidence the spouse whom she knew was to protect her innocence with a father's care. She left the sanctuary which had sheltered the years of her youth, took leave of her companions, and returned to Nazareth with Joseph.
When, after a wearisome journey of several days, the pilgrim who has left Jerusalem and walked towards the north, has climbed a last height, steepest of the Galilean mountains, his heart beats as he pauses to look down upon a narrow valley, and a village, the houses of which, half built and half cut out of the side of the mountain, rise one above the other, interspersed with terraces and gardens. An old convent with blackened walls overlooks the irregular buildings of the village. It is towards this that the eyes of the traveller are directed; for, whatever may be his country, if he is a Christian, he is going to visit brothers who will receive him with touching hospitality, and besides, in the enclosure of this old church he will find the remains of that venerable house to which Joseph brought Mary, and in which the hidden life of Jesus was passed.
It is, then, on this mountain, and over a hamlet yet poorer than the modern village, since its name was never mentioned in the history of Judea, that we can imagine Mary and Joseph arriving, like the pilgrims of the present day, towards sunset. The strong ass, the ordinary means of conveyance for eastern women, and which has carried the Virgin, still almost a child, through this long journey, hangs its wearied head towards the earth. Mary dismounts, and looks with tearful eyes upon the house in which she is no longer to find her father and mother, and in which her new life is to begin.
It was a humble house: that of the poorest among us is perhaps more spacious and better built. In the side of the mountain a grotto cut out of the rock was divided into two cells; one of them, in which the ground for eighteen hundred years has been worn away by the knees of pilgrims, and in which the rock has been struck in turn by millions of hands anxious to carry away a relic of the holy place, bears the revered name of " Grotto of the Annunciation." It was the sanctuary from which, for thirty years, Mary's prayers were to rise up to God during many hours of the day and night. A rustic building standing before the Grotto completed this poor dwelling, which was richer than all earth's temples, since in it St. Anne and St. Joachim had passed their holy lives, the Blessed Virgin was born there, and there also the Saviour of the world was to pass His childhood. The place where this building is joined to the rock is marked to this day. This is all that remains at Nazareth; but a pious legend, confirmed by a number of miracles, teaches us that God will not permit either time or men to destroy this first witness of the Childhood of His Son.
About four hundred years ago a troop of barbarous Mussulmen ravaged the neighbourhood of Nazareth. The Holy Land, which had formerly been so gloriously conquered by the arms of Christendom, and which had been governed by Christian Kings of Jerusalem, was again falling into the hands of the Infidels. The Christians were everywhere massacred, as, alas! we have seen them massacred in our own day. The monks who kept the sanctuaries were murdered or dispersed, the sanctuaries themselves were profaned, it was then, says the legend, that the Holy House of Nazareth disappeared, having been removed by the angels, and was carried by them over the sea to a town in Italy called Loretto. Received with reverence by the piety of the faithful, and sheltered now by a magnificent church, the poor house is still standing, and has witnessed for four centuries the prayers of millions of pilgrims, as it witnessed the life of the Holy Family.
Let us kneel before this humble house, like the pilgrims to the Holy Land and to our Lady of Loretto; let us love it as Joseph and Mary loved it, happy in their poverty, and living in prayer and labour' under the eye of God. If God has given us a home as poor as theirs, let us think that holiness can make a sanctuary of any dwelling, where happiness can find place even in this world, through resignation, pious affections, and peace. If He has given to our hearths the riches refused to so many others, let us always think of the House of Nazareth, and imagine that we give to Joseph and to Mary whenever we give work or bread to the poor whom the Lord loves. This is the grace which we should ask for ourselves and each other, through the intercession of Mary, and also through the intercession of that great saint whose memory we should endeavour to bear away in our hearts to-night, never again to let it depart. Let us take St. Joseph for our patron and our friend. His virtues, before which the greatest intellects humble themselves, have nothing in them to alarm us. Labourers, who support your family by the labour of your hands, pray to this holy labourer, who supports by the labour of his hands both the Blessed Virgin and the Infant Jesus. You love people who are easy to speak to; love him then. You can certainly have no difficulty in speaking to him who, sprung from kings as he was, was poor as you are, and your equal in all but holiness. Become holy; love Jesus and Mary as much as he loved them, and you will become quite like St. Joseph. In the meantime tell him all your troubles, simply, as to a friend; he knows them all, and he has the power to remove them, if you deserve it, or to comfort you by teaching you to understand all that your soul will gain by them. Do you think if he was to pray for you that our Saviour would refuse anything to him whom for thirty years He called His father? Listen to what the great St. Teresa says on this subject: " I took for my advocate and my master the glorious St. Joseph, and specially recommended myself to him. I saw clearly afterwards that he whom I had called my master and my father, had delivered me more completely even than I had dared to ask him, in great risks, where the salvation of my soul was endangered. I never remember to this day having asked him a single thing which he has not done for me. To other saints, it appears to me, have been given particular graces, to succour men in one of their necessities, hut I know by experience that the glorious St. Joseph succours them in everything; and it is the will of our Blessed Saviour that we should understand that as He submitted upon earth to everything he might order Him to do, since, being only foster-father, he bore the name of father, so He grants him all his requests in heaven, and this has been experienced also by some people whom I have advised to recommend themselves to him. I should wish to persuade all my brethren to become devout servants of this great saint. I never knew a person who had a sincere devotion to him, and who rendered him a special honour, who did not visibly make great advances in virtue; for his intercession does great things for those who recommend themselves to him I ask, then, for the love of God, those who will not believe me to make the trial themselves ; they will then learn by experience how greatly the soul benefits by commending itself to this glorious patriarch, having a sincere devotion to him......I do not know how we can think of the Queen of Angels, and of the time when she suffered such hardships with the Infant Jesus, without thanking St. Joseph for having done us all such good service by serving them."
Let us love St. Joseph; let us love him who loved our Saviour so much, who protected Him, who took care of Him, hid Him, and nourished Him. Let us pray to him in life, that we may learn to serve Jesus as he did; let us pray to him in death, that we may die as he did, in the arms of Jesus and Mary.
O holy spouse of our glorious Mother, the simplest of all men and the greatest of all saints, since, while thou wert called the carpenter of Nazareth, it was given to thee to call by the name of son the eternal Son of God, teach us to love the obscurity of thy life, there to wait for Jesus, and there to serve Him as thou didst, with all the devotion of our souls. Bring often to our memories the humble house at Nazareth, that we may ponder at the same time on its poverty and on its greatness, and that, seeing such poor walls destined to contain the Child-God, we may understand that poverty may hide under its daily trials so great a treasure that no earthly sufferings would suffice to pay for it, and may the poorest of our houses become rich in virtues, like the house of Nazareth, and Jesus will come and dwell in them. Mary our holy Mother, and thou Joseph, who hast drawn from our Saviour's love charity for all men, pray for us, that we may adorn our souls as an abode for Him, and that one day the divine Guest whom we have invited to remain with us, may give us entrance into His eternal kingdom. Amen.
Often to return in spirit to the house at Nazareth—whether rich or poor to make it the model of our life. To call upon St. Joseph with confidence, and to love Jesus and Mary as he did.