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
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Flight Into Egypt
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE MASSACRE OF THE INNO CENTS. -THE HOLY FAMILY IN EGYPT.-THEIR RE-TURN.
THE sword which, according to Simeon's prophecy, was to pierce the Blessed Virgin's soul, soon made itself felt. Not long after the departure of the Wise Men, " behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise and take the Child and His mother, and fly into Egypt, and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the Child to destroy Him." (Matt. ii. 13.)
It was midnight when Joseph and Mary, carrying the divine Infant, fled from Nazareth. Tradition tells us that Joseph carefully led an ass upon which was seated Mary with the Child. All nature seemed buried in ominous repose as they slowly and cautiously descended the hill near the town into the plain below. But what course shall they now follow? The ordinary route to Egypt lay through Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and could they evade the watchfulness of Herod and pursue this way in safety? In their great fear, they turned aside from frequented roads, and journeyed over unfrequented paths through Galilee. Samaria, and Judea, often sleeping under the canopy of heaven, and tormented by thirst and hunger.
At length the weary wanderers reached the city of Gaza, just beyond Herod's jurisdiction. New dangers now awaited them amid the sandy deserts of Arabia, which here extend their dismal, arid wastes over a three weeks' journey. They pressed forward amid clouds of blinding sand, reaching a spring of water only at great intervals. We may venture to accept with devout belief the pious and beautiful legends of the miraculous inter-position of God in behalf of His beloved pilgrims.
Thus it is related that one day the Holy Family, having come to the foot of a gloomy and rugged mountain, were unable to discover any path by which they might ascend and cross to the valley beyond. In their perplexity they had recourse to prayer, and soon several of the beasts which infested the vicinity, at the command of God came and gathered with friendly mien around the pilgrims. These beasts, the terror of all travellers who penetrated this wilderness, proceeded quietly in advance up the mountain; Joseph followed, and soon discovered the right path leading to the valley on the other side.
Another time, having travelled far into the night without finding any refreshment or a place to rest their weary limbs, they saw a glimmering light in the distance. Following the friendly signal, they were much alarmed, on coming near, to find that they had approached a robbers' cave. The chief of the robbers came forth from his hiding-place, and regarded the timid travellers with a look foreboding evil. But suddenly his eye fell on the beauteous infant in its mother's arms, and a ray of dazzling light seemed to dart from the divine countenance and penetrate the bandit's heart. Struck dumb with astonishment, he could only invite them by friendly signs to enter his poor abode. Here they were kindly received by the robber's wife, who furnished them with whatever her dismal home could afford. After par-taking of the nourishment so much needed, Mary took advantage of the woman's kindness and of the limited accommodations of the cavern to bathe her infant. The woman then placed her own child, that had been afflicted from its birth with a repulsive skin disease, in the same water, and behold, the child's body became fair and comely. In the morning the grateful woman supplied her departing guests with some food for their journey, and the bandit himself insisted upon accompanying them a part of the way to point out the best and safest roads. As he was about to take his leave of the holy group, he looked for a moment at the divine Infant, and said reverently: " Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom." (Luke xxiii. 42.) Later, this same robber was crucified with Jesus, and, suing for mercy, used the same words.
Legend gives us many other accounts of the joy exhibited by the birds, beasts, and trees as their great Creator passed by. The barren sands of the desert were studded with flowers, which became known by the name of roses of Jericho, and even now continue to bloom in the desert, and are greatly prized by pious pilgrims. Thus the words of the prophet were literally fulfilled: "The land that was desolate and impassable shall be glad, the wilderness shall rejoice and shall flourish like the lily. It shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise." (Is. xxxv. 1, 2.)
Still another prophecy was fulfilled on this divinely ordained pilgrimage. " Behold the Lord will ascend, and will enter into Egypt, and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at His presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst thereof." (Is. xix. 1.)For hardly had the holy group emerged from the deserts of Egypt when the false gods of the country began to feel conscious of the presence of the divine Infant, and to know that their end had come. As several reliable historians of antiquity affirm, the idols in the public squares and in the temples fell to the ground, creating grief and consternation among the pagan inhabitants.
Meanwhile Herod, knowing nothing of the escape of the Holy Family, and "perceiving that he was deluded by the Wise Men, was exceeding angry, and sending, killed all the men-children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the Wise Men." (Matt ii. 16.) Often had Herod's soul been stained with blood, and he shrank not, there-fore, from this cruel slaughter of the innocents. Legend tells us, that in order to make his work surer and easier, he invited all the mothers of Bethlehem to meet in the public town-hall, and to bring their children of two years old and under, so that he might award a prize to each child. How happy the unsuspecting mothers must have been as they arrayed themselves and their dear ones in holiday attire to make a creditable appearance before the king's representatives! How gayly and hopefully they hastened, at the appointed time, to the place of assembly!
Alas, what a horrible and cruel deception! Scarcely were all safely within the building when the doors were fastened, and Herod's executioners, rushing upon the horror-stricken mothers, tore the children from their arms, and murdered the poor innocents in a most cruel manner. They cleft their heads, cut their throats, stabbed them to the heart, and gashed their limbs. Even the mothers who defended their children were brutally wounded. At first, it might well seem to be a miserable dream. But when they saw the streams of blood, and heard the choking gasp or the piercing shriek of their dying innocents, the mothers, awaking from their stupor and realizing the extent of the dreadful calamity that a cruel prince had inflicted on them, sent up an agonizing cry of terror and despair, that well might move even the callous minions of King Herod. "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not." (Matt. ii. 17, 18.)
Consider the sorrow with which the divine Infant is penetrated at the death of these innocent victims persecuted for His sake. Mary, too, felt the greatest compassion for them. In a vision to St. Brigid she once re-marked, that to hear of the massacre of the innocents, killed for the sake of her divine Son, caused her gm* anguish.
We left the Holy Family entering the land of Egypt. Their road led them into the city of Heliopolis, that is, the City of the Sun. That city, one of the finest and largest in Egypt, contained a Jewish temple and a numerous Jewish congregation. Among these people of their own nationality Joseph and Mary hoped to find shelter and protection. But the experiences of Bethlehem were repeated here. Reliable tradition informs us that after many unsuccessful applications for admittance at inhospitable doors, the Holy Family found shelter in the ruins of an old pagan temple, where they were compelled to live for a year and a half. St. Joseph earned a scanty subsistence at his trade, and Mary, besides attending to her household duties, assisted him to add to their slender income by doing handsome embroidery for some Egyptian ladies, the knowledge of which she had acquired during her school days in the Temple at Jerusalem. By her simple, unassuming manners and her gentle friendliness, the Blessed Virgin gained the confidence of several worthy ladies. They often conversed together about the strange signs of the times, about the destruction of the idols, the falling of the temples, and the silence of the oracles. Mary seized upon these opportunities to direct the minds of these ladies to the knowledge of the one true God, and they were unaccountably and irresistibly impelled to truth and virtue. Even some pagan priests were brought, by what they heard and saw of this remarkable family, to the determination of abandoning their idolatrous worship and embracing the true religion.
The Holy Family -lid rot escape persecution during their sojourn in Egypt. Many of their heathen neighbors, given up heart and soul to idolatry, were greatly incensed at the poor foreign family, denounced them as spies, magicians, restless mischief-makers; in fine, persecuted them to that degree that the Blessed Virgin came to the determination to leave Heliopolis and to seek a new home elsewhere.
Accordingly, the Holy Family went to Memphis, the ancient capital of the country. But finding no opening in the city, they pushed on to a small village called Mathaera, or Matarna. There they suffered much for want of pure and wholesome water. In her distress the Blessed Virgin had recourse to prayer, when, behold, a copious supply of water burst forth at her right hand from the dry earth, continued to flow, and flows to this day. This spring is called "Mary's Well." Even the surrounding place became a fertile region. St. Joseph exerted himself here, too, to procure a home in which they might find shelter till recalled to their own country.
In their dreary exile in Egypt the Holy Family were favored with much consolation from Heaven. Yet, in their necessary intercourse with the pagan inhabitants, their hearts grew sad as they witnessed the dismal. idolatry and other cruel and disgusting vices of the Egyptians, and they yearned eagerly for a return to their own home. At last this happy day dawned. "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 who sought the life of the Child." (Matt. ii. 20.) Joseph having packed their few goods upon the back of their faithful ass, they set out on their wearisome but welcome journey.
At last, after many days of tedious and laborious travel, they crossed the confines of Egyptian territory, and reached Gaza, the nearest city of Palestine to the boundary line. St. Joseph now thought of going to Bethlehem, there to take up his abode with Jesus and Mary. " But hearing that Archelaus reigned in Judea in the 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. iii. 22, 23.) Who can describe the happiness of these poor pilgrims when they were once more permitted, after an absence of many years, to look upon their native town and home, to enter their own little dwelling, and to receive the friendly welcome of kindred and neighbors!
O Mary, Queen of heaven, I entreat thee by the sorrow which thou didst experience on being exiled I rom thy country, and by the joy which thou didst feel on returning to thy long-deserted home in Nazareth, to obtian for me in this earthly exile a never-failing desire o reach the home of my Father in heaven.