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Our Lady Saint Mary by J. G. H. Barry

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unexpected situations in which we from time to time find ourselves. If
our constant attitude has been one of free and glad obedience we need
not fear to go astray. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord," Blessed Mary
said; and such an attitude has never failed to meet the divine approval
and call out the help of God. Just to put ourselves utterly at God's
disposal is the clearing of all life. "Into Thy hands," is the solution
of all difficulties.

I sing a maiden
That is matchless;
King of all kings
To her Son she ches.

He came all so still
To His Mother's bower,
As dew in April
That falleth on the flower.

Mother and maiden
Was never none but she;
Well might such a lady
God's Mother be.
English, Fifteenth Century.




And Mary arose in those days, and went into
the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah;
and entered into the house of Zacharias, and
saluted Elizabeth.

S. Luke I. 39, 40.

Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord God, to us thy servants, that
we may evermore enjoy health of mind and body, and by the
glorious intercession of blessed Mary, ever a virgin, be
delivered from present sorrows and enjoy everlasting
gladness. Through.


Those who were faithful in Israel and were looking forward to the
fulfilment of God's promises would be drawn together by close bonds of
sympathy. It oftentimes proves that the bonds of a common ideal are
stronger than the bonds of blood. It was to prove so many times in the
history of Christianity when in accordance with our Lord's words the
closest blood relation would be broken through fidelity to Him, and a
man's foes be found to be those of his own household. But also it is
true that the possession of common ideals becomes the basis of relations
which are stronger than race or family. We may be sure that the members
of that little group of which we catch glimpses now and then in the
progress of the Gospel story found in their expectation of the Lord's
deliverance of Israel such a bond. We feel that S. Mary and S. Joseph
must have been members of this group and that they were filled with the
hope of God's manifestation. Another family which shared the same hope
was that of the priest Zacharias whose wife Elizabeth was the cousin of
Mary of Nazareth. It is to their house in the hill country of Judah we
now turn our thoughts.

It was a part of the angelic message to S. Mary that her cousin
Elizabeth had "conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth
month with her who was called barren." Overwhelmed as S. Mary was by the
vocation which had come to her, perplexed as to what should be her next
step, she may well have seized upon the words of the angel as a hint as
to her present course. She must confide in some one, and that some one,
we instantly feel, must be a woman. In her own great joy she would need
some one with whom to share it. In her unprecedented case she would need
a counselor, and who better could afford aid than her cousin whose case
was in so many respects like her own, who was already cherishing a child
whose conception was due to the intervention of God? We understand
therefore, why it is that without waiting for the further development of
events, Mary arises, and goes "with haste" to the home of her cousin.

It is just now a house full of joy. For many years there had been
happiness there, but a happiness over which a cloud rested. The
affliction of barrenness was their sorrow. To the Hebrew there was no
true family until the love of the father and the mother was incarnated
in the child; and through many weary days Zacharias and Elizabeth had
waited until hope quite failed as they found themselves beyond the
possibility of bearing a child to cheer them and to hand on their name.
We may be sure that they were reconciled to the will of God, for it is
written of them that they were righteous, and the central feature of
righteousness is the acceptance of the divine will. But though one
cheerfully accepts the divine will there may still remain a
consciousness of a vacancy in life; and therefore we can understand the
joy that came to Zacharias when the angel appeared to him in the temple
when he was exercising the priest's office and offering the incense of
the daily sacrifice with the message that he should have a son. It was a
joy that would be unclouded by the God-sent dumbness which was at once a
punishment for his lack of immediate faith and a sign of the
faithfulness of God. It was a joy that would hasten his steps homeward
with the glad tidings, a joy that would fill the heart of Elizabeth when
she heard the message of God. Soon the consciousness of the babe in her
womb would be a growing wonder and a growing happiness. There would be a
new brightness in the house where the aged mother waits through the
months and the dumb father with his writing tablet at his side meditates
upon the meaning of the providence of God and upon the prophecies of the
angel as to his child's future. But what that future would be he could
hardly expect to witness; he was too old to live to the day of his
child's showing unto Israel.

It is to this house that we see S. Mary hastening, sure of finding there
a heart in which she can confide. She "entered into the house of
Zacharias and saluted Elizabeth." We are not told what the words of her
salutation were, but no doubt it was the customary Jewish salutation of
peace. There could have been no more appropriate salutation exchanged
between these two in whose souls was abiding the peace of a perfect
possession of God. The will of God to which they had been accustomed to
offer themselves all their lives was being accomplished through them in
unexpected ways; but it found them as ready of acceptance as they had
been in any of the ordinary duties of life wherein they had been
accustomed to wait upon God. We may seem sometimes to go beyond Holy
Scripture in our interpretations of feelings and thoughts which we are
sure must have been those of the actors in the drama of salvation
unfolded to us in the Scriptures; but are we not entitled to infer from
God's actions a good deal of the nature of the instruments He uses? Are
we not quite safe in the case of S. Mary in the deduction from the
nature of her vocation of the spiritual perfection to attribute to her?
Does not God's use of a person imply qualities in the person used? It is
on this ground that I feel that we are quite safe in inferring the
spiritual attitude of S. Mary and of S. Elizabeth from the choice God
made of them to be the instruments of His purpose of redemption.

But we are not inferring, we have the record with us, when we think of
the joy of the mothers transcended in the joy of the children. The
unborn Forerunner becomes conscious of the approach of Him of whom he is
to say later: "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the
world"; and there is an instantaneous movement that can only be that of
recognition and worship. The movement of the child is at once understood
and translated by S. Elizabeth: "And she spake out with a loud voice,
and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy
womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come
to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine
ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy."

In the presence of such joy and such sanctity we feel that our proper
attitude is the attitude of adoring wonder that S. Elizabeth expresses.
We worship our hidden Lord as the unborn prophet worships Him. We have
no question to ask, nor curiosity at the mode of God's action. We are
quite content to accept His action as it is revealed to us in Scripture;
a revelation of the divine presense in humanity which has been
abundantly verified in all the history of the Church. That verification
in experience--a verification that we ourselves can repeat--is worth
infinitely more than all the argument that the centuries have seen.

"Blessed art thou among women," S. Elizabeth cries; and in doing so she
is but repeating the words of the angel of the Annunciation. This word,
too, we presently hear S. Mary taking up, and under the inspiration of
the Holy Ghost saying: "From henceforth all generations shall call
me blessed."

And so they have. All generations, that is, that have been faithful to
the Gospel teaching and have assimilated in any degree the consequences
of S. Mary's nearness to God. When we speak of "Blessed" Mary we are but
doing what angels and holy women have done, and it is great pity if in
doing so we have to make a conscious effort, if the words do not spring
spontaneously from our lips. Surely, we have not gone far toward the
mastery of God's coming in the Incarnation if we have not felt the
purity of the instrument through whom God enters our nature. The outward
and visible sign of our understanding is found in our ability to
complete the _Ave_ as the Holy Spirit has taught the Church to complete
it: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour
of our death."

This reiterated attribution of blessedness to Mary our Mother calls us
to pause and ask just what blessedness means. It is of course the
characteristic Scripture locution for those who in some way enjoy the
special favour of God. Blessedness is the state of those who have
received special divine gifts of favour. A characteristic scriptural
description of the blessedness of the righteous in contrast with the
disaster of the unrighteous may be studied in the first Psalm. In the
New Testament we naturally turn to the Sermon on the Mount where the
Beatitudes give us our Lord's thought about blessedness. I think that we
can describe the notion of blessedness there presented as being the
state of those who have taken God at His word and chosen Him, and by
that act of choice, while they have forfeited the world and the world's
favour, have attained to the spiritual riches of the Kingdom of God.
They are those to whom God is the Supreme Good, in whose possession they
gladly count all things but loss. These are they who here in the pilgrim
state have already attained to the enjoyment of God because they want
nothing other or beside Him.

Supremely blessed, therefore, is Mary our Mother, who never for a moment
even in thought was separate from God. From the earliest moment of her
existence she could say, "My beloved is mine and I am His." We try to
think out what such a fact may mean when translated into terms of
spiritual energy, and it seems to mean more than anything else boundless
power of intercession such as the Church has attributed to S. Mary from
the earliest times. We see no other way of estimating spiritual power
save as the power of prayer. It is through prayer that we approach
God--for we remember that sacrifice is but the highest form of prayer.
The blessedness of S. Mary, that peculiar degree of blessedness which
seems signalized by the reiterated attribution of the quality to her,
must for our purposes to be understood as "power with God," power of
intercession. It means that our Lord has chosen her to be a special
medium of approval to Him, and that through her prayers He wills to
bestow upon men many of His choicest gifts. Naturally, her prayers, like
our prayers, are mediated by the merits of her divine Son; nevertheless
they have a peculiar power which is related to her peculiar blessedness
in that she is the mother of Incarnate God, and by special privilege is
herself without sin. Of all those to whom we are privileged to turn in
the joys and tragedies of our lives for the sympathy which helps through
enlightened, loving prayer, we most naturally resort to her who is all
love and all sympathy, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, blessed among
women forever.

Although we are told nothing of these days that S. Mary spent with her
cousin Elizabeth, we do gather that she remained with her until her
child was born and that she saw S. John in his mother's arms, and was a
partaker in the joy of the aged parents. She was present when Zacharias,
his speech restored, uttered the _Benedictus_ in thanksgiving for the
birth of his son. It was then, having seen her own Son's Forerunner that
S. Mary went back to Nazareth filled more than ever with the sense that
God's hand was in the events that were taking place, and of the approach
of some crisis in her nation's history. It must have been that she
talked intimately with Zacharias and Elizabeth and with them tried to
imagine what was the future in which these two children were so closely
concerned. When we consider the _Magnificat_ and the _Benedictus_ not as
the "Gospel Canticles" to be sung in Church but as the utterances of
pious Israelites under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, we feel how
very vivid must have been their expectation of God's action in the
immediate future, and with what intense love and interest they thought
of the parts to be taken by their children in the deliverance God was
preparing. How often they must have pondered the God-inspired saying:
"He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the
Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David; and he
shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there
shall be no end." "And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the
Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his
ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of
their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the Dayspring
from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way
of peace."

We think too of a more intimate sympathy that there would have been
between these two women, drawn now so close together, not only by the
blood bond, but by the bond of a common experience. What wonderful
hours of communing during these three months! The peace of the hills of
Judah is all about them and the peace of God is in their souls. What
ecstatic joy, what ineffable love was theirs in these moments as they
thought of the children who were God's precious gift to them. I fancy
that there were many hours when they ceased to think of the mystery that
hung over these children's destiny, and became just mothers lost in love
of the coming sons.

As we try to think out their relation to each other it presents itself
to us as a relation of sympathy. Sympathy is community of feeling; it is
maimed and thwarted when there is feeling only on one side. We speak of
our sympathy in their affliction for others whom we do not know and who
do not know us, but that is a very imperfect rendering of the perfect
thing. No more than love does sympathy reach its perfection in solitude.
But here in this village of Judah we know that we have the perfect
thing--sympathy in its most exquisite form.

This capacity for sympathy is one of the greatest of human endowments,
and, one is glad to think, not like many human endowments, rare in its
manifestation. In its ordinary manifestation it is instinctive, is
roused by the spectacle of need calling us to its aid. There come to our
knowledge from time to time instances of what seem to us very grievous
failures in sympathy, but investigation shows that ignorance is very
commonly at the bottom of them. When human beings are convinced of a
need they are quite ready to respond. Indeed this readiness to respond
makes them the easy victims of all sorts of impostures, of baseless
appeals which play upon sentiment rather than convince the
understanding. And just there lies the weakness of sympathy in that it
is so easily turned to sentimentality. But the sentimentalist who gushes
over ills, real or imaginary, can commonly be brought to book easily
enough. For one thing the sentimentalist is devoted to publicity. He
loves to conduct campaigns and drives, to "get up" a demonstration or an
entertainment. I do not mean that he is a hypocrite but only that he
loves the lime-light. When any tragedy befalls man his impulse is to
organise a dance in aid of it. It is extraordinary how many people there
are who will aid a charity by dancing to whom one would feel it quite
hopeless to appeal for the amount of the dance tickets. And yet they are
not wholly selfish people; there does lie back of the dance a certain
sympathetic impulse. We easily deceive ourselves about ourselves, and it
is well to be sure that we have true sympathy and not just sentiment. It
is not so difficult to find out. We can test ourselves quickly enough by
examining our giving. Do we give only when we are asked? Do we yield to
spectacular appeals or only to those that we have examined and found
good? Do we put the spiritual interests of humanity first? Is there any
appreciable amount of quiet spontaneous giving which is known to no one?
Do we prefer to be anonymous? Such tests soon reveal what we are like.
One who never gives spontaneously, without being asked, we may be sure
is lacking in sympathy.

But of course one does not mean that sympathy is so closely related to
what we call charity as what I have just said, if left by itself, would
seem to imply. That is indeed the common form assumed by sympathy which
has to be called out. But the best type of sympathy is the expression of
our knowledge of one another; it is based on our knowledge of human
nature and our interest in human beings. Because it is based on
knowledge it is not subject to be swept away by the sweet breezes of
sentimentalism. To its perfect exercise it is needful to know
individuals not merely to know about them. The ordinary limitations of
sympathy come from this, that we do not want to take time and pains to
know one another. That, for example, is where the Church falls short in
its mission to constitute a real brotherhood among its members--they
have no time nor inclination really to know one another, or they find
the artificial walls that society has erected impassable. It is, in
fact, not very easy to know one another, and it is impossible to develop
the complete type of sympathy with a crowd. For one must insist that
this highest type of sympathy requires, what the word actually does
mean, mutual sharing in life, the participation in the lives of our
fellows and their partaking in our lives.

So we understand why perfect sympathy is conditioned on spirituality.
Unless we are spiritually developed and spiritually at one we cannot
share in one another's lives fully. Where there are lives separated by a
gulf of spiritual differences the completest sympathy is impossible. And
we understand why Incarnate seems so much nearer to us than God
unincarnate. It is true that "the Father Himself loveth you"; it is
true that it is the love of the Blessed Trinity that is expressed in the
Incarnation. The Incarnation did not create God's love and sympathy, it
only reveals it. Yet it is precisely the Incarnation that enables us to
lay hold on God's sympathy with a certainty and sureness of grasp that
we would not otherwise have. The sight of "God in Christ reconciling the
world unto Himself" is more to us in the way of proof than any amount of
declaration can be. To be told of the sympathy of God is one thing, to
see how it works is another.

Our personal need in this matter is to find the sympathy that will help
us in something outside ourselves, outside the limitations of human
nature. Much as we value human sympathy, precious as we find its
expression, yet we do find that it has for the higher purposes of life
serious limitations. It has very little power to execute what it finds
needs to be done. A man may understand another's weakness and may
utterly sympathise with it; he may advise and console, but in the end he
finds that he cannot adequately help. The case is hopeless unless he can
point the sufferer to some source outside himself on which he can draw,
unless he can lead him to the sympathy of God. God can offer not only
consolation, not only the spectacle of another life which has triumphed
under analogous circumstances, but He can give the power to this present
weak and discouraged life to triumph in the place where it is. He can
"make a way of escape."

But there is another form of sympathy which we crave and need which is
just the communion of soul with soul. We are not asking anything more or
other than to show ourselves. We are overwhelmed with the loneliness of
life. It comes upon us in the most crowded places, this sense of
separation from all about us. Oh, that I might flee away and be at rest,
is our feeling. It is here that we specially need our Lord. Blessed are
we if we have learned to find in Him the rest we need for our souls, if
we have learned to open the door that leads always to Him; or, perhaps
to knock appealingly at that door which He will never fail to open. It
is then that we find the joy of the invitation "Come unto me all ye that
are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest."

But Christ, the perfect Sympathiser, has associated others with Himself.
If we can go to him, so can others; the Way is open to all. And those
who go and are associated with Him are gathered into a family. Here
among those who have followed the interests which are ours, and have
pursued the ends that we are pursuing, and cultivated the qualities
which we value, we feel sure of that sympathetic understanding of life
which we seek. And especially among those members of the Body who have
gone on to the end in fidelity to the ideals of the life which is hid
with Christ in God shall we look for understanding and help. It is from
this point of view that the Communion of Saints will mean so much to us.
We value the strength of mutual support which inevitably grows out of
associated life. We cannot think of the saints of God as having passed
beyond us into some place of rest where they are content to forget the
problems of earth: rather we are compelled to think of them as still
actively sharing in those interests which are still the interests of
their divine Head. Until, Jesus Himself cease to think of us who are
still in the Pilgrim Way, and cease to offer Himself on our behalf, we
cannot think of any who are in Him as other than intensely interested in
us of the earthly Church, or as doing other than helping by prayer for
us that we with them may attain our end. And especially shall we feel
sure that at any moment of our lives we may turn to the Mother in
confident expectancy of finding most helpful sympathy and most ready
aid. Her life to-day is a life of intercession, of intercession which
has all the power of perfect understanding and perfect sympathy. Let us
learn to go to her; let us learn that as God is praised and honoured in
His saints, as our Lord choses to work through those who are united to
Him, so it is His will that great power of prayer shall be hers of whom
He assumed our nature, that nature through which He still distributes
the riches of His grace.

As I lay upon a night,
My thought was on a Lady bright
That men callen Mary of might,
Redemptoris Mater.

To her came Gabriel so bright
And said, "Hail, Mary, full of might,
To be called thou art adight;"
Redemptoris Mater.

Right as the sun shineth in glass,
So Jesus in His Mother was,
And thereby wit men that she was
Redemptoris Mater.

Now is born that Babe of bliss,
And Queen of Heaven His Mother is,
And therefore think me that she is
Redemptoris Mater.

After to heaven He took His flight,
And there He sits with His Father of might,
With Him is crowned that Lady bright,
Redemptoris Mater.

English, Fifteenth Century.




And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath
rejoiced in God my Saviour.

S. Luke I. 46, 47.

Forasmuch as we have no excuse, because of the multitude of our sins,
we plead through thee, O Virgin Mother of God, with Him whom thou
didst bear.

Lo, great is thine intercession, strong and acceptable with our Saviour.

O Stainless Mother, reject not us sinners in thine intercession with Him
Whom thou didst bear.


Wonderful was this day in the little town of Judah where these two
women, each in her way an instrument of God in the upbuilding of His
Kingdom, met and rejoiced together. There is revealed to us something of
the possibilities of our religion when we try to follow the thought of
these two women. They are so utterly devoted to God that God can speak
to them. I think that it is well for us to dwell on this fact for a
moment. We are apt to look upon inspiration, what is described as being
filled with the Holy Ghost, as somewhat of a mechanical mode of God's
operation. Our mistaken view is that God takes control of the faculties
of a human being and uses them for His own purposes.

But that is quite to misunderstand God's method. God uses the faculties
of a man in proportion as the man yields himself to Him; and one who is
living a sincere religion becomes in a degree the medium of God's
self-expression. This possibility of expressing God increases as we
increase in sanctity. Those who have completely yielded themselves to
God in a life of sanctity become in a deep sense the representatives of
God: they have, in S. Paul's phraseology, His mind. To be capable of so
becoming the divine instrument it is necessary, not only to offer no
opposition to God's purposes, but to make ourselves the active
executants of them. Our Christian vocation is thus to be the instrument
of God, to be the visible demonstrations of His power and presence.
There is a true inspiration, a true speaking for God to-day, no doubt,
as true as at any time in the Church's history, wherever there is
sanctity. What is lacking to present day utterances of sanctity is not
the action of the Holy Spirit, but authentication by the Church: that is
given only under certain special circumstances and for special purposes.
But there is no need to limit the inspiring action of the Holy Spirit to
such utterances as for special reasons have received official

What we need to feel is the constant action of the Holy Spirit--that He
wants to speak through every man. And it helps to clear our minds if we
go to our Bibles with the expectation of finding here, not exceptions to
all rules which obtain in common life, but types of the divine action.
The isolation of Bible history has done much to create a feeling of its
unreality. What has happened only in the Bible can, we are apt to feel,
safely be disregarded in daily life in the twentieth century. But if
what we find there is customary modes of divine action in life,
exceptional in detail rather than in principle, the attitude we shall
take will be wholly different. We shall then study them with the feeling
expressed in S. Paul's saying, "These things are written for our
learning," and we shall expect to find in us and about us the same order
of divine action, we shall learn to look on our lives as having their
chief meaning in the fact that they are possible instruments of God; we
shall learn to regard failure as failure to show forth God to the world.

In a way we can read our facts backward: the fact that "Elizabeth was
filled with the Holy Ghost," and the fact that Mary under the same
divine impulse gave utterance to the words of the Magnificat, is a
revelation of the character of these two women which would satisfy us of
their sanctity had we no other evidence of it. The choice of them by God
to be His instruments is evidence of the divine approval; and that
approval can never be false to the facts; what God treats as holy
must be holy.

So we come to holy Mary's Song with the feeling that in studying it we
shall find in it a revelation of S. Mary herself. She is not an
instrument on which the Holy Spirit plays, but an intelligent being
through whom He acts. She, like S. Elizabeth, is filled with the Holy
Spirit--she had never been in the slightest degree out of union with
God--but still the Magnificat is her utterance; it represents her
thought; it is the measure, if one may so put it, in modern terminology,
of her degree of spiritual culture. Much that we say about S. Mary, her
simplicity, her social place, and so on, seems to carry with it the
implication of the ignorance and spiritual dullness that we associate
with the type of poverty we are accustomed to to-day. But the poor folk
whom we meet in association with our Lord are neither ignorant nor
spiritually dull; and it would be a vast mistake to think of Blessed
Mary as other than of great intelligence and spiritual receptivity, or
as deficient in understanding of the details of her ancestral religion.
We have no reason to be surprised that she should sing Magnificat, or to
think that the Holy Spirit was speaking through her thoughts which were
quite beyond her comprehension. Inspired she was, but inspired, no
doubt, to utter thoughts that had many times filled her mind.

Her spiritual attitude as revealed in the Magnificat is but the attitude
which must have been hers habitually--the attitude that exalts God and
not self. "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in
God my Saviour." That is the starting-place of all holy souls--the
adoration of God. True humility is never self-conscious because self is
lost in the vision of God. S. Mary was bearing in her pure body the very
Son of God. Admit, if you will, that as yet she did not understand the
full reach of her vocation; but she did know that she had been chosen by
God in a most signal manner to be the instrument of His purpose. That
which S. Elizabeth spoke under divine impulse,--"Whence is this that the
mother of my Lord should come to me?"--must have had clear meaning for
her. But the wonder of all that God is accomplishing through her only
brings her to God's feet. That "He that is mighty hath done me great
things," is but the evidence of His sanctity, not of her greatness.

One never gets through wondering at the beauty of humility; and it is
one of the marks of how far we are from spiritual apprehension when we
find this splendid virtue unattractive. It does indeed cut across many
of the instinctive impulses of our nature; it can hardly be said to have
dawned on humanity as a virtue until the Incarnation of God. Therein it
has revealed to us God's attitude in His work and, by consequence, the
natural attitude of all such as would associate themselves with God. It
is not so much a self-denying as a self-forgetting virtue. It is ruined
by the very consciousness of it. Such phrases as "practicing humility"
seem self-contradictory--when one begins to practice humility it becomes
something else. We do not conceive of our Lady as setting out to be
humble, of thinking of what a humble person would do under such and such
circumstances. She does not, as I was saying, think of herself at all,
but thinks of God. The "great things" she has are His gift. That He has
looked upon her low estate, and that in consequence of His visitation
"all generations shall call her blessed," is a manifestation of the
divine glory and goodness, not an occasion of pride to the recipient of
God's gifts.

We who are so self-seeking, who are so greedy of praise, who are
constantly wanting what we feel is our due, who hunger to be
"appreciated," who are full of proud boasting about our accomplishment,
will do well to meditate upon this point of view. We acknowledge the
supremacy of God with our lips, but in our acts we are quite prone to
assume that we are independent actors in the universe where whatever we
have is due to our own creative powers. We claim a certain lordship over
life, a certain independent use of it. We resent the pressure of
religious principle as setting up a sort of counter-claim to control
that which it is ours to dispose of as we will. Most of our difficulties
come from this godless attitude which claims independence of life. It
results in a religion which is willing to pay God tribute, but is not
willing to belong to God. But the humble person has nothing of his own
and moreover wants nothing; he wants simply that God shall use him, that
he shall be found a ready instrument in God's hands.

It is this readiness that we find in Blessed Mary when she answered the
astonishing announcement of the angel with her, "Behold the Handmaid of
the Lord." It is that quality which we find in her here when she
construes God's purpose in terms which go out far beyond her individual
life and sees in her experience but one item in God's dealing with
humanity in His age-long work of "bringing His wanderers home." We
should have far less difficulty and find our lives far more significant
if we could get rid of our wretched egotism and find it possible to lose
ourselves in the work of God. We should then find the work important
because it is God's work and not because we are associated with it. We
should also find it less easy to be discouraged because we should not
understand our failure to be the failure of God. Discouragement is but
one of the aspects of egotism, and not the most attractive.

We cannot rise to anything like a passion of holiness unless we have
found God to be all in all. Only so can we lose ourselves in God. And I
must, at whatever risk of over-dwelling, stress the fact that we can
only attain this point of view by dwelling on God and not on self. Let
God be the foreground of our thought. Let our souls magnify the Lord.
Let us dwell upon the "great things" God has done for us. In every life
there is such a wonderful manifestation of the divine goodness--only we
do not take time to look for it. It is well to take the time: to write
out, if need be, our spiritual history. We shall then find abundant
evidence of the goodness of God. It may be that it is a goodness that is
seen chiefly in offers, in opportunities to be something which we have
declined or have only imperfectly realized. Be that as it may, there is
no life, I am quite convinced, that has not a spiritual history which is
a marvellous history of what God at least wanted to do for it. It is
also a history of what He actually has done: a history of graces, of
rich gifts, of deliverances. It matters not that we have been so
heedless as to miss most of what God has done. The facts stand and are
discoverable whenever we care to pay enough attention to them to
ascertain their true meaning. When we do that, then surely we shall be
compelled to do, what blessed Mary never needed to do, fall at God's
feet in an act of penitence, seeing ourselves, perhaps for the first
time, in the light of God's mind.

The Magnificat, if we consider it as a personal expression, is a
wonderful expression of selfless devotion, where the perception of the
glory and majesty of God excludes all other thoughts. It is, too, a
thanksgiving for the personal gift which is her vocation to be the
Mother of the Saviour. Out of her lowliness she has been exalted--how
highly she herself cannot at the time have dreamed. We can see what was
necessarily involved in God's choice of her, and to-day we think of her
as in her perfect purity exalted in heaven far above all other
creatures. Mother of God most holy we call her, and in the words of her
canticle ever repeat her thanksgiving as our thanksgiving, too, for the
vocation that God sent her and for the gift which through her has
come to us.

But there is a more universal aspect of the Magnificat. Essentially it
is the presentation of the constant antithesis which runs through all
revelation between the flesh and the spirit, between the Kingdom of God
and the Kingdom of this world. It embodies the conception of God
striving to save a world which has revolted from Him, and now at last
entering upon that stage of His work which is the beginning of a triumph
over all the powers of the adversary. In Mary's song the contrasted
powers are still presented under the Old Testament terminology which was
the natural form of her thought. The adversaries of God are the proud,
the mighty, the rich; while those who are on God's side are the humble,
the god-fearers, the hungry. The form of the thought and its essential
meaning remain the same through the centuries, though our terminology
changes somewhat. Presently in the pages of the New Testament we shall
get the presentation as the contrast between the children of this world
and the sons of God. We shall find the briefest expression of the latter
to be the saints.

We no longer feel that rich and poor express a spiritual contrast. Nor
do we, who are quite accustomed to the action of labour leaders, regard
social position as being the exclusive seat of arrogancy. But we know
that the spiritual values which are expressed in the varying terminology
are constant; we know that the warfare between God and not-God is still
the most important phenomenon in the universe. And it happens as we look
out on the battlefield where the forces of good and evil contend, where
before our eyes they seem to sway back and forth on the field of human
life with every varying fortunes, that we not seldom feel that the
battle is not obviously falling to the side of righteousness. There come
moments when we are oppressed by what seems to us the lack of power in
the ideals of righteousness. The appeal of the proud and of the rich is
so dazzling; the splendour of the visible kingdom of the world is so
intoxicating, the contagion of the crowd which follows the uplifted
banner of Satan is so penetrating, that we hardly wonder to see the new
generations carried away in the sweep of popular enthusiasm. Here is
excitement, exhilarating enjoyment, the throb and sting of the flesh,
the breathless whirl of gaiety, the physical quiet of satisfied desires.
What is there to appeal on the other side? As the crowds troop past to
the sound of music and dancing they for a moment raise their eyes, and
above them rises a hill whereon is a Cross and on the Cross an emaciated
Victim is nailed, and at the foot of the Cross a small group of
discouraged folk--S. John, The blessed Mother, the other Mary--stunned
by the grief born of the death of Son and Friend.

These two utterances stand in eternal contrast: "All these things will
I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me": and, "I, if I be
lifted up, will draw all men unto me." As yet the appeal made from an
"exceeding high mountain" visibly seems to prevail against that made
from "the place which is called Calvary."

And what have we to counteract the depression which is the natural
reaction from the spectacle of the world-rejection of Christ? We have
the truth which is embodied in Mary's Magnificat, we have the fact of
Mary's vocation to be the Mother of God. The revelation of God's meaning
and purpose is a basis of optimism which no promise of Satan can
overthrow. When all is said, the view from the exceeding high mountain
is a view of the Kingdom of this world only; from the place called
Calvary you can see the Kingdom of God as well. From this point of
vantage alone the permanent values of life are visible; and to the taunt
flung at us, the taunt so terrifying to the young, "You are losing
life," the enigmatic reply from the Cross is that you have to lose life
to gain it; that permanent and eternal values are acquired by those who
have the self-restraint and the foresight not to sacrifice the substance
to the shadow, nor to mistake the toys of childhood for the riches of
manhood. "In the meantime life is passing and the shadows draw in and
you have not attained" so they say. True: we count not ourselves to have
yet attained; but we press on toward the mark of our high calling in
Christ Jesus our Lord. We are not in a hurry, because the crown we are
seeking is amaranthine, unfading. We are not compelled to compress our
enjoyment within a given time; we do not awake each morning with the
thought that we may not outlast the daylight; we are not hurried and
fevered with the sense of our fragility. The kingdoms of the world and
the glory of them must be seized now: Satan cannot afford to wait
because his kingdom has an end. But God can afford to wait because of
His Kingdom there is no end.

We are content then with _promises_ and with such partial fulfilment as
we find on our pilgrim-way. We are content because we see the end in the
beginning. To those who in the first days of the Church objected that
though the promises were wonderful and abundant the fulfilment was
small; to those who said we do not yet see the perfection of the
kingdom; the answer of inspiration was: True, we do not yet see the
accomplishment of all of God's promises, but we do see Jesus. And there
is where we stand to-day. The work that God has to do in the
spiritualising of the human race is tremendous; but we actually see its
beginning in Jesus, and we are content to wait with God for the perfect

And we must remember when we think of the work of God in terms of time,
that the length of time that is required to accomplish the
spiritualisation of the human race is not to be estimated in terms of
the divine will but in terms of the human will. It is not divine power
but human resistance which is the determining factor, for God will not
compel us to obey Him, nor would compelled obedience have any spiritual
value. And we can estimate something of the human resistance that has to
be overcome by concentrating attention upon one unit of that resistance.
That is, we can learn from the study of our own life what is the
resistance of one human being to the triumph of the will of God; and,
taking oneself as a fair sample of the race can multiply our resistance
to God's will by the numbers of the race. We are perfectly certain of
the will of God: God wills that all men shall come to the knowledge of
the truth and be saved. "This is the will of God, even your
sanctification." So far as we are thwarting that will we are playing
into the hands of the power of evil. But that power is of limited
existence; it draws to its end. Its death knell was struck when the
noon-day darkness lifted from Calvary.

Therefore the rejoicing of blessed Mary, whose Song reads the necessary
end in the beginning, is well considered; and we rejoice with her and in
her. It is our privilege--and it is a vast privilege--to rejoice in
blessed Mary as the instrument of God in bringing the triumph of His
Kingdom one stage nearer its accomplishment. And in especial we rejoice
because we see in her one more, and the most marked, illustration of the
divine method. "He hath regarded the low estate of His Handmaiden." "He
hath exalted them of low degree." "He hath filled the hungry." The
method of God is to work to His results through those who are
spiritually receptive. The less of self there is in us the more room
there is for God. "The Kingdom of God is within you," that is, the
starting-point of God's work in the building of the Kingdom is within
the soul of man. He must master the inner man, must win the allegiance
of our souls, before His work can make any progress at all. The Kingdom
of God cometh not "with observation," that is, from the outside in an
exhibition of power; it must of necessity come from the inside in
demonstration of the Spirit. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God,
they are the sons of God."

In blessed Mary we see the new starting-point in this last stage of the
work of God. For the foreseen merits of her Son she is brought into
union with God and spared the taint of sin, and becomes the second Eve,
the Mother of the new race. Acting upon her pure humanity, the Holy
Spirit produces that humanity which joined to the divinity in the Second
Person of the Blessed Trinity becomes the Christ, the Son of the Living
God. In Mary's rejoicing in this so great fact, the bringing of human
redemption, we rightly share. It is with a right understanding of her
Song that the Church throughout the ages has embodied it in its worship
and through it constantly rejoices in God its Saviour. The actual
detailed accomplishment of God's work in man's redemption is going on
under our eyes. It is regrettable that human stupidity seems to prefer
dwelling upon what seem God's failures, and are actually our own, rather
than upon the constant triumphs of grace. But God reigns; and we can
always find grounds of optimism if we can find that He is day by day
reigning more perfectly in us. When we pray "Thy Kingdom Come," the
field to examine for the fulfilment of our prayers is the field of our
own souls.

Our Lady took the road
To Zachary's abode;
O'er mountain, vale and lea,
Full many a league sped she
Toward Hebron's holy hill,
By God's command and will.

Full light did Mary, make
Of trouble for his sake.
God's Very Son of yore
Within her breast she bore;
And angels bright and fair,
Unseen, her fellows were.

She, ere she took her way,
An orison would say,
That God her steps might tend
Safe to their journey's end;
And there, in manner meet,
Her cousin she 'gan greet.

Elizabeth full fain
Eft bowed her head again;
She wist 'twas God's own Bride,
As, worshipful she cried:
'O Lady, Full of Grace,
Whence do I see thy face?'

O House and Home of bliss,
O earthly Paradis--
Nay, Heaven itself on ground
Wherein the Lord is found,
The Lord of Glory bright,
In goodness great and might--

Clean Maiden thou that art,
Come, visit this my heart;
And bring me chief my Good,
God's Son in Flesh and Blood;
Bless body, soul; and bide
For ever by my side.

From the Koeln Gesang-Buch. XVI Cent.




Joseph, her husband, being a just man--

S. Matt. I. 19.

O God, our refuge and our strength, look down in mercy upon
thy people who cry to thee; and by the intercession of the
glorious and immaculate Virgin Mary, mother of God, of St.
Joseph her spouse, and of thy blessed apostles Peter and
Paul, and of all saints, in mercy and goodness hear our
prayers for the conversion of sinners, and for the liberty
and exaltation of our holy mother the church. Through.


When we read the Gospels, not simply as a record of events but as
revelation of the method of God, we are constantly impressed with what
we cannot otherwise describe than as the care of God for detail. There
is a curious type of mind which finds it possible to think of God as
Creator and Ruler of the universe, but impossible to conceive Him as
interested in or concerning Himself with the minutiae of human life; who
can conceive God as caring for a solar system or a planet, but not as
caring for a baby. Surely it is a strange notion of God that thinks of
Him as estimating values in terms of weight and measure: surely much
more intelligible is the Gospel presentation of Him as concerned with
spritual values and exercising that minute care over human life which is
best expressed by the word _Father_. It is very significant that as the
volume of revelation unrolls, the earlier notions of God as Ruler,
Governor, King, give way to the notion of Father, until in our Lord's
presentation of the character of God it is His Fatherhood which stands
in the forefront. What our Lord emphasises in the character of God are
precisely the qualities of love and care and sympathy which the word
Father connotes.

And nowhere do we see this loving care of God which we call His
Providence better set out for our study than in the detailed preparation
which preceded and attended the birth of His Son into this world. There
was that preparation of the Mother who was to be the source of the
humanity of the Child Jesus which we have been dwelling upon; there was
also the preparation for the proper guardianship of both Mother and
Child during the years of Jesus' immaturity. There are certain things
which are self-evident when once we turn our minds to them; and it is
thus self-evident that the care of our Lord and of His Blessed Mother
would require the preparation of the man to whom they should be
committed. In the state of society into which our Lord was born, He and
His Mother would need active guardianship of a peculiar nature. The man
who should provide for our Lord's infancy must be a man, in the nature
of the case, who was receptive of spiritual monitions and devoted to the
will of God. It was a delicate matter to live before the world as the
husband of Mary of Nazareth, and to live before God as the guardian of
her virginity and as the foster-father of her divine Son. Only a very
choice nature could respond to the demands thus made upon it, a nature
which had been habitually responsive to the will of God and long
nurtured by the richness of His grace.

We know very little of St. Joseph; but God's choice of him for the
office he was to fulfil near the blessed Virgin Mary and her Son reveals
the nature of the man. He is described to us as "a just man," one whose
judgment would not be swayed by prejudices, but who would be open to the
consideration of any case upon its merits: a man who would not view
events in the light of their effect upon himself and his plans, but who
can calmly consider what in given circumstances is due to others. Such
men are rare at any time for their production is a matter of slow

We gather that both S. Joseph and S. Mary were of the same lineage, were
descended from the same ancestor, David. We gather also that S. Joseph
was much older than his bethrothed wife, for he had been already married
and had a family. All the notices of these brothers and sisters of the
Lord imply that they were considerably older than the Child of Mary, and
that they felt that they had the sort of authority over Him which
commonly belongs to the elder children of a family; the sort of doubt
and criticism of His course which would be the instinctive attitudes of
elders toward the unprecedented course of a younger. We have, I think, a
right to infer from the terms of the narrative, that S. Joseph would
have been well acquainted with S. Mary and was not taking a wife who was
a stranger to him. Indeed, considering the actual development of the
situation, I myself feel quite certain that those are right who maintain
that the proposed marriage was intended to be merely a nominal union,
the ultimate design of which was the protection of the virginity of
Mary. I find it impossible to think of that virginity as other than of
deliberate purpose from the beginning, and prompted by the Spirit of God
for the purposes of God for which it served. There is, to be sure, no
revelation of this in Holy Scripture, but there are facts which suggest
themselves to the devout meditations of saints which we feel that we may
safely take on the authority of their spiritual intuitions. Such a fact
is this of Mary's purposed virginity which I am content to accept on the
basis of its congruity with S. Mary's life and vocation. Of the fact of
her perpetual virginity there can be no dispute among Catholic

To S. Joseph thus preparing himself to be the guardian of the blessed
Virgin it could only come as a tremendous shock that she should be found
with a child. Our character comes out at such times of trial as when
something that we had taken quite for granted fails us, and we are left
breathless and bewildered in in the face of what would have seemed
impossible even had we thought of it. What was S. Joseph's attitude? The
beauty and sanity of his character at once shows itself. Grieved and
disheartened as he must have been, disappointed as he could not but be,
he yet thinks at once of his bethrothed, not of himself. How far could
he save her?--that was his first thought. He would at least avoid
publicity. "Being a just man, and not willing to make her a public
example, he was minded to put her away privily." It is the quality that
we express by the word benevolence--the quality of mature and deliberate
wisdom. We feel that such a man could be trusted under any
circumstances of life.

We feel, too, that God would not leave S. Joseph in doubt as to the
course he was to pursue, or as to the character of Mary herself. There
could no shade of suspicion be permitted to rest upon her. Hence "while
he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto
him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take
unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the
Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his
name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins."

It is not difficult to imagine the joy of S. Joseph at this angelic
message. We all know the sense of relief which comes when, after facing
a most trying situation, and being forced to make up our minds to act
when action either way is almost equally painful, we find that we are
delivered from the necessity of acting at all, that the whole state of
things has been utterly misunderstood. It was so with S. Joseph; and in
his case there was the added joy which springs from the nature of the
coming Child as the angel explains it to him. He who had accepted the
charge of Mary was now to add to that charge the charge of her Child:
and the Child is the very Saviour whom his soul and the souls of all
pious Israelites had longed for. "Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he
shall save his people from their sins." We cannot expect that S. Joseph
would have taken in the full meaning of this message, but he would have
understood that he was called to a wondrous co-operation with God in the
work of the redemption of Israel.

As we think of S. Joseph it is this co-operation which is the
significant thing in his life. As we study human life in the only way in
which it is much worth while to study it, in the light of revelation, it
becomes clear to us that there is purpose in all human life. Often we
observe a purpose that we are not able to grasp, but in the light of
what we know from revelation we do not doubt of its presence. Even lives
that seem obscure and insignificant we feel sure must have a divine
meaning; and the pathetic thing about most human life is that it never
dreams of its own significance. We are consumed with the notion that
God's instruments must be great, while it is on the face of revelation
that they are commonly humble and of seeming insignificance. It is the
work that is important, and the instrument becomes important through its
relation to the work. We all at least have the common vocation of the
Christian, and it would be difficult to exaggerate the spiritual
significance of that. S. Joseph seems to us at once set apart by his
vocation to be the guardian of the divine Child, to protect and to
nurture the years of His human immaturity. This is no doubt a unique
vocation, but is it quite so far separated from ordinary Christian
experience as we assume? You and I are also constituted guardians of the
divine Presence. This very morning, it may be, we have received within
the Tabernacle of our breast the same Presence that S. Joseph
guarded--the Presence of Incarnate God. In that Presence of His humanity
our Lord abode with us but a few minutes and then the Presence withdrew:
but He left behind Him a real gift, the gift of an increase in
sacramental grace.

Was that a light thing: Was it indeed so much less than the vocation of
S. Joseph? And how have we guarded this Presence? Those few moments
after the reception of our Incarnate Lord at the altar--how do we
habitually spend them? Do we spend them in guarding the Presence? There
is much to be learned about the meaning and the value of guarding the
Eucharistic Gift. Our thanksgiving after Communion is fully as important
as our preparation for receiving it. I am more and more inclined to
think that much of the fruitlessness of communions which is so sad a
side of the life of the Church is due to careless reception and
inadequate thanksgiving. It is the adoration of our Lord within the
Tabernacle of our body and thanksgiving to Him for having come to us
that is the _appropriation_ of the Gift of the Sacrament. He comes to us
and offers Himself to us with all the benefits of His life and death;
and then having offered Himself "He makes as though he would go
farther," and he does actually go, unless we are awake to our spiritual
opportunity, and constrain Him, saying, "abide with us, for it is toward
evening and the day is far spent."

We think of S. Joseph then, as with a relieved and rejoicing heart he
enters upon his new realised vocation as the head of the Holy Family.
The marriage which he had been upon the point of abandoning he now
enters that he may give S. Mary and her coming Child his full

So S. Joseph "took unto him his wife; and knew her not till she had
brought forth her first-born Son." These words have been so
misunderstood as to imply that the marriage of S. Joseph and S. Mary was
consummated after the birth of our Lord. Grammatically they convey no
such implication; the mode of expression is perfectly simple and well
known by which a fact is affirmed to exist up to a certain time without
any implication as to what happens after. And the meaning of the passage
which is not at all necessitated by its grammatical construction is
utterly intolerable in Catholic teaching. The constant teaching of the
Church is the perpetual virginity of Mary--that she was a virgin "before
and in and after her child-bearing." There was to be sure an heretic
named Helvidius who taught otherwise, but he was promptly repudiated by
all Catholic teachers and but served to emphasize the depth and
clearness of the Catholic tradition. Upon this point there has never
been any wavering in the mind of the Church, and to hold otherwise shows
a lamentable lack of a Catholic perception of values and but a
superficial grasp upon what is involved in the Incarnation.

The impression we get of S. Joseph is that of a man of great simplicity
and gentleness of character--that childlikeness which was later praised
by his foster Son. Such qualities do not produce much impression on the
superficial observer, but they are of great spiritual value. They are
the concomitants of a special type of open-mindedness. Open-mindedness
is a quality much praised and little practiced. But the open-mindedness
which is commonly praised is not the open-mindedness which is
praiseworthy. What is at present meant by open-mindedness is in reality
failure to have any mind at all upon a given subject. It is the attitude
of doubt which never proceeds so far as to arrive at a solution. To have
an open mind means to the contemporary man to hold all conclusions
loosely, to consider all things open to question, to be ready to
abandon what now appears to be true in favour of something which
to-morrow may appear to be more true. In other words, we are invited to
base life on pure scepticism.

Now no life can be so conducted. We live by a faith of some sort,
whether it be a faith in God or no. The most sceptical mind has to
believe something to act at all. It cannot even doubt without affirming
a belief in its own intellectual processes. The open mind that never
reaches any certainty to fill it is a very poor possession indeed. And
it is not at all what we mean when we say of S. Joseph that he was
open-minded. We mean that he was receptive of new spiritual impressions
and capable of further spiritual development. There are minds, and they
are not unusual among people of a certain degree of spiritual
development, which we can best describe as having reached a given stage
of growth and then shut up. Or, to vary the figure, they impress one as
having a certain capacity, and when that has been reached, being able to
contain nothing further. They come to a stop. From that point they try
to maintain the position they have acquired. But that is impossible:
they inevitably fall away unless they are going forward. When the power
of spiritual assimilation is dead, we are spiritually in a dying

What we mean by having an open and childlike mind, then, is that one has
this power of spiritual assimilation and, consequently, a power of
growth. The sceptic is afflicted with spiritual indigestion; he is an
invalid who is quite certain that any food that is offered him is
indigestible. His soul withers away through its incapacity to believe.
The open-minded saint has a healthy spiritual digestion. This does not
mean that, in vulgar parlance, he can, "swallow anything"; it does mean
a power of discrimination between food offered him,--that he assimilates
what is wholesome and rejects the rest. The sceptic is pessimistic as to
the existence of any wholesome food at all; he starves his soul for fear
that he should believe something that is not true. The saint, with the
test of faith, sorts the food proposed to him, and grows in grace, and
consequently in the knowledge and the love of God.

Open-mindedness is sensitiveness to spiritual impressions, readiness for
spiritual advance, even when such impressions cut across much that has
seemed to us well settled, and such advance involves the upset of his
established ways of thought. What distinguishes the evolution in the
thought of the sceptic from that in the thought of the saint is that in
the one case the result is destructive and in the other constructive.
The sceptic is like a man who starts to build a house, and then
periodically tears down what he has so far built and begins again on a
new plan; the saint is like the house builder who broadens his plan in
the course of construction, and who finds that within the limits of his
general scheme there is room for indefinite improvement. The one never
gets any building at all; the other gets a palace of which the last
stages are of a more highly decorated school of architecture than he
had conceived, or indeed, could conceive, when he began his work.

In S. Joseph's case nothing could be more revolutionary in appearance
than the truth he was asked to accept. He was asked to believe in the
virgin-motherhood of his bethrothed, and in the fact that the Child soon
to be born was He Who was to save Israel from his sins. He was asked to
accept these incredible statements and to act upon them by taking Mary
to wife as he had proposed. And he did not hesitate to accept the
evidence of a dream and act in accordance with it. How could he do this?
Because the required action which seemed so revolutionary of all his
previous notions was, in fact, quite in accordance with his knowledge of
God and of the promises of God. Though a simple man, perhaps because he
was a simple man, he would know something of the teaching of the
prophets. That teaching would have given him thoughts about God which
would have, unconsciously, prepared him for these new acts of God.
Though we cannot see before how a prophecy is to be fulfiled, after the
event we can see that this is what is intended by it. We were actually
being prepared by the prophecy for what was to take place. And thus, no
doubt, S. Joseph's mind, being filled with the teaching of the
Scriptures which he had heard read in the Synagogue every Sabbath day,
would find that this new act of God on which he was asked to rely was,
in fact, but a new step in the unfolding of that Providence which had
for centuries been shaping the history of his nation.

It is a quality to cultivate, this simple open-mindedness which is
ready to respond to new spiritual impulses. It is precisely what
prevents that deadly attitude of soul which proceeds as though religion
were for us exhausted: as though we had reached the limit of expectancy.
But to expect nothing is to receive nothing, because it is only
expectancy that perceives what is offered. We move in a world which is
thronged with spirtual impulses and energetic with spiritual powers. God
is trying to lead us on to new spiritual experiences by which we may
attain to a better understanding of Him. There is no assignable limit to
our possible growth. But we fix a limit when we close our souls to
further experiences by the practical denial that they exist. If we are
childlike, we are always expecting new things of our Father; if we are
open-minded we are alive to the activities of the spiritual world. We
are conscious of possessing a growing religion, a religion truly
evolutionary, constantly bringing to our knowledge unsuspected riches
stored in the very principles whose meaning we had assumed that we had

Perhaps one of the treasures of our religion of which we have not
achieved full consciousness is God's choice of us to be the guardians of
His revelation. It is our charge "to keep the faith." I suppose that
this responsibility is commonly regarded as belonging to some vaguely
imagined Church which hands it on from generation to generation, to us
among others, but without imposing on us an obligation of any active
sort. But we are the Church--members in particular of the Body of
Christ. And in the dissemination of the faith the last appeal is to us,
not to some outside tribunal. When the Church wishes to discover its
faith and make it articulate, its place of search is in the minds and
hearts of the faithful. Our responsibility is to testify to the Catholic
Faith, not so much by positively asserting it as by making it active and
vivid in our lives so that its presence and power can by no means be
mistaken. You, for instance, in common with the rest of the faithful,
are the custodians of this truth of the perpetual virginity of the
Blessed Virgin Mary. It may seem a small matter, but it is not. That it
is not is readily seen from this fact, that when the perpetual virginity
of our Blessed Mother is denied then also the Incarnation of her Son is
denied or is held only in a half-hearted way. The Church stresses such
facts, not only because they are facts, but because by their character
they form a hedge about the truth of the Incarnation of our Lord. And we
who are Catholic Christians must feel an obligation to hold fast this
fact. We ought actively to show our firm adherence to it. How? Chiefly
by our attitude towards Blessed Mary herself, by the devotion that we
show her. If we are quite indifferent to devotion to Blessed Mary, if we
show her no honour, if we likewise fail in honour to her guardian, S.
Joseph, is it not to be expected that our grasp upon the truths which
are enshrined in such devotion will be feeble, and that we shall hold
them as of small moment? The whole system of Catholic thought is so
nicely articulated, so consistently held together, that failure to hold
even the smallest constituent indicates a faulty conception of the
whole. Catholics are constantly accused of over-stressing devotion to
blessed Mary and the saints and thereby encroaching upon the honour due
to our Lord. The answer to the reproach is to be found in the question:
Who to-day are defending to the very death the truth of our Lord's
Incarnation and the truths that hang upon it? Are they those who deny
the legitimacy of invocation, or those in whose religious practise it
holds an important and vital place?


I do not tremble, when I write
A Mistress' praise, but with delight
Can dive for pearls into the flood,
Fly through every garden, wood,
Stealing the choice of flow'rs and wind,
To dress her body or her mind;
Nay the Saints and Angels are
Nor safe in Heaven, till she be fair,
And rich as they; nor will this do,
Until she be my idol too.
With this sacrilege I dispense,
No fright is in my conscience,
My hand starts not, nor do I then
Find any quakings in my pen;
Whose every drop of ink within
Dwells, as in me my parent's sin,
And praises on the paper wrot
Have but conspired to make a blot:
Why should such fears invade me now
That writes on her? to whom do bow
The souls of all the just, whose place
Is next to God's, and in his face
All creatures and delights doth see
As darling of the Trinity;
To whom the Hierarchy doth throng,
And for whom Heaven is all one song.
Joys should possess my spirit here,
But pious joys are mixed with fear:
Put off thy shoe, 'tis holy ground,
For here the flaming Bush is found,
The mystic rose, the Ivory Tower,
The morning Star and David's bower,
The rod of Moses and of Jesse,
The fountain sealed, Gideon's fleece,
A woman clothed with the Sun,
The beauteous throne of Salomon,
The garden shut, the living spring,
The Tabernacle of the King,
The Altar breathing sacred fume,
The Heaven distilling honeycomb,
The untouched lily, full of dew,
A Mother, yet a Virgin too,
Before and after she brought forth
(Our ransom of eternal worth)
Both God and man. What voice can sing
This mystery, or Cherub's wing
Lend from his golden stock a pen
To write, how Heaven came down to men?
Here fear and wonder so advance
My soul, it must obey a trance.




She brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in
swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there
was no room for them in the inn.

S. Luke II. 7.

It is very meet to bless thee who bore the Christ, O ever
Blessed and Immaculate Mother of God. More wondrous than the
Cherubim and of greater glory than the Seraphim art thou who
remaining Virgin didst give birth to God the Word. Verily, do
we magnify thee, O Mother of God. In thee, O full of grace,
all creation exults, the hierarchy of angels and the race of
men. In thee sanctified temple, spiritual paradise, glory of
virgins, of whom God took flesh, through whom our God Who was
before the world became a Child. Of thy womb He made a
throne, and its dominion is more extensive than the heavens.
In thee, O full of grace, all creation exults: glory to thee.


We see a man and a woman on the road to Bethlehem where they are going
to be taxed according to the decree of Augustus. Bethlehem would be
known to them as the home of their ancestors, for they were both of the
lineage of David. It was a painful journey for them for Mary was near
the time of her delivery. We follow them along the road and into the
village, as the twilight fades, and see them seeking shelter for the
night. Bethlehem is a small place and the inn is crowded with those who
have come on the errand with them, and the only place where they can
find refuge for the night is a stable. But they are not used to luxury,
and the stable serves their purpose.

It also serves God's purpose. One understands as one reads this
narrative of the Nativity what is meant by the Providential government
of the world. We see how various lines of action, each free and
independent, yet converge to the production of a given event. The
different characters in the drama are all pursuing their own courses and
yet the result is a true drama, not an unrelated series of events.
Caesar's action, Joseph's lineage, our Lord's conception, all working
together, bring about the fulfilment of prophecy by the birth of the
Messiah in Bethlehem. There is in the universe an over-ruling will which
works to its ends by co-operating with human freedom, and not
destroying it. We are not the sport of chance, not the slaves of fate,
but free men; and yet through our freedom, through our blunders and
rebellions and sins as well as through our obedience, the work of God is
moving to its conclusion. Man did all that he could to defeat the ends
of God and to thwart God's purpose of redemption. Yet on a certain night
in Bethlehem of Judea the light of God overcame the human darkness, and
the voices of God's angels pierced the human tumult, and Jesus Christ
was born. "God of the substance of his Father begotten before all
worlds, man of the substance of his mother, born in the world; perfect
God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting."

The manifestation came to certain shepherds watching their flocks in the
fields about Bethlehem; simple men, quite unable to take in the meaning
of what they see and hear. One cannot help thinking of what it would
have meant in the way of an intellectual revolution if to some Greek or
Roman philosopher, speculating on the destiny of humanity, the truth
could have come that the future of the world was not in the court of
Augustus, that it was not dependent on the Roman armies or Greek
learning, but that it was bound up in the career and teaching of a Baby
that night born in a stable in an obscure village in Judea. As we
imagine such a case we see in the concrete the meaning of the revolution
set in motion by this single event; and we are led to adore the ways of
God in that He has chosen for the final approach to man for the purpose
of redemption, this way of simplicity and humbleness. Man would not
have thought of this as the best path for God to follow in this purpose
of rescue, but we can be wise after the event and see that this Child
born in poverty and obscurity would have fewer entanglements to break
through, fewer obstacles to overcome.

But these thoughts are far away from the night in Bethlehem. In the
stable there where a Baby is lying in Mary's arms and Joseph stands
looking on, there is no speculation about the world-consequences of the
event. There is rather the splendour of love: the love of the mother in
the new found mystery of this her Child; the love of God who has given
her the Child. And all is a part of the great mystery of love, of the
love wherewith God loves the world. "God so loved the world that He gave
His only begotten Son." Here is the Son, lying in Mary's arms, wrapped
in swaddling clothes, and Mary looks into His face as any human mother
looks into the face of her child. But through the eyes that smile up
into Mary's face, God is looking out on a world of sorrow and pain and
sin that He has come to redeem, and for which, in redeeming it, to die.
Presently, the shepherds come in and complete the group, the
representatives of universal humanity at the birth of their King, We
have the whole world-problem in small, but here there is no
consciousness of it. No echo of world-politics or of movements of
thought break in here. But we know that here is the beginning of that
which will set at naught world-politics and revolutionise movements of
thought, that here is the centre about which humanity will move in the
coming time. Here is that which is fundamental and abiding because here
is the one invincible power of the universe--love. All else will fail:
prophecies, systems of philosophy, religions, political and social
structures; each in the time of its flourishing, proclaiming itself the
last word of human wisdom,--these in bewildering succession have arisen
and passed away. But love has survived them all. Love never faileth;
through the slow succession of the centuries it is winning the world
to God.

It were well if we could learn to look on the happenings of this world
as the miracles of divine love. We think of the power, the justice, the
judgment of God as visible in this world's history; but these are but
the instruments of love, and all that He does has its foundation in love
and receives its impulse from love. This Nativity is the divine love
coming into the world on its last adventure, determined to win man, all
other means failing, by the extremity of sacrifice. The final word about
this Child will be that having loved his own He loved them unto the
uttermost, he loved them without stinting, with the uttermost capacity
of love. Understanding this meaning of the love of God, we are prepared
for the further fact that God uses all sorts of instruments as the
instruments of His love. He shares Himself. He pours Himself into human
life. He takes men into partnership in the work of redemption. Whenever
a soul is mastered by love, it becomes a tool in God's hands. The
progress of the Church--of God's Kingdom--might be described as the
accumulation of these tools wherewith God works--souls who are so
devoted to Him as to be the medium of bringing His power, the power of
love, to bear on the souls of their brethren.

To be the highest, the most perfect, of all the instruments of
redemption God chose Mary of Nazareth to be the Mother of His Son. She
is the most complete human embodiment of God's love. She, in her perfect
purity, can transmit that love as power with the least loss of energy in
the process of transmission. When we think of the saints as the means of
God's action, we think of blessed Mary as the highest of the saints and
the means most perfectly adapted to God's ends. Here at Bethlehem she
holds God in her arms and looks into the human face that He has taken
for this present work and all her being is absorbed in love. Oblivious,
we think her, of her mean surroundings, of the animals that share with
her their stable, of the shepherds who come in and look on in wonder, of
S. Joseph standing by in sympathy. Love is all. Love is a passion
consuming her being--what can the attendant circumstances matter? And
to-day, after all these centuries: to-day the Child is the Ascended and
Enthroned Redeemer, His risen and glorified humanity, transmitting
something of the divine glory, seated at the right hand of the Majesty
of God. And Mary, the Mother? Can we have any other thought than that
she who on the first Christmas morning looks into the face of her Baby,
still, to-day, looks up into the face of her divine Son, and the look is
the same look of love? And can we think of the look that comes back to
her from eyes that are human, taken from her body, though they be in
very truth the eyes of God--can we think, I say, of the eyes of her
Child and her God bringing anything else than the message of love? Can
we think that when in answer to our invocation she presents our prayers
in union with her own, that love will fail?

But let us come back to earth--to Bethlehem--on that first Christmas eve
and listen to the songs of the angels as they sing over the star-lit
fields. How near heaven seems! How real is God! How joyful is this
season of peace to men of good will! The message is of peace, but that
peace will need to have its nature explained in the coming years if
men's hearts are not to fail them and their faith wither away. It is not
a general peace to the world that is being proclaimed. Later on our Lord
will say: "My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I
unto you." It is such a gift as can be enjoyed only by men of good will;
converted men, that is to say, men whose will is close set with the will
of God. For how should there be peace in any world on any other terms?
How can there be peace for those who are in rebellion against God? Our
Lord can promise peace, and can fulfil His promise because He is
bringing a new potency into human life. He is a new way of approach to
God, a new way into the Holiest of all. Through His humanity God is
united to man, and through it man, any man, can be united to God. And
one of the results of that union is this gift of peace, and the fact
that it arises from the union explains its new character, why our Lord
calls it His peace.

This peace is the Christmas gift of the divine child to us. This is the
method of God's work, from the inside out; from the spiritual fact to
its external result. We do not begin by finding peace with this world:
"in the world ye shall have tribulation." And most of the failure to
attain peace, and much of men's loss of faith is due to repudiation of
the divine method. We live in a disordered and pain-stricken world where
human life is uniformly a life of trial and struggle, and our easy
yielding to temptation is an attempt at some sort of an adjustment with
the world such as we think will produce peace and quiet. We constantly
demand of religion that it should effect this for us. So far as one can
see much of the revolt against religion to-day has its ground in the
failure of religion to meet the demands made upon it for a better world.
Men look out on a world seething with unrest and filled with injustice,
and they turn upon the Church and ask, "Why have you not changed all
this? Are you not, in fact, neglecting your duty in not changing it? Or
if you are not neglecting your duty, you must at least confess to your
impotence. Your self-confessed business is to make a better world."

True; but only on the conditions which love imposes. Religion does not
propose to improve the world by a more skilful application of the
principles of worldliness. It does not propose to turn stones into bread
at the demand of any devils whatsoever. It does not say, "If you will
support me and give me a certain superficial honour, I will bless your
efforts and increase the success of your undertakings." Religion
proposes to improve the world on the condition that the principles of
religion shall be accepted as the working principles of life; on
condition, that is, that love shall be made the ground of human
association. Religion can make a better world, it can make the kingdoms
of God and of His Christ; but it can only do so on the condition that it
is whole-heartedly accepted and thoroughly applied. The proof that it
can do this is in the fact that it can and does make better individuals.
Wherever men and women have lived by the principles of the Gospel they
have brought forth the fruits of the Gospel. It has done this, not under
some specially favourable circumstances, but it has done it under all
circumstances of life and in all nations of men. What has been done in
unnumbered individual cases, can be done in whole communities when the
communities want it done. It is quite pointless in times of great social
distress to ask passionately, "why does not God make a better world?"
The only question which is at all to the point is, "why has God not made
_me_ better?" The problem of God's dealing with the world is, in
essence, the problem of God's dealing with me. If He has not reformed
me, if I do not, in my self-examination, find that I am responding to
the ideals of God, as far as I know them, there is small point in
declamations about the state of society. Society that is godless, is
just a mass of godless individuals; and I can understand why God does
not reform the world perfectly well from the study of my own case. What
in me prevents the full control of God is the same that prevents that
control over the whole of society: and I know that that is not lack of
knowledge, but lack of love. Men ignore the primary obligation of life:
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God ... and thy neighbour as thyself." As
long as they ignore that, there can be no reformed world, no world
reflecting the divine purpose, no society,--whatever may be its widely
multiplied legislation,--securing to men conditions of life which are
sane and satisfactory.

Therefore the Child who is born of Mary in Bethlehem while the angels
are singing their carols over the fields where the shepherds watch, the
Child Who brings peace to men of good will, still, after nearly two
thousand years, finds His gift ignored and His longing to lift men to
God unsatisfied. "He came unto His own and His own received Him
not"--and the conditions are not vitally changed to-day. When we think
of a world of fifteen hundred million human beings, the number of those
who profess and call themselves Christians is comparatively small; the
number of actually practicing Christians, of men and women who do live
by the Gospel, without reserve and without compromise, is vastly
smaller. The resistance of the principles of the Gospel is to-day
intense; the demand for compromise is insistent. We are asked to throw
over a system which has obviously failed, and to accept as the
equivalent and to permit to pass under the same name a system which is
fundamentally different; a system whose end is man and not God, whose
means are natural and not supernatural, which seek to produce an
adjustment with this world that means comfort, rather than an adjustment
with the spiritual world which means sanctity.

The ideal achievement of peace is here in Bethlehem where the mother
holds the Holy Child to her breast, while her spirit is utterly in union
with Him Who is both man and God. There is never any break in the pure
peace of S. Mary because there is never any moment when her will is
separated from the will of God, when her union with Him fails. This
peace of perfect union has, through the merits of her Son, been hers
always; she has never known the wrench of the will that separates itself
from God. She has always been poor; she has been perplexed with life;
she has suffered and will suffer intensely, suffer most where she loves
most; but peace she has never lost, because her will has never wavered
in its allegiance. What visibly she is doing in these moments of her
great joy, holding God to her breast in a passion of love, she in fact
is doing always--always is she one with God.

That undisturbed peace of a never broken union is never possible for us.
We have known what it is to reject the will of God and go our own way
and indulge the appetites of our nature in violation of our recognised
standards of life. If we are to come to peace it must be along the rough
road of repentance. And it is wholly just that it should be so; that we
should win back to God at the expense of shame and suffering; that we
should retrace the road that we have travelled, with weary feet and
bleeding heart. This after all does not much matter: what does matter
immensely is that there is a road back to God and that we find it. What
matters is that we discover that repentance and reformation are the only
road to peace. We are offered many other roads alleged to lead to the
same place; but not even a child should be deceived by the modern
substitutes for repentance, by the shallow teaching whereby it is
attempted to persuade men of the innocence of sin. They are never worth
discussing, these modern substitutes for repentance. Men accept them,
not because they are rational or convincing, but because they offer a
justification for going the way that they have already made up their
minds to go. But it is plain that whatever else they do they do not
afford a basis for peace. They are no rock foundation for eternity.
Other foundation for peace can no man lay or has laid than the
acceptance of the salvation offered in Jesus Christ. He is our peace;
and when we discover that, He makes peace in us by the application to
our souls of the Blood of His Cross. This is the peace He came to bring.
This the peace that the angels announced as they sang over Bethlehem.
This is the peace which is ceaselessly proclaimed from the altars of the
Christian Church, the peace of God which passeth understanding, the
peace which is offered to all men of good will.

How shall we attain it? By being men of good will, plainly. But what
constitutes good will in a man? That which I have already discussed,
perhaps abundantly, simplicity and childlike obedience of character. S.
Joseph, the guardian of Mary and her Child here in Bethlehem, is the
best example we can have of a man of good will, a man who under the most
difficult circumstances responded with perfect readiness and complete
obedience to the heavenly message that came to him. This is to be his
course through the few years that he will live, to give himself to the
will of God in the care of Jesus. We are men of good will if we do
whatsoever our Lord says to us, if we are seeking first of all the
Kingdom of God and its righteousness, if our estimate of values
corresponds to our Lord's.

There is our trouble--that old trouble of feebly trying to live the life
of the Kingdom when what we actually want is the offer of this world.
There is, there can be, no peace in a divided life. There is a certain
spiritual sloth which has the exterior look of peace, as a corpse looks
peaceful, but it has no relation to the peace which God gives. It is in
fact the wages of sin, wages easily earned and long enjoyed. But so long
as we are spiritually alive, so long we cannot enjoy whole-heartedly
even the most fascinating of sins because there is lurking in the
background the sense of the transitoriness of our sin and of the
imminence of death and judgment. There is the skeleton in every man's
closet until he finally makes choice on one side or the other. For we
are not ignorant of the spiritual obligations of life. We always know
more than we have achieved. When we talk about our ignorance and
perplexity, we are not meaning ignorance and perplexity about the
obligation to live in a certain way, and to perform certain duties, on
this particular day: rather we are making this alleged ignorance of the
future an excuse for not taking action in the present, action which we
know to be obligatory.

And peace is so wonderful a gift! To feel oneself in harmony with God,
to know that one is carefully seeking His will and making it one's first
and highest duty to perform it. To have found the peace of the forgiven
soul as the result of absolution, at the expense of much shame and
repugnance, it may be, but with what marvellous compensations when we go
away with a sense of restored purity and the friendship of God--life
looks so different when we look at it through purified eyes! The old
life has held us so tightly, the old sins have clung so close; and then
there was a day when we gave up self and turned to God and the Gift of
God in Jesus Christ; and then we saw how miserable and vile and naked we
had been all through the time of our boasted freedom; and we came as
children to Mary's Child and offered ourselves to Him for cleansing. We
kneel and offer to Him our wills and ask that they may be made good, and
kept good in union with His most holy will. Then we find how true this
word is: "In Me ye shall have peace: in the world ye shall have
tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." It is
true, is it not? not only as we commonly interpret, that the disciples
of Christ shall have tribulation in this world; but that much that we,
giving ourselves to the world, counted joy, was in reality tribulation,
and we are glad to be rid of it.

A babe is born to bliss us bring.
I heard a maid lulley and sing.
She said: "Dear Son, leave Thy weeping:
Thy, Father is the King of bliss."
Now sing we with Angelis:
Gloria in excelsis.

"Lulley," she said and sung also,
"My own dear Son, why are Thou wo?
Have I not done as I should do?
Now sing we with Angelis:
Gloria in excelsis.

"Nay, dear mother, for thee weep I nought,
But for the woe that shall be wrought
To Me ere I mankind have bought.
Was never sorrow like it i-wis."
Now sing we with Angelis:
Gloria in excelsis.

"Peace, dear Son! Thou grievest me sore:
Thou art my child, I have no more.
Should I see men mine own Son slay?
Alas, my dear Son, what means all this?"
Now sing we with Angelis:
Gloria in excelsis.

"My hands, Mother, that ye now see,
Shall be nailed to a tree;
My feet also fast shall be,
Men shall weep that shall see this."
Now sing we with Angelis:
Gloria in excelsis.

"Ah, dear Son, hard is my happe
To see my child that lay in my lap,--
His hands, His feet that I did wrappe,--
Be so nailed; they never did amisse."
Now sing we with Angelis:
Gloria in excelsis.

"Ah, dear Mother, yet shall a spear
My heart asunder all but tear:
No wonder if I care-ful were
And wept full sore to think on this."
Now sing we with Angelis:
Gloria in excelsis.




Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the
king, Behold, there came Magi from the East to Jerusalem, Saying, Where
is he that is born king of the Jews?

S. Matt. II, i.

Hail to thee, Mary, the fair dove, which hath borne for us God the
Word. We give thee salutation with the Angel Gabriel, saying, Hail, thou
that art full of grace; the Lord is with thee.

Hail to thee, O Virgin, the very and true Queen; hail, glory of our
race. Thou hast borne for us Emmanuel.

We pray thee, remember us, O thou our faithful advocate with our Lord
Jesus Christ, that He may forgive us our sins.


Out of the East, over the desert, we see coming to Bethlehem the train
of the star-led Magi. The devout imagination of the Church, dwelling
upon the _significance_ rather than the bare historical statements of
the Gospel, have seen them as the representatives of the whole Gentile
world. We often think of the treatment of the sacred story by the
teachers and preachers of the Church as embroidering the original
narratives with legendary material. We can look at it in that way; and
by so doing, I think, miss the meaning of the facts. What we call
ecclesiastical legend will often turn out on examination to be but the
unfolding of the meaning of an event in terms of the creative
imagination. The object is to present vividly what the event actually
means when the meaning is of such widely reaching significance as far to
overpass the simple facts. It is thus, I take it, that we must
understand the story of the Magi as it takes shape in pious story. That
the Magi were kings, and that they were three in number, emphasises the
felt importance of their coming to the cradle of our Lord. Actually,
they were understood to represent the Gentile world offering its
allegiance to our blessed Lord, and therefore they would naturally
represent the three branches of the Gentile world as it was understood
at the time. The importance of their mission was reflected in the
presentation of them as kings--no less persons were required to fill
the dignity of the part. There was, too, a whole mass of prophecy to be
reckoned with and interpreted in its relation to the event, the most
obvious of which was that of Isaiah: "And the Gentiles shall come to thy
light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising."

The Church story is essentially true, is but a dramatic rendering of the
Gospel story. We may however content ourselves with the more simple
rendering. We can hardly think of the stable as the setting of the
reception of the Eastern Sages. Just when they came we cannot tell; but
we seem compelled to put the Epiphany where the Church puts it in her
year, somewhere between the Nativity and the Presentation, and the scene
of it will still be, the Gospel implies, Bethlehem. "Now when Jesus was
born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, Behold, there
came Magi from the East to Jerusalem." And at the direction of Herod,
and guided by the Star they came to Bethlehem and offered their gifts
and their worship. "They saw the young child with Mary his mother, and
fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures,
they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh."

We try to get before us what would have been the mind of S. Mary through
all these happenings which attended the birth of her Child. What is
written of her here is no doubt characteristic: "Mary kept all these and
pondered them in her heart." Wonder at the ways of God had been hers for
so many months now--wonder, with devout meditation upon their meaning.
Where there is no resistance to God's will but only the desire to know
it more fully there is always the gradual assimilation of the truth. S.
Mary moves in a realm of mystery from the moment of the Annunciation to
the very end of her life. It is so difficult to understand what is the
meaning of God in this unspeakable gift of a Son conceived by the power
of the Holy Spirit, and in the constant accompaniment of pain and
disaster and disappointment which is the unfolding experience of her
life in relation to Him. But we feel in her no speculation, no
rebellion, no insistence on knowing more; but we feel that there must
have been a growing appreciation of the work of God, unhesitating
acceptance of His will. Just to keep things in one's heart is so often
the best way of arriving at an understanding of them; is the best way,
at least, of arriving at the conviction that what we in fact need to
understand is not so much what God does as that it is God Who does it.
Our true aim in life is to understand God, and through that
understanding we shall sufficiently understand life. Failure in human
life is commonly due to an attempt to understand life without any
attempt to understand it in relation to God. It is like an attempt to
understand a work of art without an attempt to understand the artist, to
estimate in terms of mechanical effort, rather than in terms of mind. A
work of art means what the artist means when he creates it: life means
what God means in His creation and government of it, and it is hopeless
to expect to understand it without reference to the mind of God.

Therefore Mary's way is the right way--the way of acceptance and
meditation. So she sought to follow the mind of God. We are told little
of her, but we are told quite enough to understand this. We know well
her method, that she kept things in her heart. And we have one splendid
example of the result of the method in the Magnificat. There the results
of her communion with God break forth in that Canticle which ever since
has been one of the priceless treasures of the Church. The Gospels never
tell us very much; but if we will follow Mary's method they tell us
enough to let us see the very hand of God in the working out of our
salvation; they give us sample events from which we easily infer God's
meaning otherwhere.

And we may be sure that the months that followed the Annunciation would
have been months of ever-deepening spiritual communion, resulting in a
rapidly advancing spiritual maturity. One necessary result would have
been to prepare the blessed Mother to receive new manifestations of
God's Providence, and to fit them into the whole body of her experience.
She would not at any time be lost in helpless surprise before a new
development of the purpose of God. Surprised as she must have been when
the Eastern Sages came to kneel before the Child she carried at her
breast, and hail Him as born King of the Jews, she would have set to
work to fit this new experience into what her acquired knowledge of the
divine meaning had become. And one can have no doubt that these visitors
from afar would have told her enough of the grounds of their action to
illumine for her the prophecies concerning her Son.

The special incidents that the Gospel select for record leave us always
conscious that they _are_ a selection and therefore must have special
significance. That we are told that the Magi offered certain gifts,
rather than told the words of homage wherewith they presented them turns
our attention to the nature of the gifts as presumably having a
significance in themselves rather than because of any actual value. In
the gifts of these Gentiles come from afar to kneel before Him Whom they
recognise as King of the Jews, we are compelled to see a certain
attitude of humanity toward Him Who is revealed to be not only the King
of the Jews, but Lord of Heaven and earth; they give what humanity needs
must always give--the gold of a perfect oblation, the incense of
perpetual intercession, the myrrh of a humble self-abandonment.

These which are offered as the ideal tribute of humanity by the star-led
Magi are found in their highest human perfection exemplified in the
Mother of the Child to Whom the tribute is made. Perfect are they in our
Lord; and she who is nearest Him in nature is nearest Him in the
perfection of nature. We turn from God's ideal as set out in our blessed
Lord to see it reflected as in a glass in the life of her whose
perfection is the perfect rendering of His grace. Mary is so perfect
because, by God's election, she is "full of grace."

We, alas! limp after the ideal at a long distance. One pictures the
life of sanctity under the familiar symbol of the race course, where
many start in the race, and many, one by one, fall out by the wayside.
Those who go on the race's end, go on because of certain qualities of
endurance that we discover in them. In those who run the spiritual race
for the amaranthine crown these qualities of endurance are not natural,
but supernatural: they come not of birth but of rebirth. They are
qualities which we draw from God. "It is not of him that willeth, nor of
him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." The hand that sets the
race confers the gifts that enable one to win it. "So run that ye
may obtain."

And perhaps the chiefest of all those gifts is that which makes us, the
children of God, capable of the adoration of our Father. Worship is no
other than the utter giving of ourselves, giving as Christ gave, "Who
being originally in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be
grasped at to be equal with God, but emptied Himself, and took upon Him
the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men"; giving as
the blessed Virgin gave when she gave, as she must have thought and have
been willing to give, her whole reputation among men in response to the
call of God; giving complete, in which there is no withholding. That is
worship, sacrifice, the pure gold of self-oblation.

But it is possible to think of the power of worship from another point
of view. God never takes but He gives. What He appears to take He gives
back with His blessing, and we find the restored gift multiplied
manifold. So in the very act of our worship God confers on us power.

For it is true, is it not, that in the very act of worship we
experience, not exhaustion but exhilaration. In the very act of giving
ourselves to God, God gives Himself to us, and in overflowing abundance.
That is what we find to be true in our highest act of worship, the
blessed Eucharist. Here God and man meet in a perfect communion. Here we
offer ourselves in sacrifice--ourselves, our souls and bodies--in union
with the sacrifice of our Lord; and here our Lord, Who is the sacrifice
itself, not only offers Himself, but also He imparts Himself to those
who are united with Him. And out of this sacrifice, thus issuing in an
act of union, there flows the perpetual renewing of the vitality of the
spiritual life. We are sustained from day to day by this sacrificial
feeding; our strength which is continually being drawn upon by the
demands of life, by the temptations we have to resist, by the exertion
that is called for in all spiritual exercise, is renewed by our
participation in the Body and Blood of our Lord. I am sure that all
those who are accustomed to frequent communion feel the drain upon their
strength when at any time they are deprived of their great privilege. I
am also sure that many who feel that their spiritual life is but
languid, or those other many who seem only dimly to feel that there are
spiritual problems to be met, and spiritual strength needed for the
meeting of them, would find themselves immensely helped, would find
their minds illumined and their strength sustained in more frequent
participation in the sacrificial worship and feasting of the Church.
The attitude of vast numbers of those who are regarded as quite sincere
Christians is wholly incomprehensible. The life of God is day by day
poured out at the altars of the Church, and they go their way in seeming
unconsciousness of its presence, of its appeal, of its virtue, or of
their own sore need of it. The Magi come from a far distance on a
hazardous journey into an unknown country that they may offer the gold
of their adoration to an infant King; and the Christian feebly considers
whether he is not too tired to get up of a morning and go a short
distance to receive the Body and Blood of the Redeemer of his soul!

The Magi came also bringing the incense of their intercession. Their
privilege was that they were admitted to the very Presence Chamber of
the great King. That the Infant in Mary's arms did not show any sign of
kingship, the humble room where they were received bore no resemblance
to the presence chamber of such kings as they were accustomed to wait
upon, was to them of no consequence. They were endowed with the gift of
faith, and believed the supernatural guiding rather than the outward
seeming. The faith that had followed the star from so great a distance
was not likely to be quenched by the antithesis of what must have been
their imagination of the reality, of all the pictures that had been
filling their minds as they pushed on across the desert. It was no more
incredible that the King Whom they were seeking should be found in
humble guise in a peasant's cottage than that they should have been
guided to Him by a heavenly star. The gift of God to them was that they
should be permitted to enter the presence of the King.

This right of admission to the divine Presence is the precious gift of
God to us. Since the heavens received the ascending Lord the Kingdom of
heaven has been open to all believers. Prayer is a very simple and
common thing in our experience; and yet when we try to think out its
implications we are overwhelmed with the wonder of it. It implies a God
Who waits upon our pleasure: it reveals to us a Father Who is ever ready
to listen to the voice of His children. No broken hearted sinner,
overwhelmed with the conviction of his vileness, cries out in the agony
of his repentance but God is ready to hear. "He is more ready to hear
than we to pray." No man pours out his thanksgivings for the abundant
blessings he discovers in his life but the heart of God is glad in his
gladness. No child kneels at night to repeat his simple prayer but God
bends over him and blesses him. The wonder of it is summed up in our
Lord's words: "The Father Himself loveth you," which are as an open door
into the inner sanctuary, an invitation to enter to those who are
hesitating on the threshold of the Holy of Holies.

And there is no danger of tiring God: we come ceaselessly, endlessly.
The cries of earth go up to Him, pitiful, ignorant, foolish cries; but
they find God ready to hear and answer, fortunately not according to our
ignorance but according to His great mercy. We think of the clouds of
prayer in all ages, from all nations, in all tongues, and the very
vastness of them gives us an index of the divine love.

And it is not simply for ourselves that we pray, nor do we pray by
ourselves; it is of God's love that in the work of prayer we are
associated with one another. There is nothing further from the divine
plan of life than our present individualism. Our temptation is to be
egotistic and self-centred; to want to approach God alone with our
private needs and wishes. We incline to travel the spiritual way by
ourselves; we want no company; we want no one between our souls and God.
But that precisely is not the divine method. We come to God through
Christ; we come in association with the members of the Body. Our
standing as Christians before Him is dependent upon our corporate
relation to one another in His Son.

Important issues are involved. We attain through this associated life of
the Christian the power of mutual intercession. We find that it is our
privilege to share our prayers with others, and to be interested in one
another's lives. We have common interests and we work them out in
common. Therefore when we try to put before us an ideal picture of the
power of prayer, it will not be the solitary individual offering his
personal supplications to the Father, but it will be the community of
the faithful assembled for the offering of the divine Sacrifice. It is
the praying Body that best satisfies our ideal of prayer, where we are
conscious of helping one another in the work of intercession. We
remember, too, when we think of prayer as prayer of the Body of Christ,
that it is not just the visible congregation that is participating in
it, but that all the Body share in the intercessions, wherever they may
individually be. Our thoughts go up from the little assembly in the
humble church and lose themselves in the splendour of the heavenly
intercession where we are associated with prophets and apostles and
martyrs, and with Mary the Mother of God.

There was a third gift that the Magi brought to Him Whom they hailed
King, a gift that is more perplexing as a gift to royalty than the other
two. That gold and incense should be offered a King is clearly His royal
right; but what has he to do with the bitterness of myrrh? But to this
King myrrh is a peculiarly appropriate gift, for it is the symbol of
complete self-abandonment. He who came to do not His own will but the
will of Him that sent Him; Who laid aside the robes of His glory,
issuing from the uncreated light that He might clothe Himself with the
humility of the flesh, is properly honoured with the gift of myrrh.

And as it was the symbol of His humility, so is it the symbol of our
humanity in relation to Him. It suggests to us that uttermost of
Christian virtues, the virtue of entire abandonment to the will of God.
This is a most difficult virtue to acquire. We cling to self. We are
devoted to our own wills. We rely on our own judgment and wisdom. We are
impatient of all that gets in the way of our self-determination. We have
in these last days made a veritable religion out of devotion to self, a
cult of the ego.

But he who will enter into the sanctuary of the divine life, he who
will seek union with God, he who will be one with the Father in the Son,
must abandon self. He must lose his life in order to save it. He must
let go the world to cling to the Lord of life. This will of the man
which is so insistent, so persistent, so assertive, so tenacious, must
be laid aside and the Will of Another adopted in its place. Often this
is bitter. Very true of us it is that when we were young we girded
ourselves and walked whither we would; but it must be in the end, if we
make life a spiritual success, that when we are old another shall gird
us and carry us whither we would not.

The secret of life is found when the bitterness of myrrh is turned to
sweetness in the discovery that the outcome of the sacrificial life is
not that it be narrowed but enlarged; and that for the life which we
have entrusted to Him God will do more than we ask or think. When our
will becomes one with the will of God we are surprised to find that we
have ceased to think of what we once called our sacrifices, because life
in Christ reveals itself to us as of infinite joy and richness, so that
we forget the things that are behind and gladly press on.

Queen of heaven, blessed may thou be
For Godes Son born He was of thee,
For to make us free.
Gloria Tibi, Domine.

Jesu, Godes Son, born He was
In a crib with hay and grass,
And died for us upon the cross.
Gloria Tibi, Dominie.

To our Lady make we our moan,
That she may pray to her dear Son,
That we may to His bliss come.
Gloria Tibi, Dominie.

Sixteenth Century.




And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were
accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.

S. Luke II. 22.

O come let us worship the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Ghost,--we the Christian nations, for He is our true God.

And we hope in Holy Mary, that God will have mercy upon us through her

Hail to thee, Mary, the fair dove, who hath borne for us God the Word.


The reading of a story in the Gospels is often like looking through a
window down some long arcade; there is in the foreground the group of
actors in whom we are presently interested, and beyond them is the whole
background of contemporary life to which they belong, of which they are
a part. If we have time to think out the meaning of this surrounding
life we gain added insight into the meaning of our principal characters.
It is so now as we watch this group of humble peasant folk coming up to
the temple to fulfil the demands of the law of Moses. In the precincts
of the temple they are merged in a larger group whose interests are
clearly identical with their own, and whom we easily see to be the local
representatives of a party--the name, no doubt, suggests an organisation
which they had not--scattered throughout Judea. Their interest was the
redemption of Israel. They were the true heirs of the prophets, and
among them the prophecies which concerned the Lord's Christ were the
subject of constant study and meditation. Amid the movements and
intrigues of political and religious parties, they abode quietly in the
temple, as Simeon and Anna, or in their homes, as Zacharias and
Elizabeth, _waiting_. Their power was the silent power of sanctity, the
power that flows from lives steeped in meditation and prayer. They
constitute that remnant which is the depository of the hopes of Israel
and the saving salt which prevents the utter putrefaction of the body of
the nation.

We cannot for a moment doubt that Mary and Joseph were of this remnant,
and that they were in complete sympathy with those whom they found here
in the temple when the Child Jesus was brought in "to do for him after
the custom of the law." The actual ceremony of the purification was soon
over, the demands of the law satisfied. Neither Jesus nor Mary had any
inner need of these observances; their value in their case was that by
submission to them they associated themselves closely with their
brethren, our Lord thus continuing that divine self-emptying which he
had begun at the Incarnation. We are impressed with the completeness of
this stooping of God when we see the offering that Mary brings, "A pair
of turtle doves," the offering of the very poor. Our Lord has accepted
life on its lowest economic terms in order that nothing in His mission
shall flow from adventitious aids. He must owe all in the accomplishment
of His work to the Father Who gave it Him to do. It will be the essence
of the temptation that He must soon undergo that He shall consent to
call to His aid earthly and material supports and base His hopes of
success on something other than God.

Accidentally, there is this further demonstration contained in the
poverty of the Holy Family, that, namely, the completest spiritual
privilege, the fullest spiritual development, is independent of
"possessions." It is no doubt true that "great possessions" do not of
necessity create a bar in all cases to spiritual accomplishment; but to
many of us it is a consolation to know that the completest sanctity
humanity has known has been wrought out in utter poverty of life. We
shall have occasion to speak more of this later; we now only note the
fact that those whom we meet in the pages of the New Testament as
waiting hopefully for the redemption of Israel are waiting in poverty
and hard work.

What we find in S. Mary as she passes through the ceremony of her
purification from a child-bearing which had in no circumstance of it
anything impure, is the spirit of sacrifice which submission to the law

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