The Return of the Holy Family from Egypt.
With what anxious care did Heaven look down upon the holy Exiles in a strange land. The hour of their delivery was fast approaching; Herod, the monster of cruelty, was on his death-bed; the flesh rotting off his bones; the tongue that gave the order for the massacre of the Holy Innocent, and for the murder of the Infant Saviour, was being devoured with the most loathsome worms; and so intolerable was the filthy stench, that no one could approach the room of the dying tyrant. The records of history, either ancient or modern, narrate no parallel of tho death with which it pleased the Eternal Father to visit this enemy of His Divine Son.
Herod is gone to his account, and quickly a heavenly messenger is dispatched by God to convey the news to the Holy Family. To St. Joseph alone the important information was communicated. "But," says the Gospel, "when Herod was dead, behold an Angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph in Egypt, saying: Arise and take the child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel. For they are dead that sought the life of the child. Who arose and took the child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But hearing that Archelaus reigned in Judea in room of Herod his father, he was afraid to go thither, and being warned in sleep retired into the quarters of Galilee. And coming he dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was said by the prophets: That he shall be called a Nazarite" (Matt, ii. 19-23).
Though gladdening and welcome was the news of returning to their fond country and home to the hearts of exiles, yet far more happy was the Holy Family in hearing and obeying the will of the Almighty. Nothing daunted, by the well-known length of the journey, and its fatigues now known to them by experience, joyously and happily Jesus, Mary and Joseph set out on their way, anxious to breathe again the air of their native hills. Adopting the opinion of St. Thomas that 0ur Blessed Lord at this time was seven years old, or that of Cardinal Baronius that He was nine, we can well conceive how holy and divine was the conversation of the Holy Family, beguiling the fatigues of the day, and how often in their secret souls Mary and Joseph adored and loved the Saviour of the world. We can well conceive that, now and again, during the journey through the desert, sweet exquisite fruit ripened on the wild trees, which, recognising the Lord of nature, bowed down in homage, that Jesus might pluck and eat. We can imagine how the wild beasts, roaming through the desert in all the native freedom of unbridled liberty, the terror of all travellers, acknowledged the Lord of creation, and bowed before and licked the feet of the Child Jesus.
Most probably the Holy Family returned to Judea by the easiest and shortest route; and most likely intended to settle in Jerusalem, or in its vicinity, in order to be near the Temple, as well as to have opportunity of holy conversation with the great servants of God, Zachary and St. Elizabeth.
Some writers think it more probable that the Holy Family set out straight for their home at Nazareth, by the road that led through Judea, as being more convenient, and more frequented by travellers. 0n reaching Judea St. Joseph was startled by a new danger. Herod was dead; but his son, Archelaus, who inherited much of the cruelty and jealousy of his father, reigned in his place. St. Joseph was puzzled, hesitated, and feared to proceed further, lest he should expose to risk or danger the safety of the Child Jesus. In his doubts, Heaven, as usual, came to his relief; God's Angel appeared to him in sleep, and told him to retire into Galilee, which was governed by a kind, humane prince, Herod Antipas. Promptly, as usual, did St. Joseph obey the voice of the Almighty, and with his precious charge "retired to the quarters of Galilee."
Home at all times has a sweet sound; and after long absence, and after the fatigues and privations of a long journey, the cherished name sounds dearer and sweeter still; hence we can well imagine with what gladdened hearts the Holy Family took possession of their old and fond home "The Holy House" at Nazareth. "And coming he dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was said by the Prophets: That he shall be called a Nazarite."
An Act of Consecration to St. Joseph.
0 glorious Patriarch and Patron of the Catholic Church! 0 Virgin Spouse of the Virgin Mother of God. 0 Guardian and foster-father of the Word Incarnate! In the presence of Jesus and Mary I choose thee this day to be my guardian, my patron, and my protector.
0 thou, whom God has made the head of the Holy Family, accept me, I beseech thee, though utterly unworthy, to be a poor little servant in thy " Holy House." Present me to thy Immaculate Spouse; ask her also to adopt me as her child. "With her, pray that I may constantly think of Jesus, and serve Him faithfully to the end of my life.
0 my tender and holy Father, I hereby consecrate myself to thee. 0 thou head of the Holy Family on earth, in faithful imitation of Jesus and Mary, I place myself and all my concerns under thy care and protection. To thee, after Jesus and Mary, I consecrate my body and soul, with all their senses and faculties, my spiritual progress, my home, and all my affairs and undertakings. Forsake me not, but adopt me as a servant and child of the Holy Family. Watch over me at all times, but especially at the last awful hour of my life. Then visit, console and strengthen me with the presence of Jesus and Mary; that with them and thee, I may praise, and enjoy the Adorable Trinity in paradise for all eternity. Amen.
The Presentation by the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph of our Divine Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple.
Not to break the thread of the Gospel narrative according to St. Matthew, who makes no mention of the Presentation in the Temple, we reserved on purpose to the present that important event in the life of 0ur Blessed Lord. As we write chiefly for the instruction and edification of the poor and uneducated, we shall pass over in silence the controversy among the learned as to the exact time of the Presentation in the Temple. According to the common and received opinion, the Presentation took place alter the adoration of the Wise Men, before the flight into Egypt, and when our Divine Lord Jesus Christ was about forty days old.
In the Presentation of the Child Jesus, what infinite homage, praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and love, did the Incarnate Son of God render to His Eternal Father! 0 thrice blessed St. Joseph, whose arms were privileged to bear to the Temple this supreme offering.
The Gospel of St. Luke thus narrates it:—" And after the days of her Purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord. As it is written in the law of the Lord. Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord. And to offer a sacrifice according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons. And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by the Spirit into the Temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do as for Him according to the custom of the law. He also took him into his arms, and blessed God and said: Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, 0 Lord, according to Thy word in peace. Because my eyes have seen thy salvation. Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples. A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people, Israel. And his father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed" (Luke, ii. 22-35).
The distance from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is about six miles; this was the first journey of the Holy Family, and was performed before the Child Jesus was forty days old. Lovingly and tenderly did Mary fold in her warmest mantle the Divine Babe; and every now and again St. Joseph, to help the delicate Mother, carried in his arms the Infant Saviour of the world. The love and care of St. Joseph lightened for Jesus and Mary the fatigues of the journey. They arrive at Jerusalem, and the gates of the Temple open wide to receive the Lord of Glory. The words of the royal Prophet describing the future Glorious Ascension of 0ur Lord Jesus Christ into Heaven may here be applied to the Presentation in the Temple. "Lift up your gates, 0 ye princes, and be ye lifted up, 0 eternal gates, and the King of Glory shall enter in. Who is the King of Glory? The Lord who is strong and mighty in battle. Lift up your gates, 0 ye princes, and be ye lifted up, 0 eternal gates, and the King of Glory shall enter in. Who is the King of Glory? The Lord of hosts is the King of Glory" (Ps. xxiii. 7-10).
All Heaven was looking down in reverential awe, as St. Joseph took Jesus in his arms and presented Him to His Eternal Father. The Father accepts the infinite praise, homage, adoration, and love rendered to Him, in behalf of all mankind, by His "well-beloved Son." Holy Simeon, who had received a promise from God, that his eyes, before being closed in death, would see the Saviour of the world, " came by the spirit into the Temple," by revelation recognised the Redeemer of the world, took into his arms, out of the hands of St. Joseph, the Child Jesus, and then, in an ecstasy of supreme happiness, raised his eyes to heaven, "blessed God," and prayed Him to take away his soul, for his eyes had seen the Saviour of the world. Having discharged his duty to the Eternal Father and His Incarnate Son, holy Simeon turned to the "father and mother" of Jesus, and with uplifted hands "blessed them," and congratulated them, on being chosen by God, to be the holy parents and guardians of the Redeemer of the world.
Let us frequently during the day offer to the Eternal Father our souls with their faculties, our hearts with their affections, our bodies with their senses, in union with the Presentation in the Temple of Jesus by His parents, Mary and Joseph; in union with the Most Adorable Sacrifice of the Mass daily offered up on countless altars; and in union with the infinite praise, adoration, homage, and love offered by the same Jesus from all the tabernacles in Christendom.
Simeon was holy and happy when he received into his arms the Saviour of the world; holier and happier ought we to be, when we receive, not into our arms, but into our very breasts, the same Saviour in the Holy Communion. Would that each of us could say with Simeon, after holy Communion: "Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, 0 Lord, according to thy word in peace. Because my eyes have seen thy salvation;" or with St. Paul: "I desire to he dissolved and he with Christ. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. i. 21).
0n this occasion, Mary, though an Immaculate Virgin, after, as well as before, the birth of her Divine Son, to fulfil all justice, to conceal her exalted dignity and unique privileges, as well as to give an example of profound humility, made the usual sin offering and burnt-offering of a "pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons."
At the Presentation in the Temple it was the happy privilege of St. Joseph also to redeem the Infant Jesus. This was prescribed by the Law of Moses: "And every first-born of men thou shalt redeem with a price" (Exod. xiii. 13); "for a male shall be given five sides: for a female three" (Lev. xxviii. 6). A side is valued at 2s. 7 ½ d.; thus for 13s. ld. did St. Joseph redeem the Infant Saviour. The above fact though not mentioned by any of the Evangelists, no doubt took place, in order to fulfil the Law of Moses.
0n the occasion of the Presentation in the Temple, the Blessed Virgin and St, Joseph were consoled, at the signal revelations made to Anna the Prophetess. She too, like holy Simeon, was led by the spirit into the Temple, and by divine inspiration recognised and adored the Saviour of the world. "We shall give the unctuous Gospel narrative. "And there was one Anna, prophetess, daughter of Phamiel, of the tribe Aser; she was far advanced in years, and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity. And she was a widow until four-score and four years: who departed not from the temple, by fasting and prayers, serving night and day. Now she at the same hour coming in confessed to the Lord, and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel" (Luke ii. 36).
After the Presentation in the Temple, and having fulfilled to the letter the Law of Moses, the Holy Family returned to Nazareth. "And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee to their city Nazareth. And tho child grew and waxed strong, full of wisdom: and the grace of God was in him" (Luke ii. 39).
No surprise that the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph "wondered" at these heavenly manifestations and inspirations; month after month, year after year, each event more striking and signal than the preceding, intensified the love of St. Joseph for the Saviour of the world. We can well conceive, then, the care, reverence, and awe with which St. Joseph ministered to the wants and comforts of Jesus and Mary in their journey homeward.
A prayer of St. Alphonsus Liguori to St. Joseph.
"0 holy Patriarch, I rejoice with thee at thy exalted dignity, by which thou wert deemed worthy to act as father to Jesus, to give Him orders, and to be obeyed by Him, whom heaven and earth obey. 0 great Saint! as thou wert served by a God, I too wish to be taken into thy service. I choose thee after Mary, to be my chief advocate and protector. I promise to honour thee every day by some special act of devotion, and by placing myself daily under thy protection. By that sweet company, which Jesus and Mary gave thee in thy lifetime, protect me all the days of my life, so that I may never separate from my God by losing His grace. My dear St. Joseph pray to Jesus for me. Certainly He can never refuse thee anything as He obeyed all thy orders on earth. Tell Him to forgive me all the sins by which I have offended Him. Tell Him to detach me from all creatures, and from myself, to inflame me with His holy love, and then to do with me what He pleases. And by the assistance which Jesus and Mary gave thee at thy death, I beg of thee to protect me in a special manner at the hour of my death, so that dying, assisted by thee, in the company of Jesus and Mary, I may go to thank thee in paradise, and in thy company to praise my God for all eternity. Amen."
The hidden Life of St. Joseph. The losing and finding of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem by "his parents" Mary and Joseph,
As our readers have most probably remarked long before now, we have kept most strictly to the Gospel narrative in sketching the Life of our great Saint. After the return from Egypt, few are the facts recorded in the sacred text about our holy Patriarch. The Gospel of St. Luke says of our Lord: "And his parents went every year to Jerusalem at the solemn day of the pasch. And when he was twelve years old, they were going up into Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. And having fulfilled the days when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem and his parents knew it not. And thinking he was in the company, they came a day's journey, and sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And not finding him they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass that after three days they found Him in the temple sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers. And seeing him they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And He said to them: How is it that thou sought me? Did you not know that I must he about my father's business. And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth: and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart" (Luke, ii. 41-51).
The above is the last word in the Gospel narrative on the life of our great Saint. The hidden life of the Holy Family—Jesus, Mary and Joseph,—is a subject of deep reflection and useful meditation for the devout soul. The pious soul can meditate for ever on the wonders of the Hidden Life of our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ. At the Incarnation, Mary alone paid homageto the WORD MADE FLESH. St. Joseph, St. Elizabeth, and the unborn Baptist next recognised and adored " the desired of the eternal hills." "The heavenly army" announced the "good tidings of great joy" to the shepherds, who worshipped "the infant lying in the manger." The Wise Men laid their gifts of "gold, frankincense, and myrrh" at the feet of the Divine Babe. At the Presentation in the Temple, holy Simeon and Anna, the prophetess, by divine inspiration, recognised and adored the Saviour of the world; and for eighteen years, that is, from His twelfth to His thirtieth year, not even one word is mentioned in the Gospel on the Life of our Divine Redeemer. Well might the prophet say: "Verily, thou art a hidden God" (Isai, xlv. 15). The Evangelist writes: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (John i. 10). The Blessed Virgin, by her secret, hidden and exalted virtues, imitated Jesus, her Divine Son and Model.
With such shining lights before his eyes, with such models as Jesus and Mary ever in his presence, no wonder that the Life of St. Joseph was "hidden with Christ in God" (Col. iii. 3); no wonder that few facts and fewer virtues of our Saint are recorded by the Evangelists; nor are we then to be surprised that, after the losing and finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple by his "parents," a single word is not said in the Gospels on the life and death of our holy Patriarch. With the examples of Jesus, Mary and Joseph before our eyes, let us love to be hidden and unknown; let us do all our acts solely and purely for the greater glory of God, to please God alone; let us shun the esteem and praise of the world; let us keep before our mind the sublime doctrine which our Divine Saviour preached and practised, viz.: "Take heed," said our Blessed Redeemer, "that you do not your justice before men to be seen by them .... when thou dost an alms-deed, sound not a trumpet before . . . let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth .... and thy father who seeth in secret will repay thee . . . , when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret 'will repay thee" (Matt. vi. 1-6).
0 most loving Jesus! grant us the grace to love to be hidden and unknown, and to do all our actions purely to please Thee. 0 Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, obtain for us the grace to live and die for Jesus' sake.
Three times in the year the men of Israel were bound by the Law of God to present themselves before the Almighty, and to worship Him in the Temple. "Three times in the year all the males shall appear in the sight of the Almighty Lord, the God of Israel" (Exod. xxxiv. 23). The three times are specified in Deuteronomy. "Three times in the year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of the leavened bread, in the feast of the weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles" (Deut. xvi. 16).
We shall not here enter into the dispute among the learned whether St. Joseph went to worship in the Temple at the three appointed times according to the Law of Moses, or only once in the year. The Gospel of St. Luke, as we have seen, mentions only one visit. Children who had not attained the age of twelve years were not bound by this Law; hence, arises another controversy among commentators, whether the Child Jesus, before He attained the age of twelve, accompanied his parents to adore in the Temple. As males only came under the Law, theologians are divided in opinion whether the Blessed Virgin accompanied her holy Spouse to Jerusalem, or stayed at home at Nazareth with the Child Jesus.
What appears most reasonable, and in accordance with the habits of the Holy Family to "fulfil all justice" is, that St. Joseph observed the Law of Moses to the letter, and that the Blessed Virgin, through piety and devotion, as well as to give holy example to the Jewish women, accompanied St. Joseph, and that at each visit they took with them the Child Jesus; for we could not think for a moment that they would leave behind them at Nazareth, to another's care, a treasure they loved a thousand times dearer than their lives. Be all this as it may, as the Gospel is silent, we are only certain that when our Divine Lord had attained the age of twelve years, the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, offered supreme homage to the Lord God of Israel at the Temple in Jerusalem. The distance from Nazareth to Jerusalem is About a hundred miles. Here again the world envies St. Joseph, and pronounces him thrice happy in being appointed and privileged by heaven to minister to the wants and comforts of Jesus and Mary, during a long journey of at least five days.
"When the solemn feast and devotions of the Pasch were over, Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem for their home at Nazareth, believing at the same time that the Child Jesus, in whose wisdom and prudence they had full confidence, was in the company of his relatives and townsmen. 0n the evening of the first day's journey the parents thought it time to look after the comforts of their Divine Son, and hence sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances; but to their unutterable grief could not find Him. In bitter anguish and sorrow they sought the object of their love among the pilgrims from Nazareth, and not finding Him, they retraced their steps to Jerusalem. For the first time n her life Mary felt the point of that sword of sorrow, which Simeon long before had prophesied, would pierce her soul. Inn after inn, house after house at Jerusalem was searched for the missing one; the hearts of Mary and Joseph were rent with the most bitter anguish, sorrow, and anxiety. Though the absence of Jesus made each moment seem an age, yet it was God's divine will, in order that Mary might taste the first drops of the hitter chalice, which she was to drink to the last drop at the foot of the Cross on Mount Calvary, that only after three days of sorrow and search, did Mary and Joseph find the object of their love in the Temple "in the midst of the doctors." The first loving look of Jesus inundated, so to speak, the hearts and souls of Mary and Joseph with supreme joy and delight. They have found their Son, their God, their Lord, their Love, and their All.
The Child Jesus, having done His "Father's business," returned to Mary and Joseph, and "went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them."
May we never lose Jesus by mortal sin; and if that greatest of all misfortunes, in an evil hour befalls us, which God in His mercy forbid, may we at once seek Jesus "sorrowing; "may we at once find Him, and recover the love and friendship of God our Saviour. Mary and Joseph, pray for us.