Life Of Christ:
The Blessed Virgin Mary
Birth Of Jesus
Three Wise Men From The East Adore The Infant Saviour
Presentation Of Jesus In The Temple
Flight Into Egypt
Jesus, At Twelve Years, Visits The Temple
Baptism Of Jesus
Jesus Calls The Twelve Apostles
Parables Of Jesus
Miracles Of Jesus
Read More Articles About: Life Of Christ
Birth Of Jesus
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
HIS CIRCUMCISION, THE HOLY NAME OF JESUS.
DIVINE Providence foreordained from all eternity that the Saviour of the world should be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. It was concerning this city that, more than seven hundred years before Christ, the following prophecy was pronounced: "And thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda: out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel, and His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity." (Mich. v. 2.) But how was this decree of God to be accomplished? For the virgin chosen to be the mother of the world's Redeemer dwelt with her spouse at a distance of at least four days' journey from Bethlehem.
But God so ordered things that the Roman emperor, Casar Augustus, became an instrument in carrying out the ancient prophecy. " And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of 'Syria; and all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child." (Luke ii. I-5.)
When St. Joseph received the order to go to Bethlehem, he was filled with alarm, and imparted the news to Mary with a heavy heart. But remembering the prediction of the prophet Micheas, and knowing it to be God's will that she should repair to Bethlehem, she encouraged her chaste spouse to unreserved submission to the holy will of God. The day being appointed for their departure, the holy couple provided themselves with what was most necessary for the journey, which, as they knew, lay partly through very inhospitable regions. It was at the beginning of the winter season, when the long, cold night was succeeded by the cheerless, chilly day, when the bright skies were hidden by heavy, leaden-colored clouds.
The Blessed Virgin was seated upon an humble mule, while Joseph, holding the bridle, and with staff in hand, walked by her side. Leaving Nazareth, their road led through long rows of fig and olive trees, now denuded of their foliage, into the extensive plains of Esdrelon, which stretch far away over a distance of fifty miles to the mountains of Samaria. The road now being steeper and more rugged, the labor of travelling was more painful and tedious. Sometimes the Blessed Virgin was obliged to walk, and frequently she had to rest by the road-side. Sometimes they received hospitality from kind people whose hearts were touched at the sight of the tired wayfarers; sometimes, too, they met with unkind treatment and harsh language.
Tradition tells us that as our lowly pilgrims were wending their weary way on a cold, bleak evening through a valley near Sichern, the Blessed Virgin became so exhausted that she could proceed no farther. As she reluctantly acknowledged her weariness to St. Joseph, the beast that bore her stood suddenly still beneath a large terebinth tree, which grew near a fountain. Here she decided to rest. The tree was a very old and memorable one; for in its shade Abraham had built an altar to the Lord. (Gen. xii.) Near its roots Jacob, when on his homeward journey, had buried Laban's idols. (Gen. xxxv.) Under its branches Abimelech was anointed king. (Judges ix. 6.) Here, too, Josue had set up the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle, and induced the assembled people to renounce their false gods. (Josue xxiv.) And now, under this same tree, Mary, the true ark of the covenant, rests, weary and sad, but yet contented and resigned to the will of God. Whilst St. Joseph, unable to lessen the difficulties of the journey, offers words of sympathy, she prays secretly to God for protection and strength. Suddenly the Lord is pleased to reveal to her in a miraculous ecstasy the grand mysteries which had transpired near this memorable tree, and their intimate connection with her life and with the mission of the future Saviour. Overflowing with heavenly consolation, the mother of God was wonderfully strengthened, and the flame of divine love which consumed her heart pervaded and invigorated her whole frame, so that she became eloquent in the praises of God. Having then partaken of some food and quenched her thirst at the fountain, she continued her journey. At last, after having been nearly eight full days upon the road, the pilgrims reached Jerusalem, and a few hours later arrived at Bethlehem.
In pious contemplation and subdued prayer they approached the town from the west, where the ascent, from the plain was gradual and easy. When they arrived, the place was full of people who had come for the same purpose as they. " There was no room for them in the inn." (Luke ii. 7.) In the East, the inns, or khans, as they were called, were different from what we in the West understand by that name. They were rude and simple buildings, of varying size, which offered the wayfarer the protection of walls and a roof, and water, but little more. The smaller structures sometimes consisted of only a single empty room, on the floor of which the traveller might spread his blanket for sleep; the larger ones, built in a hollow square, enclosed a court for the beasts, with water in it for them and their masters. In these inns usually all strangers were received and lodged; but for Mary and Joseph there was no room. Joseph was troubled at this humiliating occurrence, principally on the Blessed Virgin's account, who was excessively fatigued. But as he had been born in the town, and had some acquaintances living there, he felt certain of being able to find shelter in some private house; and resolved, while Mary rested a little in the open air, to seek lodging among these friends and acquaintances. But they. would hardly recognize him, or else sought various pretexts for refusing his petition. Side by side with his blessed spouse did Joseph traverse the streets, going from door to door, but no heart was softened by his piteous appeals. At length they reached the opposite end of the town, and Joseph's anxiety increased at every step, for the night was approaching.
Finally, when all else had failed, Joseph remembered that there was to the east of the town a lonely cave, into which the shepherds sometimes drove their flocks in severe weather. Mary was entirely resigned to the dispensations of Providence. Passing through the gate of the town, they went to the cave. It contained nothing but a little hay and straw, forgotten by the shepherds, and a wooden manger. Such was the palace prepared by heaven's King to receive His only-begotten Son who was to redeem the world. As Mary and Joseph entered this poor and comfortless place, their hearts were filled with supernatural consolation. The Blessed Virgin fell upon her knees and thanked her heavenly Father for the shelter, while St. Joseph made some simple preparations to render the place tenantable for the night. Having done this service for Mary, he retired to a small grotto at the further end of the cave.
In deep and silent prayer the Blessed Virgin knelt be. fore the manger. Her features were resplendent with di-vine brightness and beauty: she seemed no longer to belong to this earth. As the hour of midnight drew near, a flood of celestial light pervaded the stable, and the mystery of mysteries is accomplished, the Son of God is born a man. For an instant, the newly-made mother is lost in heavenly contemplation. A feeble wail recalls her from her trance. Oh, the indescribable, ravishing joy of her mother-heart, as her eye falls upon her own child, and yet her King and God! What ardent words of adoration, as she looks upon her Lord and Creator! She presses Him to her heart, she imprints ardent kisses upon His infant lips; for this God and Creator, this Lord and King, is in reality her own child, her only, first-born son.
And now St. Joseph, arising from his knees in the ad-joining grotto, draws near to the divine infant. He falls down and adores, joy and reverence fill his heart, tears of gladness bedew his cheeks, words of gratitude escape his trembling lips. He takes the infant Jesus in his arms and presses Him to his heart, and his soul is unable to contain the joy which overflows it.
Mary now wrapped the child in swaddling-clothes and laid Him on some straw in the manger.
"And there were in the same country shepherds, watching and keeping the night-watches over their flock. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them, and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them : Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: for this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying : Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will." (Luke ii. 8-14.)
With this heavenly anthem the light faded from the hills as the angels returned to heaven, and left earth once more in the shadow of night, knowing not the great event which divine Omnipotence had wrought. Wondering at such a vision, and full of simple trust, the shepherds had but one thought to see the mother and child for them-selves. "And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one an-other: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath showed us. And they came with haste, and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger." (Luke ii. 15, 16.)
No details are given: no heightening of the picture of this first act of adoration before the newborn Saviour. Nor are they needed. The Iowliness of the visitors, the pure image of the virgin mother and her child are better left in their own simplicity.
Touching and significant is that old tradition which avers that the very beasts of the field, and the senseless things, showed signs of delight at the birth of their Creator. The ox and the ass of the stable fell upon their knees before Him; the lambs on the plains skipped for joy; the birds of the air, mistaking the extraordinary brilliancy of the heavens for the noon-day sun, sang their sweetest lays; the very plants and shrubs in the gardens near Bethlehem put forth their brightest blossoms. In many places new springs burst forth from the earth; as, for example, in the city of Rome, beyond the Tiber, one burst forth, yielding, instead of water, a fragrant oil, which flowed in great abundance. In commemoration of this strange occurrence, a church was built over the spot, called St. Mary's beyond the Tiber, and termed to this day, in remembrance of this circumstance, Fons Oleió"Fount of Oil."
In heathen lands, and even in the empire of Satan, the new-born King proclaimed His arrival by extraordinary signs. The Roman people, being at that time desirous of paying divine honors to their emperor, Augustus, he had summoned the Sibyl of Tiber, in order to consult with her as to whether or not he should accept these tempting honors. The sibyls, among the ancient heathens, were women supposed to be gifted with a knowledge of the future. Their sayings were regarded in pagan Rome with so much reverence and faith, that the heads of the nation frequently consulted them. When Augustus consulted the sibyl, it was noon, and she, looking up to heaven, saw a golden arc about the sun, and in its centre a virgin holding a lovely infant. The sibyl, showing this apparition to the emperor, said to him: "That child is mightier than thou; fall down and adore Him." The emperor knelt and adored, and afterward had erected in the Senate chamber an altar in honor of this mysterious child, with the inscription: Ara Primogeniti Deió" Altar of the First-born of God." On the same place a church was afterward built in commemoration, called to this day Ara Coeli, that is, "Altar of Heaven."
Pious legends relate that at the time of the Nativity lightning fell from the clouds, and struck the pagan temples so violently that the idols were thrown from their pedestals and broken in fragments, or melted to shapeless masses; that many oracles through whose mouths the devil used to speak were struck dumb forever, for they felt already the power of Him who had come to destroy the rule of Satan. Thus we see that Christ's coming upon earth awoke a general commotion throughout created nature.
On the eighth day after His birth, the divine Child was circumcised according to the law which God had given to Abraham. Although not subject to this law, because paternally He was not descended from Abraham, Christ nevertheless submitted to the rite, to give us an example of humility, obedience, and patience. As to the person by whom the circumcision was performed, or where it took place, we have no certainty. St. Epiphanius says it was in the cave of the Nativity, and in presence of Mary and Joseph. This is very probable, be-cause, according to the law, children and their mothers were not permitted to leave the house where the birth had taken place before the expiration of forty days. St. Luke describes this important, significant, and mysterious event in the few and simple words : " And after eight days were accomplished that the child should be circumcised, His name was called Jesus, which was called by the angel before He was conceived in the womb." (Luke ii. 21.)
The name Jesus signifies Saviour. When the angel appeared to Joseph in his sleep, saying: "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," he added : " Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." (Matt. i. 20, 2i.) This, then, was why the Son of God, incarnate, was to be distinguished by a name so important and so glorious. " He shall save His people from their sins." This He effects in a threefold manner, in regard to all such as may be denominated "His people," that is, such as truly believe in Him. He saves them from their sins, first, by washing away those sins with His own sacred blood; secondly, by imparting to them the grace of successfully resisting sin; and, thirdly, by conducting them to the gates of bliss, whence sin is forever excluded. Observe, it is not said that He shall save us from war, famine, death, or other disaster to which we are inclined in this world, but that He shall save us from sin, in which signal deliverance every other blessing is included.
To know, then, whether we belong to those to whom Jesus Christ is the Saviour, we have but to examine whether we desire to be saved from sin; whether we sincerely regard it as the greatest of all evils; and whether we are determined to renounce it, as such, with all the energy of our souls. At the same time, let us remember, that unless these are our dispositions, in practice as well as in theory, we frustrate the design of the incarnation of the Son of God, since He became man only to save man from sin.
Such is the meaning of the adorable name of Jesus, a name which God has raised above all names, to the end "that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth." (Philipp. ii. ro.) This sacred name, St. Paul asserts, no one is able to pronounce worthily but by the grace of the Holy Ghost; because to invoke as we ought the sacred name of Our Saviour we must be desirous of being saved by Him from the servitude of sin, from which He came to deliver us.
Of this most holy name the holy Fathers have written so beautifully that their words cannot be read without experiencing a holy joy. We quote St. Bernard: " Blessed name! Oil flowing softly over the-whole earth! From heaven it flowed down to Judea, and from Judea it flowed over the whole earth, and from the earth even into hell, so that at the name of Jesus all knees bend in heaven, on the earth, and in hell. ` Thy name is as flowing oil. How striking the resemblance between oil and the name of the Saviour! Oil has three qualities: it illuminates, it nourishes, it heals. It sustains the fire, it strengthens the body, it heals the wound. It furnishes light, serves as food, and acts as medicine. So, too, the name of Jesus illuminates when He preaches, nourishes when He protects, heals when He is invoked. For how else explain the sudden flash of the light of faith over the world but through the preaching of the name of Jesus? What more effectually nourishes our courage; what strengthens our virtue and maintains morality; what promotes chaste self-control; what fills the soul with such sweetness and vigor as the name of Jesus, when we ponder on it in holy meditation? Is one of us sad or timid, in danger, perhaps in sin ? Behold! as soon as the name of Jesus enters his heart and ascends to his lips, all gloom vanishes before the light, and the anxious sinner breathes a new life. Insipid is that food of the soul which is not flavored with the oil of Jesus' name. I take no pleasure in anything that may be written, except I read there the name of Jesus. No words you may ad-dress to me will excite my interest, unless I hear among them the name of Jesus. Jesus is honey in my mouth, music in my ear, and joy to my heart. Always carry this name in thy breast, as He Himself directs us: ' Put Me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm ' (Cant. viii. 6)."
Sweet and amiable infant Saviour! With Thy mother and St. Joseph, I adore Thee lying in the manger; with the shepherds I kneel at Thy feet and acknowledge Thee the Saviour of the world, and call upon Thy most holy name. Let me experience its sweetness and its power: be unto me a Saviour! How foolish I have been to deprive myself of so many consolations by neglecting to call upon Thy holy name ! Blessed name of Jesus, I will henceforth remember thee in my difficulties and afflictions, I will invoke thee in the hour of temptation, I will honor thee in every word and act of mine. Then, I trust, all the power and blessing contained in that name will be infused into my soul.