Marriage As a Path to Sanctification

Author: Fr. William Most




Imprimi Potest: Leo D. Sullivan, S.J., Praepositus Provincialis Provinciae Chicagiensis

Nihil obstat: Joannes A. Schulien, S.T.D., Censor librorum

Imprimatur: Moyses E. Koley, Archiepiscopus Milwaukiensis Die 15 Januarii, 1947

Copyright, 1947 The Bruce Publishing Company Printed in the United States of America

Gratefully Dedicated to ST. JOSEPH Head of the Holy Family and Patron of Christian Families To Husbands and Wives

New Testament texts are quoted from "The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, a Revision of the Challoner-Rheims Version." Copyright by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

To Husbands and Wives

IN THE lives of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph immense treasures of strength and inspiration are at hand to guide Catholic family life.

This book intends to open some of these treasures of our Faith, to show its readers how to sample them further. Various reflections that flow from the portrayal of the life of the Holy Family have been adapted to fit family life. It is hoped that they will assist Catholic husbands and wives to reproduce in their own homes the spirit of holiness and happiness that prevailed at Bethlehem and at Nazareth.

FRANCIS L. FILAS, S.J. University of Detroit Feast of the Holy Family January 12, 1947


To Husbands And Wives

PROLOGUE Chapter 1: THE SETTING Map of Palestine


Chapter 3: YOUR MARRIAGE Prayer to Be Said by Husband and Wife

Chapter 4: "A CHILD IS BORN TO US"

Chapter 5: THE SACRIFICE BEGINS Family Consecration to the Sacred Heart

Chapter 6: THE MAGI The Memorare

Chapter 7: THE FLIGHT Map of Route to Egypt

Chapter 8: THE LOSS

Chapter 9: THE HIDDEN LIFE Prayer to St. Joseph

Chapter 10: SEPARATION


Family Consecration to the Holy Family


"WHEN God in His mercy decided to carry out the work of man's redemption, so long expected through the centuries, He arranged to perform His task in such a way that in its beginnings it might show forth to the world the august spectacle of a divinely founded family.

"In this all men were to behold the perfect exemplar of domestic society as well as of all virtue and holiness.

"A benign Providence established the Holy Family in order that all Christians in whatever walk of life or situation might have a reason and an incentive to practice every virtue, provided they fix their gaze on the Holy Family." Thus did Pope Leo XIII write in 1892.[1]

A divinely founded family...the perfect exemplar of all virtue and holiness...for all Christians in whatever walk of life. "Why!" you say, "my family life is to make me holy? Did Pope Leo mean that ordinary people can be and should be saints? We who live in the world, who have to spend most of our time watching the budget and earning enough to support ourselves and our children? Our ideals are subjected to continual battering by the un-Christian teachings and practices of so many of our neighbors. We can't spend our whole day in prayer like the saints of old. Evidently the Pope did not realize how ordinary we are. We try to live a good Catholic life, but we don't deserve special credit for that. Holiness is something reserved for a few select laymen, for priests and religious, for monks and nuns in austere monasteries and convents."

But the Pope did mean you--you and your husband or wife as well as your whole family. You can be and should be saints, for saints are those common-sense people who act according to their realization that all their happiness lies in obeying God's law perfectly as it is shown them by the Church and by their conscience. Holiness means happiness. Holy people are happy people at peace with God, with others, and with themselves.

There is only one requirement. You must do God's will. This embraces various obligations and gives you corresponding rights and privileges. God's will in your regard is not something frightening and preternatural, brought down to you by angels amid trumpet blasts, thunder, lightning, and earthquakes. No, it consists in the observance of the commandments, the frequent reception of the sacraments, and the practice of certain virtues in your everyday life. That is all. Call it homely, call it an everyday, ordinary, humdrum rule of life if you wish; but you can't call it difficult and beyond your strength. God's grace is with you at every turn, sufficient and more than sufficient to help you serve Him.

Sometimes in your efforts you perhaps will fall out of weariness or discouragement; but you rise quickly, and trusting in God's abundant grace, you go forward again. Your goal must ever be the perfect love of God manifested in perfect love for His creatures, your "neighbors"--your husband or your wife, your children, your friends, all with whom you come into contact.

You look for inspiration to attain such an ideal. You ask for a proof to convince yourself that everyday joys can be the means to serve God perfectly; or on the other hand you are possibly too close to the earthly conditions of daily work attended with monotony, disappointment, worry, and fatigue. This makes it hard to believe that in so ordinary a way you can become someone so extraordinary as a saint, known to God as His special image, His temple in whom He loves to dwell.

You want proof and inspiration? You wish to see everyday life made into a steppingstone to the very heights of heaven? Then you need only look at the Holy Family. In the following pages that is what you will see. You are going to behold Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. They not only possessed human nature like yours, but they performed workaday tasks as you do. They ate and drank and slept and cleaned house and earned a living and prayed and had their neighbors just like you. Yet who were they? They were Jesus Christ, God, Second Person of the eternal Blessed Trinity, who took to Himself a body and soul like ours: Mary, the blessed Virgin mother of God, all-perfect, in whom there was never the slightest sin or imperfection; and Joseph, he whom Jesus called "Father," the virginal husband of the Mother of God.

Have you ever stopped to do a little arithmetic in studying Christ's life? Jesus had a tremendous mission to accomplish. He was to teach mankind the new and difficult law of brotherly love; He was to redeem us by means of intense suffering and a painful and disgraceful death; He was to found a Church that would last for all time as the only certain road to salvation. Nonetheless, with such a task before Him, the Son of God spent ten times as much of His life in obscurity as in His public apostolate. We are told of no miracles, no preaching, no teaching of the multitudes during that period. There was merely a hidden and ordinary family life with two lovable persons as His intimate and chosen companions, Joseph and Mary.

No human being has ever been or will ever be holier than this husband and wife. Yet these two souls did not help Jesus in His preaching and teaching, for Joseph was already dead when Jesus left Nazareth to begin His career; and as far as we know, Mary stayed quietly at home during almost all of the Public Life. Actually, then, Joseph and Mary gained their immeasurable holiness by offering Jesus the love of a father and mother in a true family, while Jesus in His turn tendered them the homage of a son. Could any lives have been more ordinary than those at Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth--yet were any lives ever more holy?

This is the lesson of the Holy Family. The will of God must count for everything in our daily lives. Prosaic deeds done for God can lead to spectacular holiness. We will be repeating this lesson again and again throughout this book. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were human, intensely human in the best sense of the word. They show us how our lives, too, should be human--truly warm and Godlike. By this means we can be sanctifying ourselves more and more. The method is simple. Perhaps we have been following it all along without realizing the fact. At any rate, the leaders are set before us. All we need do is follow.


1. Decree 3777, S.R.C.



ACTUALLY it should strike us like a thunderbolt to read in Holy Scripture that Jesus was like us in all things, sin alone excepted (Heb. 4:15). Only too often, however, our appreciation of the fact of the Incarnation is dulled because we do not realize vividly that true God became true man. In proportion as the divineness of Christ impresses us, His humanness tends to recede into the background of our minds, and we lose the benefit of that tremendous attractive power of knowing that God walked our earth in human form nineteen hundred years ago.

In parallel fashion we are prone to be left cold by the sanctity of Mary and Joseph. The dizzy heights of their holiness draw our eyes upward. hut our feet remain fixed in the chasm scooped out by our sins and imperfections. We are afraid to call Mary and Joseph our own. We are afraid to imitate them.

That is why we should make every effort to think of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as living in our world: close to us, real, our best friends, human and understanding, whom no fault or misfortune can drive away, provided only that we try to model our lives on theirs. Once we know the actual conditions in which the Holy Family lived, once we see the human world in which Jesus, Mary, and Joseph spent their family life, we can more easily appreciate their holiness.

What was the environment of the Holy Family? We are all naturally curious on this score; but over and above mere curiosity, we ought to seek out the details of the careers of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in order to persuade ourselves how closely they resemble us. There is no need to go to the mass of pious but unhistorical legends that have grown up around the early life of our Lord. The gospel story is more than enough to paint the essentials of the picture we are seeking. If we amplify the Gospels with data gained from other reliable sources, the pageant of the Holy Family passes before our eyes with all its winsomeness and charm.

It would be well at the outset to explain the sources from which we learn the nature of the Holy Land scene amid which Jesus, Mary, and Joseph passed their lives. For one thing, the Gospels are full of deft touches referring to details of their times. Archeology, too, uncovers the well-preserved ruins of age-old buildings; from it we can deduce customs and culture. Best of all, there is the present oriental civilization which has changed little throughout the centuries. Houses, dress, implements, food, and social usages have withstood the changes that repeatedly revolutionized our Western way of living. Combining all these facts we gain a rather detailed and highly probable estimate of life in the Holy Land two thousand years ago.

Palestine, which derived its name from the Philistines of Old Testament times, is surprisingly small. Lying at the southeastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, it is only 150 miles long from north to south. The Jordan River cuts it roughly in half as the river courses south from Lake Genesareth (the Lake of Galilee) to empty itself into the Dead Sea.

We are more concerned with the western half of Palestine, for most of the life of the Holy Family was spent there. This section varies greatly in width. In Judea in the south it is 60 miles wide, but it grows more narrow until finally at its northern extremity in Galilee its width is hardly 25 miles. Western Palestine is only half the area of the state of Maryland--5000 square miles. It would fit ten times within New York or Illinois, fifty times within Texas. Except for its coastal plain along the Mediterranean, it is quite hilly, and a few mountain-tops can usually be discerned along the horizon.

Because the traveling described in the Gospels was so often done on foot, we think of the distances as far greater than they are in actuality. Nazareth in Galilee in the north is 75 miles from Jerusalem in Judea in the south. Bethlehem is five miles south of Jerusalem. All in all, the territory which the Holy Family covered by slow and tiresome journeys of days can now be traversed by a fast airplane in a matter of minutes.

In the white Christmas scene so popularly represented Palestine's climate is not pictured correctly. Snow falls rarely during the winter, and even then it melts within a few hours. The winter months--November to March inclusive--should more properly be called the rainy season. The average temperature of the coldest month, January, is only forty-six degrees. From April to October the hot "dry season" sets in, but evening breezes and heavy morning dews are sufficient to temper the worst heat of this summer.

The crops and other vegetation of the Holy Land are influenced, of course, by its climate. In the time of the Holy Family there existed numerous forests and terraced vineyards. These have long since disappeared because of the shiftlessness and misrule of the Turks from the Middle Ages down to World War I. Consequently, erosion and denudation of the land can be seen where formerly many a Palestinian family--and probably our own Holy Family--raised small truck gardens to help stock the household larder. Near-by farms grew mainly wheat and barley. Other crops consisted of corn, millet, spelt, lentils, beans, flax, and sometimes cotton. Rice was not yet introduced.

One of the most interesting facts we can learn about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph concerns the kinds of food they ate. The gospel accounts intimate that they followed the customs of their times. Other historical sources as well as incidental references in the Bible tell us what those customs were.

The usual meals were two: a midday dinner and an evening supper, which was the large meal of the day. Breakfast was too scanty to be called a meal. It was no more than a cup of milk, a piece of butter, or a few baked cakes with olive oil. Wooden spoons might have been used instead of our modern silverware, but more likely eating was done with the hands.

Bread, as always, was the staff of life, and was made of barley, various kinds of wheat, or lentils. Mary baked her bread each day as it was needed, although she could purchase it from the town baker if she wished. She formed it into flat circular cakes about an inch thick and nine inches across. For an oven she used a clay- lined hole in the ground or an earthen or stone jar about three feet high, inside which fuel was placed. Baking took place on the outside of this portable oven or on the hot inside of the clay hole once the embers were removed. In preparing her bread our Lady did not use new leaven each day but kept a portion of the old dough from day to day with which to start fermentation in a new batch.

The rest of the diet of the Holy Family was made up largely of vegetable food. Olives and olive oil, butter, milk, cheese, eggs, and stewed fruit helped out this menu. Meat appeared rarely on the table, and then it was mutton and beef.

Relish consisted of onions, garlic, or leek. For the equivalent of our present-day dessert, figs, mulberries, pistachio nuts, almonds, and pomegranates were available. Grapes were served either fresh or sun dried as pressed cakes of raisins. Cucumbers were an ever popular vegetable.

Mary's ordinary way of cooking food was to boil it, but she occasionally roasted meat and broiled the fish from Lake Genesareth much as her Son was to do for His apostles after His Resurrection, years later. Often on the menu, this fish was considered quite a delicacy in Galilee, and was pickled and dried to be preserved. In preparing corn Our Lady parched or roasted it at the fire. Lentils and beans were boiled into a delicious pottage, often with meat seasoned with mint, anise, cummin, or mustard.

For sweetening Mary used wild honey instead of sugar. The salt she bought was either rock salt from the shores of the Dead Sea or that evaporated from the water of the Mediterranean.

The two beverages on the table at Nazareth were goat's milk and wine. The butter made from this milk was sometimes solid, sometimes merely semi-fluid heavy cream, sometimes the thick curds from sour milk. Our Lady did the churning herself by jerking a skin of milk back and forth or by beating the container with a stick. The wine was kept in large goatskins in the cool cellar of the house. From these it was drawn off into smaller goatskin "bottles" for use at table.

We can hardly repeat often enough the value of knowing these homely details of the life of the Holy Family. Jesus referred to some of them in various of His parables or sermons, and showed how well He was acquainted with everyday life in Palestine. Could we ask for greater assurance from God that His gifts are good, and that we should use the good things He has given us in this world as helps to obtain our salvation and perfection?

Another personal detail that is highly interesting to us is the appearance of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

Following the customs of their day Jesus and Joseph had three types of garments. In a climate so mild as that of Palestine no more were necessary. The innermost garment next to the body resembled our modern nightshirt and was called a sheet or sindon. During strenuous labor other clothing was discarded in order to permit freedom of action. Thus, for example, when some of the apostles were fishing "naked" on the Lake of Galilee at the time Jesus appeared to them (John 21), they were actually clad in this undergarment. In other words, to wear only this sindon was to be in a state of undress.

Over the sindon Jesus and Joseph wore the tunic--a sort of cassock or dressing gown open down the front. This made up the usual indoor costume at home or in the shop. A wide sash or girdle at the waist and rather billowy long sleeves gave the garment pleasing lines. For freedom in walking, the ankle-length skirt was slit about a foot from the bottom on each side. Blue was its common color although white with brown stripes or red, too, were favorites.

The third and outermost article of clothing was the cloak. The foster father and his Son wore this cloak outdoors for protection against cold and rain, or as a covering during sleep. When made of fleece it was especially warm, although cotton and woolen cloth were more usual. It resembled a vest in that it was sleeveless and had an open front, but in length it reached almost to the ground. Either this cloak or the tunic was the valuable "seamless garment" for which the soldiers cast lots when Christ was crucified on Calvary.

For headdress Jesus and Joseph wound a sort of long kerchief into a turban. Another kerchief covered the neck and shoulders for protection against the blazing sun. In Nazareth as in all the Orient it was considered disrespectful to pass anyone bareheaded, so the two men must have worn the turban almost always.

They were bearded and wore their hair long, as paintings universally represent them. Two locks--ringlets--dropped from their temples as a vestige of the old Hebrew tradition whereby the Israelites were distinguished from idolatrous peoples who cut these locks as an offering to their gods.

For foot covering the Holy Family used sandals during the summer and shoes during the winter or rainy season. The ordinary sandal consisted of a wood or leather sole with thongs attached, to be strapped around the instep. Shoes were made of coarse material and protected the entire foot. Socks were seldom if ever worn. Since footwear was prescribed strictly for outdoor use, it was always left at the entrance of the house.

Mary's dress resembled the attire of her menfolk rather closely. Her distinctive mark was a veil and (for outdoor use) a mantle or great shawl. Judging from the colors usually employed, she wore a red dress with a blue mantle and a large white veil covering her whole body when she traveled in public. Her hair fell in long tresses, probably left unbraided, as it was more modest to do.

From our knowledge of Palestinian houses we can deduce rather closely the nature of the home of the Holy Family at Bethlehem and Nazareth. At the outset, however, we must rid ourselves of the preconceived notions which Western experience and legendary tale have given us.

Palestinian houses followed a rather uniform pattern. Like the present-day houses at Bethlehem, that of the Holy Family was probably built of rough-hewn limestone blocks cemented with limestone mortar. It had at least one upper room, built above a lower room at street level, and reached by outside stone stairs. The dimensions of these rooms approximated 15 feet in length, 12 feet in width, and 6 feet in height.

The lower room at Nazareth may well have been St. Joseph's workshop, extending back as a cave into the hill rising directly behind the house. Artisans like St. Joseph worked in the street outside their shops. The shops themselves were merely places to keep equipment.

The living room of the Holy Family (the upper chamber) was windowless and very simply furnished. Its only light came through the doorway. There was no fireplace or chimney, but a hearth placed near the door provided a spot for cooking where the smoke could easily escape. On a ledge running around the wall the gaily colored mats which were spread on the floor at night for sleeping purposes were rolled up during the day.

A large lamp hanging from a center beam shed a dim light at night- -a rather curious looking lamp to us. It resembled a saucer with its sides folded together at one place, to form a neck for the cloth wick that rested in the supply of olive oil. Underneath this lamp was a painted stool or table together with a few chairs. Here the Three took their quiet meal.

The roof of their house was flat--a cemented or earthen surface overlaid on the beams that spanned the side walls. It was reached by the outside stairway. During the cool evenings of the summer Jesus, Mary, and Joseph retired to it for conversation and quiet prayer. They used the roof much as we use a front porch or veranda.

Joseph's position as carpenter placed him in the respectable middle class of artisans. Judging from his occupation, he was not desperately poor, nor on the contrary could he be called wealthy. His tools were the hammer, saw, ax, plane, chisel, and bow drill. Working in wood, he was a general handyman for making plows, milking tubs, winnowing fans, yokes, forks, and household furniture. Joseph on many occasions did not receive pay for each article as he fashioned it. Instead, he agreed under a sort of "blanket contract" barter system to look after the farm implements of his neighbors in so far as was necessary. In return for these services he received produce from his various customers at harvest time.

At this point we close our introductory picture of daily life with the Holy Family. One feature in particular stands out: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lived a genuinely "human" life, using the good things of this earth as was proper. There was no puritanical refusal on their part to accept the blessings of God's creation as if these gifts were evil in themselves. Rather, the inherent bounty of Nature gave them ever so many opportunities to praise and thank the eternal Father in heaven for what He saw fit to bestow on them according to His wisdom and providence.

This is a lesson we, too, should bear in mind. Everything God has created is good in itself, and evil and sin enter only in the misuse of a creature. The great rule of life is always the same, whether in the Holy Family of Nazareth or the Jones family of twentieth- century Smithville: Because all creation is good, we should make use of it in so far as it helps us to serve God and to save our souls.

"What a simple rule to remember!" you say. "How easy to live by! Why call it to my attention so sharply?"

Why? Because the cold pages of history testify that scores of heresies crashed, morally bankrupt, since they rested somehow or other on confusion of this truth of the goodness of creation. Before Christ came on this earth, the pagan world was in moral chaos because it could not accept the fact. It could choose only between the two extreme errors. One group of pagans--the Stoics--thought that creation in itself was evil, and everything material must be avoided completely. Others held that creation could not be misused in any way whatever. These men represented the two excesses of human conduct that continued to harass the Church's efforts later.

For instance, in Christian times there were heretics like the Manicheans of the second century, the Albigensians of the twelfth, and the rigid Calvinists of the sixteenth, who frowned on legitimate pleasures and looked on material things as evils to be tolerated at best if not to be shunned absolutely. However, such a mode of living was impossible for a man made up of body and soul. It was an insult to the wisdom and goodness and love of his Creator, and it could lead him only to unhappiness, sin, and despair. One primitive heresy built on this philosophy of the anti- material (the Docetist group) even taught that Christ's body was an appearance, that He was only a phantom, because as God He could not possess so evil a thing as a human body!

At the other extreme in all ages were the frankly materialistic pleasure seekers, who sank into all sorts of excesses in reveling in utter license and luxury.

Meanwhile the Church serenely kept pure the truth which Christ had confided to its charge, dauntlessly guarding it even though it conflicted violently with the extremists. Catholics were always taught that man is composed of soul and body; that the body is not something sinful although tendencies to sin are present in it because of original sin; that material things are to aid the body directly and the soul indirectly in order to attain man's purpose in this world and in the next; and therefore that creation should be used (because it is good) but not misused (because it is only a means to eternal life, not eternal life itself).

The Church went further. It taught that the body had dignity because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It sanctified the body during life with the sacraments instituted by Christ, and it blessed the body in death and buried it in consecrated ground. Despite all the sneers and scoffs of heretics and infidels it set forth Christ's doctrine that the glorified body as well as the soul would receive the reward of eternal life.

The Church in its liturgy again and again recalls the goodness of creation for our benefit. In fact, to take a specific example, the whole doctrine of the sacramentals is based on this principle.

The sacramentals are things or actions which the Church uses in a sort of imitation of the sacraments in order to obtain temporal and spiritual favors for the faithful. Sacramentals such as medals and scapulars are badges of belief, created things that are external signs of internal faith in God's goodness and kindness to us, marks of trust that He will hear our prayers.

Well known are the sacramentals which call down God's blessing. With the attitude of employing everything God has made as a means for eternal salvation, the Church has approved blessings for a host of articles so diverse--and apparently so unholy--as automobiles, fire-fighting equipment, blast furnaces, radios, bees, bridges, and beer.

Four hundred years ago the "Spiritual Exercises," the "golden book" of St. Ignatius of Loyola, was a major factor in throwing back the moral anarchy of the Protestant Revolt and supplanting it with the revivified Catholic Counterreformation. Yet the bedrock element of the "Spiritual Exercises," its "Principle and Foundation" upon which Ignatius built his entire system of bringing souls back to God, was simply a restatement of the lesson of the Holy Family on the proper use of created things.

"Man was created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth were created because of man, and that they might help him to obtain the end for which he was created. Whence it follows that man should use these creatures in so far as they help him to reach his end, and he ought to free himself from them in so far as they hinder him from that purpose."

Practically, then, the Holy Family's lesson of the "good earth" can exemplify several cardinal principles:

If failure, disappointment, sickness, or any sort of suffering come into your life, remember that they come from the same Father who can give only good gifts. He sends or at least permits trials to enter your life only for your greater good. Therefore, make the supreme act of love by trusting in His providence, knowing that no slightest event can occur outside the influence of His all-perfect wisdom. Thus, even hardships can help you.

In this connection, too, it is well to understand correctly the attitude of the great ascetical saints who voluntarily gave up many lawful pleasures. They did not act in an attitude of pain-for-pain's- sake. Rather, while recognizing the intrinsic worth of all creation, they felt that they should offer their sacrifices as penance for their own sins and as reparation for the sins of the world. Prudence led them always. So, too, you can freely make small sacrifices occasionally in the spirit of penance, reparation, and love. The easiest yet most selfless abnegation of this sort lies in accepting willingly what God sends you each day.

When you see clearly that some created thing is an obstacle in your path toward God, that it robs you of your peace of conscience or is an occasion of sin, be generous in removing it from your life at once. The thing is good in itself, but it is not good for you.

However, these foregoing principles refer to the use of creation more or less negatively. Much more important for our present purpose is the positive aspect: to use creation in so far as it helps you.

For instance, don't be afraid to see the hand of God in the legitimate pleasures of your life. It would be puritanical and downright erroneous to think that your married life is any less holy in proportion as it is more intimate. By accepting the good things of life with gratitude to Him who created them, you can gain merit, for every such action becomes a prayer of thanksgiving. In fact, you should look on your temporal blessings as a faint foretaste of the exuberant goodness of Almighty God, who wishes to bestow on you His own everlasting happiness in heaven.

In your work or in your recreation you should not think that your merit is necessarily less because your enjoyment is greater. Similarly, the mutual love of husband and wife as well as the love of children are probably the keenest and deepest sources of joy in family life. God intended that you should relish this affection. Accept it, then, in the same spirit: "What love gives, love should take."

Perhaps you wonder why Catholic teaching seems to say so little about this sanctification of the happiness and the pleasant things in life. The reason is not too far to seek. Usually, to spiritualize joy is easy: to spiritualize sorrow is hard, for it is more difficult to be faithful to God in times of discouragement. Hence, the emphasis is placed where it is needed.

Later in this very book we shall have occasion to call attention to the hardships Joseph and Mary encountered. This does not mean that their life was somber and dreary, nor that married life in imitation of theirs is full of suffering. True, the difficulties are not to be minimized. They should be foreseen and prepared for in a general way. That will be our purpose in mentioning them frankly. But the fact that they will be discussed does not mean that they are predominant. They are far outweighed by the sunshine and joy which God instills into every home where Christian ideals are the rule of the day and the hour.

And it is this sunshine which you will doubly enjoy if you accept it from God's hands with explicit thanksgiving and love.


NO NARRATIVE can excel the accuracy and charm of the accounts of the Holy Family given by Matthew and Luke. However, our twentieth-century Western minds are often unacquainted with the old oriental customs, geography, and history to which the Gospels refer. We are confronted with obscurities and difficulties that call for further comment not because of a fault in the gospel text but by reason of our own lack of information. Hence, the gospel story must be amplified with incidental side lights and explanations before we pause to reflect on the story itself.

"Now the origin of Christ was in this wise. When Mary his mother had been betrothed to Joseph, she was found, before they came together, to be with child by the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 1:18).

This betrothal which St. Matthew mentions was in a sense equivalent to the engagement of our modern times. It was, however, much more binding. The bridegroom conducted all arrangements with the father of the bride and gave him a purchase price for his daughter. Then the betrothal took place. It lasted about a year, and during that time the couple was called husband and wife although they did not live together. The wife was bound most strictly to remain virginal as a special sign of loyalty to her husband. That is why Mary's predicament was so serious when by divine intervention she became the mother of Jesus. The miracle of miracles had taken place. God took on human nature within her womb. But who would believe her story even if she felt free to reveal it?

Although Mary "was found to be with child" while she was yet merely espoused to Joseph, it seems certain that her neighbors were not the ones who discovered her pregnancy. Later, Jesus was to be criticized sharply by His bitter enemies who looked in vain for any pretext to vilify Him. Nonetheless, they never cast the slightest shadow on the legitimacy of His birth. Instead, they used the humbleness of His apparent descent from Joseph, a craftsman, to rebuke Him for His high aspirations. The secret of the Incarnation was evidently well kept.

Contrariwise, Joseph himself, apparently, as well as the Nazarenes did not personally discover Our Lady's motherhood. St. Matthew's words, "was found," strongly suggest that Joseph was informed of the fact; but by whom? Not by Mary, else she would have manifested the divine source of her maternity. Accordingly it would appear that some close relative--perhaps her mother--was deputed by Our Lady before her marriage took place to tell Joseph that she had conceived. Keeping the matter secret would have been gravely unjust to her spouse.

All this must have happened no later than four months after the angel Gabriel visited Nazareth and Mary consented to become the Mother of God. Such a period appears reasonable, for after that time there would have been external evidence of Mary's pregnancy, and her subsequent marriage to Joseph would have been useless to guard the honor of the virgin mother and her divine Son.

Meanwhile, "Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to expose her to reproach, was minded to put her away privately" (Matt. 1:19). This passage is classic for its short but meaningful description of the towering nobility of Joseph's character. St. Matthew bestowed a precious title when he called him the "just man," for he told us in this manner that Joseph observed God's law in its fullness and excelled in every virtue and good quality.

Joseph's conduct as further portrayed excellently bears out Matthew's estimate. By Jewish law Joseph could have broken off his engagement and divorced his spouse publicly if he found her guilty of adultery. This type of divorce would have revealed the disgraceful charge, and according to the letter of the law Mary would have been liable to stoning to death. Whether or not so drastic a penalty would have been carried out is doubtful, but Joseph would not enforce it. He could not believe that Mary had sinned. Nonetheless, he was bound to observe the law of the Jews. Terribly perplexed and dismayed, in his mental anguish he decided to adopt the course that was most favorable to Mary and yet was consonant with justice. By choosing to divorce his spouse privately (instead of publicly), he would not be forced to make known the cause of the divorce. But always he was hesitant, and his hesitancy shows the force of his belief that Mary had been faithful to him.

As St. Jerome puts the case, "This is evidence for Mary, that Joseph, knowing Mary's chastity and wondering at what had occurred, concealed in silence the mystery which he did not fathom." Ultimately, faced with a problem that seemed insoluble, Joseph began to feel that the private divorce was the only means of being fair to Mary while not disobeying his conscience. Unless the circumstances were somehow altered, he certainly could not proceed to marry his spouse.

"But while he thought on these things, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, `Do not be afraid, Joseph, son of David, to take to thee Mary, thy wife, for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins.' So Joseph, arising from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took unto him his wife" (Matt. 1:20, 21, 24).

Here St. Matthew relates that at the angel's command Joseph married his betrothed. Realizing keenly now his role in the plans of Divine Providence, the prudent husband bent every effort to protect Mary. With the Roman census already announced, he was obliged to leave for Bethlehem where he had to register. What better course of action could he adopt than to take his wife with him to Bethlehem, a strange town, and thus remove her from Nazareth, dangerous for the gossip that would surely arise there?

"And he did not know her till she had brought forth her first-born son" (Matt. 1:25). Throughout Church history various heretics have alleged that according to this sentence Joseph was the natural father of other sons of Mary after Christ was born. Against this warping of the text Church writers from earliest times have insistently pointed out that St. Matthew uses "till" and "first-born" in a sense often found in Holy Scripture. "Till" can refer to action or lack of action up to a point, without necessarily implying that the action then changes. For example, St. Paul writes to Timothy, "Until I come, be diligent in reading, in exhortation, and in teaching" (1 Tim. 4:13). Quoting Psalm 109:1 he adds, "[Christ] must reign until `he has put all his enemies under his feet'" (1 Cor. 15:25). Certainly, in these texts St. Paul does not intend Timothy to stop being diligent after he arrives, nor does he think that Christ's supremacy will cease with the defeat of His enemies.

Similarly, "first-born" as applied to Christ does not mean that Mary had other children. Jewish custom gave this title to the first son whether or not other brothers followed him. Even in modern English we have an analogous usage when we speak of first-aid treatment without understanding that further medical care must always follow.

Yet the greatest difficulty in these passages concerns the perplexing question: why did God send this strange type of suffering to His two most loyal creatures? Mary was all-sinless, not even momentarily subject to that deprivation of sanctifying grace which we call original sin. Even more, her fidelity to her Creator made her worthy as no other human creature ever was to fashion the body of God incarnate in her womb for nine months. As for Joseph, he was second in dignity and holiness to Mary alone. God entrusted to him His two choicest treasures so that Joseph was to become the virginal husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus. Nevertheless, God sent this couple a heavy cross, most difficult to explain.

Mary's conception, when first disclosed, was compromising evidence. Had Joseph been a selfish, jealous spouse, the estrangement would have been complete. As it was, these two hearts who loved each other to a degree unequaled by any other husband and wife, could only suffer intensely until God stepped in to remedy the situation. The very perfection of Mary's love for Joseph and of Joseph's love for Mary made their pain keener.

Mary felt in conscience that she was not permitted to reveal the divine nature of her conception to her husband. Joseph knew that he was not permitted to marry an unfaithful spouse. Mary could take no external action to solve the problem. Joseph had in a sense the harder choice of taking action. He evidently was forced to do something; but what could he do? No matter which course he followed, grave difficulties faced him.

We can be certain that both Mary and Joseph prayed to God for help and light. Mary, in full conformity to God's will, was ready to sacrifice the love of her spouse as well as her own reputation if need be. Joseph asked only for inspiration to do what was right. And in God's good time the angel was sent to remove the trial by revealing to Joseph that he was the virginal husband of the very Mother of God.

Did God repay Joseph and Mary for their fidelity? No, it was more than mere repayment. It was the hundredfold of supernatural grace and joy and justified mutual confidence, "pressed down and flowing over," so that the souls of the two spouses thrilled toward each other as they naturally and humanly could never have done. They realized now their full destiny. Two wills made one in the love of a virginal marriage, they knew that together they were to rear the infant Jesus to the full stature of the man Christ. Although Jesus as God was to have all knowledge, nonetheless as a human child He was to imitate the magnificent mutual love He would see in His parents.

Henceforth, Joseph and Mary knew that together they were to cooperate with the special plans of the Three Persons in One God-- those mysterious plans hidden in the depths of eternal eons of the Godhead. They were to be favored as none of their fellow creatures had ever been although their responsibilities and their crosses would be proportionately greater. But they were to work out their destiny together--that was the great point, the new content of the angel's message to Joseph. Joseph was initiated into the incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the mystery of mysteries of which Mary was already a participant. All this was part of the hundredfold reward God bestowed on this couple, and from the bottom of their hearts they could only say, as they began to fathom it all, "In Thee, O Lord, have we hoped. We have not been confounded!" It was joy almost too deep to be experienced on this earth, but they did experience it because they were espoused husband and wife as well as the two saints of saints.

What lessons here for every husband and wife! They, too, are to work out their salvation and their perfection together, each depending on the other, each assisting the other. In the perfection of married love their personalities become merged, as it were, as completely as possible. For them God's commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor," finds its first and chief expression in their love one for the other. Each is bound by obligations toward the other, each possesses the rights handed over by the other at the moment of their marriage. In the fullness of this mutual love, this mutual unselfish give-and-take, is included their love and service of Almighty God--together.

Then, too, the experience of Mary and Joseph offers a true example of a misunderstanding that can arise without the fault of either party. In this case two saints were involved, more closely united by flawless love than was any other couple in the history of the world. Our Lady knew the price her course of action would cost her, but she was even more distressed over the pain it caused her spouse. Until the time when God saw fit to manifest His plans, Mary's only course was that of trust. God's plans were far grander than anything a created intellect--even one so uniquely attuned as Mary's--could plumb or imagine. Consequently, the only course to adopt in the meantime was a wholehearted submission and conformity to His will.

Joseph's heroism was of the same caliber. Had he been spiteful, self-centered, resentful, he would have indulged in harsh recriminations of Mary. However, because he was convinced that somewhere and somehow all the facts would become evident and Mary would be justified, he withheld a rash judgment that would only have made matters worse.

In your own life when can you say that a misunderstanding arose in which you were in no wise at fault? Joseph and Mary were perfect; we ordinary mortals are not--that is the difference between them and us. Remembering this difference if misunderstandings occur in family life, you must try to realize that there is another side to every argument even though at the moment you do not or cannot see it. It is very rare that a problem has only one solution which of necessity must be right; and it is even more rare that that single solution must uniformly be your own. Ordinarily there are various ways of adjusting a difficult situation which causes distressing friction in the family.

Realistic couples bear in mind that with human nature as it is, married life cannot be one everlasting honeymoon. Two minds and two wills, even though united most intimately and sincerely in matrimony, belong to two different people. As a result, there will occasionally be different outlooks, different opinions, different reactions, all of which have to be adjusted lest harmony be lost when they clash. Such differences are normal even before we admit the possibility that one or both parties may be at fault.

Human faults!--and there a whole new chapter of possibilities for misunderstanding opens out. Gained in childhood, kept and perhaps strengthened in adult years, those faults will be taken with us to the grave. They are with every individual constantly. The most attractive characters of husbands and wives, try as they may, will find their faults ever recurring, mixed with all their good points. Faults are in reality based on virtues. They are good things gone to excess. We are not speaking here of vice, of course--of habitual faults so serious that they lead to grievous sin. We are talking of the "little things" that raise the bumps in life's highway: self-centeredness, unwillingness to admit error, slovenliness in dress or at table, disregard for the feelings of others, sarcasm, irritability, reluctance to overlook and forget accidental mistakes-- these are only a few of the "little things" that cause mutual pain to two souls who love each other dearly.

Usually, the best way to deal with misunderstandings is to bring the trouble out into the light. If possible, discuss a sore point frankly and coolly before the end of the day. Feelings that are hurt over long periods fester like sores; and as troubles pile up, the vicious circle begins that adds imaginary new troubles merely because the old ones are supplying the momentum.

Above all, be ready to arbitrate. When ruffled tempers have calmed down, sit down side by side and analyze the argument as if you were a third-party umpire called in for the purpose. Find just where and why the point of difference occurs; and from there, a little yielding on each side should bring satisfaction.

Don't forget the moods to which you, like every human, are subject. When tired or slightly ill, you say and do things which normally you would avoid. This is why a misunderstanding between two tired people cannot be settled very easily on the spot. In such a case drop the argument for the time being (even though you think you know you are right!), and perhaps a good night's sleep will reduce the troublesome question to the insignificant status of a soap bubble or even--and this is quite possible--a laughing matter.

The trial of Joseph and Mary has still another great lesson. If trials and sufferings come into our lives, we complain almost involuntarily. We wonder why God has sent us this cross, we ask what we have done to deserve it. All the good deeds we have ever performed appear as so many reasons why God should have spared us.

From Joseph and Mary we learn the answer to such a complaint. Should God spare us because of our goodness? Then what should He have done to Joseph and Mary? No one ever surpassed them in holiness. Moreover, they were engaged in the very act of closest cooperation with the divine plan to send a Redeemer to this earth.

Spiritual writers have often enunciated the truth of the Christian life that nearness to Jesus means nearness to the cross. Nearness to Jesus does mean self-abnegation, which is merely another word for self-denial or selflessness. It does not mean unhappiness, for by the paradoxical law of God's providence, suffering borne for Him does not take away happiness but rather deepens and intensifies it.

Since Christ chose to redeem the world by suffering, those who are closest to Him act as co-redeemers of the world by uniting their sufferings to His. Then, too, there is the exalted union with Him whereby His friends imitate Him in every detail not for any "practical" purpose but solely and wholly for love, for he or she who loves desires always to become more and more like the beloved. If we apply these maxims to the conduct of Joseph and Mary, we understand why these two hearts had to suffer most (and knew they had to suffer most), for they loved most and were nearest to the Heart of Jesus.

For ourselves these reflections remove all cause of complaint. Unlike Joseph and Mary we are sinners and have done wrong or at least have been unfaithful repeatedly. In one sense we are receiving our just reward; we deserve to be punished for transgressing the law of our Maker. In another sense our crosses are favors from the hand of God. They are opportunities to gain merit here on earth, so that the eternal reward for fidelity may be greater. They are chances to atone for sin here on earth so that the temporal punishment in purgatory may be less. They are forms of cautery that remove habits of sin from our souls; or even, as the highest favor from God, they are invitations to unite our trials to the sufferings of Jesus so that His redemptive act may be applied more fully to souls, to save souls who otherwise might be lost.

Despite all this the great problem of suffering still remains a deep mystery, and we admit that our minds have never been able to fathom its full solution. Why suffering at all? It is a consequence of the presence of sin in the world. We simply know that there must be suffering which no one, rich or poor, good or bad, can escape. We also know that Jesus has marked out a way for us to follow. Without Him we would be lost in the fog that beset the pagans of old (and which still besets our modern intellectual pagans) when they tried to escape suffering, and when, having failed to avoid it, they could only ask fruitlessly, "Why?"

Christ could have redeemed us without suffering for us. Instead, He actually chose pain, disgrace, and disappointment because He knew that by imitating Him we could sweeten the sufferings we sometimes would have to bear. This is the Christian answer to the problem, and never in any circumstance will it fail to be the sole, all-satisfying answer.

Joseph and Mary have gone ahead of us in following the path of Jesus, and that is enough for us to know. In following them we will always find internal peace, no matter what problem or trial might befall us.


THERE were many reasons why our Lord willed to come into the world, born of an espoused virgin. Primarily, the marriage safeguarded His own honor as well as the reputation of His virgin mother. By this means, too, He and His mother were supported and protected and loved by a father and husband. Moreover, because of the marriage Christ's miraculous conception was hidden from the world so that He successfully remained obscure until the time for the public life of teaching arrived.

But God did not establish the union of Joseph and Mary solely for these reasons, as a direct preparation for bringing Jesus into the world. One purpose of it, at least, was to continue through all future centuries. In Joseph the husband and Mary the wife, the husbands and wives of ages to come were to possess lovable, imitable ideals. If in looking at the Holy Family we were to pass by the marriage of Joseph and Mary as a model for every marriage, we would be neglecting one of the greatest lessons God intended when He chose His virgin mother and foster father.

Christian marriage like the state of virginity has been assailed by heretical onslaughts of all ages. It is now being attacked viciously by our own twentieth-century pagans. Nonetheless, it still stands out and will always stand out as the state which God Himself instituted when He created man. In the marriage of Joseph and Mary God gave us another mark of approval to show us its holiness and to counteract the campaigns of ridicule directed against it.

Now, it is true that in frequent instances in Catholic literature Joseph and Mary have been presented as models for the virginal state almost to the exclusion of their position as husband and wife. Such a presentation represents one extreme and is incomplete. Nor in placing emphasis on the holy couple's patronage of Christian married life do we intend to go to the opposite extreme and deny their patronage of a life of virginity taken on for Christ's sake. The fact is that Almighty God in His providence made a remarkable arrangement whereby the couple could serve at one and the same time as exemplars and patrons of two states of life which normally would exclude each other. Joseph and Mary possessed true marriage rights but did not make use of them since theirs was a virginal marriage.

In the words of Leo XIII quoted earlier, "A benign Providence established the Holy Family in order that all Christians in whatever walk of life or situation might have a reason and an incentive to fix their gaze on the Holy Family. In Joseph, therefore, heads of the household are blessed with the unsurpassed model of fatherly watchfulness and care. In the holy virgin Mother of God, mothers possess an extraordinary ideal of love, modesty, submission, and perfect loyalty." Thus, it is as the holiest husband and wife of all times that Joseph and Mary invite us to look at the exalted holiness which can exist in Christian married life.

Holiness in Christian marriage? Definitely! Perhaps you have not realized how many means you have to sanctify yourself in the love of your husband or wife. You are living in a pagan world where the movies, newspapers, and radio publicize divorce and often marital infidelity. They make light of marriage, or at best treat it as a sort of business contract which can be taken on at will and then gaily broken for any selfish pretext. It is no wonder, then, if you have found difficulty in seeing clearly the holiness of your life. The opposition has been so strong that you have been on the defensive, and you have not had the unhampered opportunity to rise higher and discern how your marriage leads you to God.

There is a discouraging and crippling attitude that looks on marriage as something imperfect or as a sort of unavoidable tolerance, a legalized outlet for human sensuality. Such an attitude is not only wrong and puritanical, but worse still, blatantly pagan. Could Joseph and Mary have been true husband and wife (even though virginally) if such had been the case? Their marriage would have been an implicit approval of the error.

Pius XI, speaking officially as Christ's representative on earth, repeatedly refers in his great encyclical on Christian marriage to "the great sanctity of Christian wedlock," "the sacred partnership of true marriage," "the blessings that flow from it as...the principle and foundation of domestic society."

One of the causes for a lack of appreciation of the intrinsic holiness of Christian marriage lies in a misunderstanding of what is meant by a less perfect state of life. Notice that the words are "less perfect"--and "less perfect" does not mean "imperfect." For example, a bishop is in a more perfect state of life than a priest: or again, in leaving for a difficult and dangerous post instead of working for God in his homeland, a missionary objectively makes a more perfect choice. All other things being equal, a martyr dies more perfectly than the saint who dies a natural death. In each of these cases a state of life or a certain action does not become imperfect merely because it is less perfect.

In other words, things that are more perfect taken in themselves and without relation to any certain person ("objectively") represent the better course to follow. This never means that with regard to individuals ("subjectively") they must be more perfect; nor does the fact that a state of life is better, mean that the persons in that state are better.

Again to take an example, a celibate life embraced for Christ's sake is more perfect. Yet it definitely is not intended for all mankind, for Almighty God as Creator willed that the bulk of the human race should reproduce itself according to His all-wise plan. Anyone who decided on a priestly career without having the vocation and the necessary spiritual and intellectual qualities would not only be making a wrong choice but might even sin gravely by doing so.

Now apply this to your own case. You are married. Marriage has been instituted by God and has been elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament. Would God have recommended something imperfect to the bulk of the human race? Or would Christ have made a sacrament out of something evil or deficient?

Let it be granted that careers exist in which people can be holier. But you cannot be holier in such careers. You can best work out your salvation (and your perfection, as well) in the state of life that fits your natural talents and your supernatural graces. There is no ground to harbor an inferiority attitude as if you were in some sort of tolerated way of living, hardly approved by the Church. Even religious do not receive a sacrament when they pronounce their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. You not only received the sacrament of Matrimony when you pronounced your marriage vows, but at the same time you administered it to your spouse at the moment when you became man and wife. The priest was merely the authorizing witness.

There are two "social sacraments"--Holy Orders for the government of the Church, and Matrimony for the holy propagation of mankind. You have received one of these sacraments. Later we shall have more to say of the breathtaking dignity of your marriage in so far as it is a sacrament as well as an act of co- operation with God's creative plan. For the moment, however, several pressing difficulties call for a momentary digression.

The questions that always recur center around these: "If Matrimony is so holy and so extraordinarily sublime, why have we not been told so? And how can you prove to us that it actually is so holy?"

You have been told that Matrimony is holy and sublime; it is the unchanging doctrine of the Church, preached from its pulpits, embodied in the liturgy of the Nuptial Mass, necessarily understood in the administration of the sacrament. But as was said previously, your environment in the present-day world is definitely pagan. Pagan ideas infiltrate on all sides. Whether you like it or not, some of these ideas may have seeped into your way of thinking. In order to be rid of them you must strive positively against them, studying carefully just where they go wrong. Pius XI groups them thus in his encyclical:

The basic mistake of the modern mind is to assert that Matrimony has not been instituted by God, the Creator of mankind; that it has not been raised to the dignity of a sacrament by Jesus Christ; that it is an invention of man. Once such ideas have taken root, there are others that flow naturally from them. If the correct explanation of the origin of marriage is discarded, every other explanation which is offered must of necessity be wrong.

That is why our atheistic neighbors have asserted that marriage is merely a legitimate means of gratifying a powerful impulse of nature; or that it is a convenient method of propagating the race, or even a temporary mating for pleasure's sake. Whatever reason is given, it directly denies that Matrimony was instituted by God, that the laws which govern it were laid down by Him and were restated by Christ, and that those laws are preserved and properly interpreted by the Church.

What is the truth? These are again the words of Pius XI: "Let it be repeated as an unchangeable and inviolable fundamental doctrine that Matrimony was not instituted or restored by man but by God; not by man were the laws made to strengthen and elevate it but by God, the Author of nature, and by Christ our Lord by whom nature was redeemed. Hence, these laws cannot be subject to any human decree or to any contrary pact even of the spouses.

"By Matrimony the souls of the contracting parties are joined together and knit more directly and more intimately than are their bodies. This is accomplished not by any transient affection of sense or spirit but by a deliberate and firm act of the will. And from this union of souls, by God's own decree a sacred and inviolable bond arises."

Such is the law of nature made by God whereby the partnership of man and woman is hallowed. Husband and wife become co- operators with God in His very act of creation. The primary purpose of their union is to propagate human life, and in living according to that duty they furnish each other with the aid and love they need.

So, then, even if you were a non-Christian, your union would be noble. What must it be since it has the added dignity of being a sacrament! Again let us listen to Pope Pius.

"Christ our Lord by raising the matrimony of His faithful to the dignity of a true sacrament of the New Law made it a sign and source of that special internal grace by which it perfects natural love, confirms an indissoluble union, and sanctifies both man and wife.... Since the valid matrimonial consent among the faithful was constituted by Christ as a sign of grace, the sacramental nature is so intimately bound up with Christian wedlock that there can be no true marriage between baptized persons without its being by that very fact a sacrament."

Unfortunately, the word "sacrament" is used so often among Catholics that for many of them it has lost much of its meaning. They remember from their catechism days the definition that it is "a visible sign of invisible grace"; but other than that, the matter is shrouded in the haziness that poll-parrot repetition of words too often induces. Hence, we shall devote the remainder of this chapter to explain the deep meaning of marriage as a sacrament.

We must begin at the very beginning--God's creation of Adam and Eve. At that time God bestowed on our first parents all that constitutes human nature. He also raised them higher. He elevated them, as it were, into the realm of His own life, and by a free act of generosity (altogether unmerited on the part of Adam and Eve) He granted them a participation in the eternal life whereby He knows Himself as the all-perfect infinite Good. While Adam and Eve were living on earth, they became participators in God's life by sanctifying grace, and because of this making-holy gift (for that is exactly what "sanctifying grace" means) they were given a right to see God face to face for all eternity, to enjoy Him thus forever. Yet it must be kept in mind always that this reward was over and above the happiness they would have had if as ordinary man and woman they had sinlessly passed on into eternity without the elevation to the supernatural order. In such a case they would not have shared in the life of God--the "supernatural life"--but would have had only a far inferior happiness called natural beatitude.

God set down one condition when He conferred the gift on Adam and through him on the human race. If Adam was faithful in his obedience, if he gave his Creator the reverence and obedience due Him, then the inheritance of sanctifying grace--this extra gift over and above nature--would automatically pass on to Adam's descendants. If Adam disobeyed, the gift would be lost. To Adam as representative of the whole human race was given the power to decide the disposal of God's munificent largesse.

Adam sinned deliberately and thereby committed a grievous sin. Its effects have come down to each of his descendants as original sin. Instead of being born with sanctifying grace, they come into the world destitute of the "making-holy gift above nature" which they should have had as children of Adam. This is what is meant by original sin; it has none of the malice of actual sin. It is, nonetheless, an obstacle which, unless removed in each instance, deprives Adam's children of the life of adopted sons of God.

Another digression is almost imperative at this point to correct a somewhat common misunderstanding about the sin of Adam. The modern godless stage and screen often insinuate that the first sin of Adam and Eve consisted in sexual intercourse. As a result of such statements, not only is occasion afforded to ridicule slyly the most intimate and sacred relationships of married life, but the impression is left with many decent people that perhaps marriage was frowned upon by God at the beginning of time.

What is the truth? Adam committed a sin of disobedience. He ate of the forbidden tree. More precisely in what he disobeyed we do not know. At the time he fell, he was fully aware of the grievousness of his sin, and he was completely free to make the choice between good and evil. Of all this we are certain. We can be almost equally certain that the sin was not one related to sex.

Adam and Eve were man and wife. How could the relations of married love have been forbidden them? God had enjoined on them the special command, "Increase and multiply" (Genesis 1:28). His approbation of marriage was more than sufficient by the very fact that He had instituted it. Moreover, even after the Fall the blessings of marriage remained in the world despite the fact that by Adam's sin other blessings had been lost. The Church explicitly calls this to our attention in the blessing of the Nuptial Mass. when the priest invokes God "by whom woman is joined to man, and by whom that fellowship which Thou didst ordain from the beginning is endowed with a blessing that alone was not taken away by the punishment for the first sin."

At any rate Adam sinned, and by sinning he and the whole human race lost the free supernatural inheritance of sanctifying grace which Adam was to have passed on to his children. Again God in His mercy freely helped mankind. He promised a Redeemer--one who would possess human nature and thereby be a member of the race for whose sin He must atone, yet one who would also have the divine nature so that His atonement would be worthy to repair the insult given by sin to the divine majesty of God. This God-man was Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who took on our human nature and who became one with us in all things, sin alone excepted. The explanation of how this could occur is hidden in the mystery of the Incarnation and of the Blessed Trinity. The fact is that it did occur.

By redeeming us Christ again obtained sanctifying grace for the human race, but the case was now somewhat different. If Adam had not sinned, sanctifying grace would have been transmitted together with natural generation, and husband and wife by begetting children in the natural order would also have begotten them in the supernatural order, in sanctifying grace! But because Adam sinned, Christ as the second Adam had to supply a remedy. He provided new means of obtaining supernatural life--the sacraments.

It is through the sacraments that the making-holy gift is again conferred, for each of the sacraments is a special channel of sanctifying grace. In Baptism the soul is born into the supernatural life. In Confirmation it is given the strength to profess the faith. Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of the very body and blood of Jesus, nourishes the spiritual life in the same way as natural food nourishes bodily life. Penance restores sanctifying grace if it has been lost by serious sin, and Extreme Unction is at hand to help the soul conquer the difficulties and temptations that beset it at the moment of death. Extreme Unction also has as its purpose the healing of the body if such be for the good of the soul.

The two social sacraments, as we mentioned earlier, are Holy Orders and Matrimony. Holy Orders gives spiritual powers for the government and sanctification of the members of Christ's Church. Matrimony elevates the naturally noble union of husband and wife, who in their state of cooperating with the Creator bring forth His creatures, potential heirs of heaven.

In other words, Christ restored the essentials of what Adam lost, namely, sanctifying grace. And the means by which sanctifying grace is channeled to each man and woman are the sacraments just described. Matrimony is one of those channels.

In the case of Matrimony the bride and groom administer the sacrament to each other, for the essence of the sacrament lies in the contract into which the parties enter, one with the other. Father LeBuffe points out cogently what this means in its fullness: In every Christian marriage the groom's first gift to his wife is an increase of sanctifying grace, and the bride's first gift to her husband is also an increase of sanctifying grace! Each gives to the other the right to a fuller share in the ineffable happiness of the eternal life of God Himself.[1]

Yet even all this does not exhaust the list of benefits which Matrimony confers. The sacrament does not cease with the moment in which it is received. Rather, in addition to the sanctifying grace it bestows at that time, it grants each of the contracting parties the right to "actual graces," those special helps God will give as and when they are needed in order that husband and wife can carry out perfectly the duties of their state of life. The seeds of these graces, however, must be cultivated by way of prayer and desire. They come from God as the Holy Spirit will and the recipient co-operates. We shall later enumerate these lifelong helps in more detail.

Even if Matrimony were not a sacrament (as among non- Christians), it would still be "a lasting union between one man and one woman for the purpose of bringing children into the world and rearing them, a union in which husband and wife bestow and receive mutual love and help." But since Christ elevated this natural union into the supernatural order and designated it as a sign and means of obtaining grace, its purpose is made even nobler.

As the Council of Trent tells us, "He who instituted and perfected the venerable sacraments, Christ Himself, merited for us by His Passion the grace which is to make perfect that natural love, is to strengthen its indissoluble unity, and is to make holy the married couple."[2] This same love of man and wife, hallowed by supernatural grace, unites them so closely that Christ has adopted it as a symbol of His love for the Church.

In St. Paul's words, "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the Church and delivered himself up for her.... Even thus ought husbands also to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh; on the contrary, he nourishes and cherishes it as Christ also does the Church (because we are members of his body, made from his flesh and from his bones). `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery--I mean in reference to Christ and to the Church" (Eph. 5:25-32). The sacramental union of husband and wife is so holy and so intimate that it symbolizes the union of Jesus with the Church He founded to bring all men to eternal life!

Equally consoling and inspiring is the knowledge of the actual graces God bestows on all who are linked by the sacrament. The divine generosity is so munificent that God binds Himself to assist these couples not only as long as they live and their marriage endures, but even as long as there is need for help in the rearing of their children if one of the parties should die.

Precisely what are these helps? To paraphrase again Father LeBuffe's summation, these are graces:

1. to carry out God's law regarding the conception and birth of children;

2. to enjoy and to make holy the pleasures of married life (which were created by God to soften its difficulties and to unite husband and wife more closely);

3. to carry the burdens of married life in a holy way;

4. to cherish each other and to grow in selfless love for each other, bearing with the inevitable defects that exist in every human being;

5. to bring up children properly, training them for a good and useful life on earth that will be a prelude to their supernatural life in heaven.

Such is the state of Matrimony. Can Christian marriage, then, be otherwise than a holy state, to be reverenced and loved, with fidelity to the laws God has laid down for it?

For the ideal union in love of husband for wife and wife for husband, God's examples are before you--Joseph and Mary. Your marriage is something to be appreciated ever more deeply. From time to time meditate on its precious character, as, for example, is suggested in the following indulgenced prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for husband and wife to say in their own behalf. We can summarize the spirit of Christian married life no better than in this prayer.

"O most Sacred Heart of Jesus, King and center of all hearts, dwell in our hearts and be our King; grant us by Your grace to love each other truly and chastely, even as You have loved Your spotless Bride, the Church, and have given Yourself up for her.

"Bestow upon us that mutual love and Christian forbearance which are so highly acceptable in Your sight, and a mutual patience in bearing each other's defects; for we are certain that no living creature is free from them. Do not permit even the slightest defect to mar that full and gentle harmony of spirit, the foundation of the mutual assistance in the many and varied hardships of life, that is the end for which woman was created and united inseparably to her husband.

** "O Lord God, grant that between us there may reign a perpetual holy rivalry toward a life perfectly Christian, by virtue of which there may shine forth more and more clearly the divine image of Your mystic union with Your Holy Church, as You have deigned to imprint it upon us on the auspicious day of our being made one.

"Grant, we beseech You, that our good example of Christian living may serve as a powerful inspiration to our children to conform their own lives to Your holy law; and finally, after this exile may we ascend into heaven, where by the help of Your grace, for which we earnestly pray, we may merit to be joined with our children forever and praise and bless You through everlasting ages, Amen."

**If there are no children, the prayer from this point reads: "O Lord God, grant that between us there may reign a perpetual holy rivalry toward a life perfectly Christian, by virtue of which there may shine forth more and more clearly the divine image of Your mystic union with Your Holy Church, as You have deigned to imprint it upon us on the auspicious day of our being made one, and so living, may both of us ascend into heaven, and merit to praise You and bless You forever. Amen." (300 days' indulgence, S. Paen. Ap., 11 Dec. 1923; 25 Nov. 1936.)


1. LeBuff, S.J., Francis P., "Let's Look At Sanctifying Grace," pamplet (St. Louis: The Queen's Work, 1944), p. 45.

2. Session 24.


"NOW it came to pass in those days that there went forth a decree from Caesar Augustus that a census of the whole world should be taken. This first census took place while Cyrinus was governor of Syria" (Luke 2:1-2).

What were "those days"? Since the greatest event in the history of the world was about to be described by St. Luke, the divinely inspired historian was very careful to give us the general period in which it occurred. Nonetheless, the exact year is problematical. For us to say that Jesus was born in A.D. 1 would be an easy matter. The facts do not permit so simple a solution.

The early Church counted the years from the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian (A.D. 285-305), or used the Roman system, "A.U.C."--ab urbe condita, "from the founding of the city of Rome." Our present method of basing the calendar on the year of Christ's birth was not introduced until the middle of the sixth century, and even then its starting point was reckoned erroneously.

In detail this is how it happened. Some time before 544, a Roman abbot, Dionysius Exiguus, conceived the plan of making the Nativity the focal point of every date. Dionysius erred in his computation, and to this day no one has been able to determine the exact extent of his mistake! That is why we do not know the precise year in which Christ was born. Although estimates have ranged all the way from 22 B.C. to A.D. 9, the evidence points to 5, 6, or best of all, 7 B.C. This date is obtained by correlating St. Luke's account, Roman and Jewish history, and archeological findings.

Since Augustus Caesar ordered a census of his empire in 8 B.C., we can be certain that the birth of Christ occurred soon thereafter. The Cyrinus mentioned by St. Luke was not, it is true, governor of Syria at the time, but he did act then as the military officer in charge of the census. St. Luke's language in the original Greek does not have to be translated, "Cyrinus was governor," but can simply mean, "Cyrinus was in charge of Syria."

Luke continues: "And all were going, each to his own town, to register. And Joseph also went from Galilee out of the town of Nazareth into Judea to the town of David which is called Bethlehem--because he was of the house and family of David--to register, together with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child" (2:3-5).

As was noted in an earlier chapter, Joseph may have used the census as a pretext to take Mary from Nazareth in order to protect her honor and that of Jesus. The fact that he was obliged to register at Bethlehem indicates that in all likelihood he owned property there. For all we know, Bethlehem may have been his birthplace just as Mary's seems to have been at Nazareth.

Bethlehem was about 80 miles south of Nazareth. At this period it was a hamlet with a population of no more than 2000 souls. About three days were required to complete the trip. Judging from the ordinary modes of travel of common folk in Palestine, Mary rode on an ass while Joseph walked alongside, leading the animal. They probably had no servant. Their road first descended into the Plain of Esdraelon, then began to rise more and more, passing through frequent towns that alternated with farm country. Finally, about five or six miles south of Jerusalem the two travelers reached their journey's end.

It should be noted carefully that St. Luke does not say that Christ was born immediately after the journey from Nazareth. "It came to pass while they were there that the days for her to be delivered were fulfilled" (2:6). Luke seems to suggest that Joseph and Mary lived at Bethlehem for some time before the Nativity. According to the computation we are following, Joseph married Our Lady after her pregnancy was four months advanced. This would mean that the stay at Bethlehem could have been of any length up to five months. Against this theory, age-old legends are responsible for the idea in our popular Christmas story that Jesus came into the world as soon as Mary reached Bethlehem. Up to the present time nothing certain can be established to settle the question.

The Church in its position as divinely appointed guardian of faith and morals has always taught and now solemnly teaches that Jesus was born miraculously of Mary so that the blessed Mother of God was ever virgin--before, during, and after the Nativity. This is called the Virgin Birth. Outside the Church it is ridiculed and misunderstood by many who think it synonymous with the Immaculate Conception (Mary's freedom from original sin). Yet the fact remains that the doctrine of the Virgin Birth was held from the very earliest days of Christianity; and to deny it now would be tantamount to denying the Church's mission as God's mouthpiece on earth. If Christ could pass through material objects (as He passed through the doors of the Upper Room after His Resurrection), why could He not pass through the body of His mother, leaving her virginal membranes intact?

Moreover, since Mary had been preserved from original sin by reason of her Immaculate Conception in the womb of her mother, she was free of the penalty Eve transmitted to every daughter of Adam. Mary bore Jesus without travail.

"And she wrapped him in swaddling clothes" (Luke 2:17). There are several interesting features about the swaddling clothes in which Jesus was given His first protection from cold and dampness. The custom of using swaddling bands had first been introduced while the Israelites were a wandering desert people. The binding was intended to provide warmth for the newly born infant as well as protection for his weak spine and soft bone structure.

A square piece of material formed the swaddling cloth proper, across the diagonal of which the babe was laid. Then the corners were tucked together, leaving only the infant's head exposed. Finally, two or three strips of cloth were wrapped around this tiny bundle, and the baby was thus snugly enclosed in a firm, warm, and comfortable sleeping bag. It took a genius in words like Cardinal Newman to capture the overwhelming paradox of this appealing scene when he described the lovable young virgin mother as tucking in "Omnipotence in bonds."

"And she laid him in a manger" (Luke 2:7). St. Luke implicitly tells us that the Nativity occurred in a stable. The manger used in Bethlehem was a trough hewn out of wood or scooped out of the soft limestone which abounds in the Holy Land. Jesus probably rested on a bed of wheat or barley straw, for hay as we understand it was not made in Palestine.

The inn in which "there was no room for them" (Luke 2:7) was no more than a small caravansary or khan, inasmuch as Bethlehem was only an insignificant hamlet. Vastly dissimilar to the hotels to which we are accustomed, the khan consisted of a courtyard for the animals, surrounded by alcoves in which the travelers spent the night. The entire enclosure was made safe against robbers by a high fence and by a gate that was strongly barred at nightfall.

Mary and Joseph were not turned away by a hardhearted innkeeper, greedy for money from richer patrons. The popular misconception arose from the medieval legends and miracle plays of Europe. It contradicts the traditional hospitality found all over the East. The real reason was simply the fact that other travelers were living in the inn. Over and above this circumstance, a lodging so public was no place for Mary, whose time was fast approaching. Joseph therefore led his wife to the only refuge available--a cave hollowed into the rock and used as a shelter by the shepherds of the vicinity. Such grottoes have served and still serve as a common place of refuge for man and beast on rainy chilly nights.

Were an ox and ass present at the side of Mary when she brought forth the Saviour of the world? We have no evidence. The stories of the ox and ass grew out of a pious application of a text from the prophet Isaias, "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib" (Isa. 1:3). It would seem more likely that if any animals at all were in the cave, they should have been sheep that belonged to the near-by shepherds.

Yet the one great question remains unanswered. What circumstances prevented Joseph, the official protector of Jesus and Mary, from obtaining adequate shelter for his dear charges when they needed it so badly? Many theories have been propounded by expert scholars who have spent long years in studying every possible clue ranging from the climate of the Holy Land to the minutest detail of the text of Holy Scripture. Perhaps Joseph tried to get shelter better than the temporary home he acquired when he first came to Bethlehem; we do not know. But this seems certain: Mary's time was suddenly shortened by the direct providence of God so that Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, by His own choice would come into the world in poor circumstances, a lesson of detachment to all men of all time.

Evidently Jesus was born during the night, for "there were shepherds in the same district living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8). The weather may have been cool and raw, but not cold or snowy. Otherwise, the shepherds would have taken their flocks to some cave or other enclosure for shelter. Although tradition disagrees on the exact date of the first Christmas, it is rather uniform in holding that our Lord came into the world during the rainy or winter season--that is, some time between November and April.

"And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by [the shepherds], and said to them, `Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all the people; for there has been born to you today in the town of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, `Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among men of good will.' And it came to pass, when the angels had departed from them into heaven, that the shepherds were saying to one another, `Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.' So they went with haste, and they found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in the manger. And when they had seen, they understood what had been told them concerning this Child. And all who heard marveled at the things told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept in mind all these words, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, even as it was spoken to them" (Luke 2:9-20).

Thus does St. Luke draw the curtain over the Christmas scene he has described in inimitable words--a scene whose richness painters and poets and preachers have never been able to exhaust. It is the first appearance of the Holy Family before men: "Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in the manger." Mutual love shines forth in the faces of this earthly trinity: loving respect in the face of Joseph, loving adoration in the face of Mary, loving generosity in the face of the Eternal God with us. Joseph and Mary are, as it were, the mediators through whom the shepherds come to Jesus. In our own day and forever, they are the mediators through whom we, too, come to Jesus.

The all-pervading indefinable sense of deep peace that belongs to Christmas has come down to us through the ages. If we carefully search for the cause of this Christmas peace, we find that it lies in the unshakable calm brought forth by security. And if we search further for the cause of this security, we find it in the knowledge that God is with us.

"God with us!" We are children spoiled by twenty centuries of Christianity--spoiled because we have God with us and we do not appreciate the fact. We have had no experience of bleak paganism where in early youth our star-seeking ideals would be thrown down again and again as they sought to turn a rebellious nature to obey a God they were not favored to know as we know Him. We have had no experience (as had the pagans of old) of trying to drown all those ideals in an ocean of sinful pleasure, yet finding their craving for the good and pure and the noble and unselfish still unsatisfied. We cannot appreciate the pagans' despair at having no one to turn to--absolutely no one; because deep down in our hearts we know that even if all humans fail us, if we ourselves fail Jesus Christ, He can never and will never desert us.

Yes, the source of our Christmas peace is the realization that God is with us. And not merely God in heaven spiritually and invisibly at our side, but God in heaven come down to earth, clothed in flesh and bone as we are, like to us in all things, sin alone excepted.

The two thousand years that separate us from the midnight of the Nativity, vanish, and we kneel beside Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and we see that we are not in the past. It is a present moment that can never become part of the past. Even if Jesus had not perpetuated His bodily presence on earth by means of the Blessed Sacrament of His love, this one moment at the cave in Bethlehem, when the earth first saw its Saviour, would be so all-inclusive that the passing of time could never dim its perpetual newness. The fact that Almighty God should take on our human nature and walk among us is too stupendous to he held by one moment or even by all the moments of time. Because Christ was with us once, He is with us always. The moment when the Infinite came into the realm of time becomes, as it were, eternal.

The lesson of the Nativity, then, is the bodily presence of God with us. The Preface for the Masses of Christmas Day rightly phrases this lesson as a stirring keynote. "Through the mystery of the Incarnate Word, the new light of God's glory has shone on the eyes of our mind, so that while we look upon God present to our eyes, through Him we may be drawn to the love of the invisible." From this point, "while we look upon God present to our eyes," we must rely on our faith in order that "we may be drawn to the love of the invisible."

But what is our faith? It is the "substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that are not seen" (Heb. 11:2). It is our belief in the word of God that what He tells us is true, despite the lack of evidence or even the apparently contrary evidence on the part of our senses.

Here in the cave at Bethlehem we see a newborn infant, his young mother, and her stalwart husband. Our faith tells us that the Infant is God Himself, become man without ceasing to be God; the mother is the person most exquisitely fashioned by the Lord Almighty; and the husband is the foster father closest to the Virgin and her Child in awesome holiness.

Before this Child came on earth, there was the law of God to be fulfilled. Like all laws it tended to be a "thing invisible," a rule hard to follow because unseen. But now that Christ is among us, the law takes shape before our eyes. We behold a Person now, no longer an abstract mandate. We see Him carry out the two great commandments of the love of God and the love of our fellow men-- "things invisible"--to which we are drawn now because we look upon them concretized in "God present to our eyes." By the fact that Christ has come down to our earth, we are provided not only with an exemplar to show us how to live as we ought, but also we are fired by enthusiasm and love of Him to want to live as we ought.

Faith must enter into your daily life if you wish to live holily and happily. For instance, can you behold with your own eyes the sanctity and sacramental nature of Christian marriage? Hardly; yet your faith tells you that it is so.

Suppose that a serious problem turns up in your married life. It might be any of the thousand-and-one problems that can and do arise--misunderstanding, illness, financial distress, bereavement, difficulties with the children. Your faith tells you that because of the sacrament you received at the moment of your marriage, you have a right to receive from God those special benefactions, the actual graces, for carrying out the obligations of your married life. Can you believe this in a moment of trial? Can you bravely and generously go forward and attempt to solve your problems with a confident heart, serene in the knowledge that God has given you the grace to do so? You require faith, and faith requires a submission of your intellect to God's promises.

For that faith look at Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem. It is this very same Infant who in the years of His manhood will exalt your marriage to the height of a sacrament. The Christ is not a god dwelling far in the starry reaches of heaven; He came into your midst, a Babe subject to all the discomforts and helplessness natural to His state. With your own eyes you can see that He knows what you are describing when you tell Him of your troubles, for He Himself has shared our life on this earth. He is sympathetic to your needs, and His promises are not deceptions but come from the depths of His Sacred Heart that beats like your very own.

It is true that if Jesus had not come down to earth, we still would have had the consciousness of a loving Father in heaven who tenderly remembers His children on earth. It is also true that we need faith to see in the Babe the infinite God of love and majesty. But the lesson of Bethlehem lies in this extra help to our faith, this knowledge of Christ's personal presence among us--again to repeat from the Preface of the Christmas Masses--"that while we look upon God present to our eyes, we may be drawn to the love of things invisible."

From this you can understand why the Church uses this same Preface for Christmas in its Masses of the Blessed Sacrament. Christ's body on earth at Bethlehem was the same body which is now on earth in our tabernacles all over the world. The only difference is that now He is veiled beneath the species of bread and wine. The Blessed Sacrament is the continuation of Christmas; we cannot think of Christ's first personal visit two thousand years ago without instinctively thinking of His constant visit at every present moment. We owe the Blessed Sacrament to Bethlehem.

Each recurring Christmas Day should refresh in your mind the magnificent import of the bodily presence of God among us. As you receive Holy Communion on each occasion, the story of Bethlehem is being renewed and continued in your heart, for the cave was the first tabernacle and the manger was the first ciborium. You have the opportunity of "wrapping the Child in swaddling clothes and laying Him in the manger" of your own heart every day if you wish.

In the Blessed Sacrament you will find the greatest, the most tangible help and inspiration for your family life. If you and your husband or wife can make it a practice to receive Holy Communion together, your union will be all the deeper because it is rooted all the more deeply in the love of Christ. There can be no doubt that the frequent reception of Holy Communion by husband and wife does infallibly make their marriage holier and happier.

It is hardly possible to speak satisfactorily of the Blessed Sacrament. The subject is too tremendous to do it justice. Just as the moment of the Incarnation could not hold its awesome reality for itself as the one moment when the Infinite took on the limits of time, so, too, the words that try to portray the quiet majesty of Christ's reign among us in the Tabernacle cannot convey their full message of truth. Jesus Christ, God and man, is present with His glorified living body under the appearance of bread and wine in the Blessed Sacrament. What then? The action of the frequent communicant is the only reasonable action, and the answer of the father of the possessed boy is the only reasonable answer: "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief!" (Mark 9:23.)

Every time we look on the mystery of the Nativity at Bethlehem, a little deeper sense of its meaning penetrates our souls. Sometimes for a few fleeting moments we feel that we can almost grasp the full realization of what it means to have God as man on this earth. The extension of Christ's life in the Blessed Sacrament adds to this realization still another note: "God as man is on this earth now, as my closest, dearest Friend, in whose love I can rest my love of my husband or wife, and in whom we two are united in the ideal of the selfless love toward which we are striving."

Do not be deceived by the fallacy that because of unworthiness you ought not approach Christ closely, receiving Holy Communion often. Who would be so proud as to imply that anyone could become fully worthy? To receive Communion only two things are necessary and sufficient: the state of grace and the proper disposition. The proper disposition simply consists in approaching the Holy Table for the good which the Eucharist will effect in your soul and body, not for public show or merely to please someone else. The results will be a closer union of love with Christ, the growth of every virtue in your soul, the blotting out of venial sin, strength against mortal sin, and powerful assistance to die in the peace of the Lord when your time comes.

All these considerations on the meaning of the Nativity and the Blessed Sacrament have grown out of our looking more or less at the Infant Jesus. There were two other people next to Him whom we look at now--the virgin mother and the foster father. Their radiant love is all directed toward the Babe in the manger, and because it is directed toward the Babe, it also goes through Him from husband to wife and from wife to husband in the thrill of ecstasy that takes hold of the two greatest saints as they look on their God, their Son. Again must we stress this great love of Joseph and Mary for each other as the model for every husband and wife.

It is here at Bethlehem while we watch them together at the crib that we can discuss frankly and settle finally a point that sometimes bothers Catholics when they pray to Joseph instead of Mary or to Mary instead of Joseph. In venerating one they experience a sort of uneasy feeling that perhaps they are taking honor from the other. The same type of feeling can come to converts who have not yet developed the instinctive habit of praying to Mary, while realizing nevertheless that such an action not only does not derogate from God's rights but is highly pleasing to Him.

Cardinal Newman has said that ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt. So in this case. There is no doubt that devotion to St. Joseph honors Mary and gives glory to God, and there is no doubt that Joseph more than an other saint wishes Mary to be honored above all mere creatures including himself. There is merely the difficulty that we find it hard to comprehend the complete selflessness of the husband and the wife, and their total devotion to one cause alone: the will of God. We fear that one would be jealous of the other! At any rate, in examining their love more closely as we are doing, another aspect of ideal family love will be brought into focus.

In our limited human experience we rarely if ever succeed in erasing absolutely every trace of selfishness in dealing with even our nearest and dearest; but in the case of Joseph and Mary the two know that their mutual glorification redounds to the praise of their Creator. Mary is His choicest handiwork as the most delicately beautiful person God made, conceived without stain of original sin. All her dignity arises out of the fact that she is the Mother of God, for she it was who brought this Infant Jesus into the world here at Bethlehem.

In the same way honor paid to St. Joseph is honor paid to Mary, and through Mary, to God. The dignity of St. Joseph ultimately stems from the fact that he is the virginal husband of the Mother of God. Because of his marriage to Our Lady he possesses the rights of a father over this Jesus her Son, who lies in the manger before them. Had he not been Mary's husband, he would have been merely the guardian of Christ. He would not have had so intimate a share, as theologians tell us, in cooperating in Christ's work of redemption by educating and protecting Him during His childhood until He was ready to begin His public life.

Joseph and Mary realize all this as they kneel beside Jesus. Their humility does not deny the existence in themselves of the great gifts which Almighty God has bestowed on them. They understand the awesome heights of the dignity that belongs to their privileged positions, but they understand at the same time that all credit for their holiness must be given to the Infant they are serving, and to the workings of His grace in them. Their free will co-operated with Him in every detail; that, too, they realize. And while they see themselves rewarded for their fidelity by being the two chosen lovers to welcome Christ into the world, they see manifested in themselves God's justice and mercy and faithfulness to His promises.

If only we could grasp the depth of the love of Joseph for Mary and of Mary for Joseph as they adore their Son together! Next to God, or rather in God Himself, they bear an all-generous affection toward each other that could exist only in the husband and wife of the Holy Family.

Mary is not any less human because she is more holy. She looks at the Child and looks at His foster father, who is to guard Him (and act as His father) for possibly the next thirty years. She knows Joseph's fidelity and generosity and bravery. And she has another reason for her affection. She sees in him the tremendous nearness to God that made him worthy to be called the father of Christ. She wishes him to be honored for all he has done and will do for the newborn Redeemer.

And on Joseph's part, he loves Mary as no one except the Infant before them has ever done or can do. No angel or saint can be closer to Mary than her husband. He sees in her the sanctity that made her worthy to become the habitation of the Son of God. Since she is the mediatrix of all graces, Joseph goes to Jesus through Mary.

Yes, here in Bethlehem for the first time we behold the Holy Family, united on earth in that love and mutual confidence which continues to be our model here while they are united in even closer intimacy in heaven. We simply cannot honor St. Joseph without implicitly paying honor to Mary; and we cannot pay homage to Our Lady without honoring her Son, who is God, "to whom be all glory forever."

We must leave the manger now and follow the further progress of the story of the Holy Family. But the manger will be our heart, and the Infant will lie there often as we receive Him again and again in the sacrament of His love. Joseph and Mary will help us welcome Him each time as they welcomed Him for that wonderful first time in Bethlehem.


"AND when eight days were fulfilled for his circumcision, his name was called Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb" (Luke 2:21). "And [Joseph] called his name Jesus" (Matt. 1:25).

This was the day on which Jesus received "the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11). The rite of circumcision was the sign of the "testament"--the covenant or agreement--between God and Abraham and the sons of Abraham.

Jesus subjected Himself to the law of circumcision in order to show that He had taken on our human nature in all its completeness. The rite signified the consecration of its subject to God. This held true for every Hebrew male child. How much more truly did it not apply to Jesus, who although the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity in His divine nature, consecrated His human nature to the service and glory of His Godhead!

"And when the days of Mary's purification were fulfilled, according to the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord" (Luke 2:22). In this episode which occurred forty days after the Nativity many people are puzzled by the "purification" to which Mary subjected herself. Did it mean that motherhood among the Jews was considered something impure?

The answer to this question depends on what we mean by the word "impure." The law of purification did not imply that mothers contracted a moral blemish by bearing children. Rather, it referred to a legal "uncleanness" the precise nature of which is not known. After the birth of a son a period of forty days had to elapse before the mother could touch hallowed things and enter the sanctuary of the Temple. But this did not mean that motherhood was something sinful or less perfect. Actually, children were deemed signs of God's favor, and a childless wife considered herself cursed. The law of purification of mothers probably had its origin, as did so many of the old laws of the Hebrews, in sanitary considerations. The ceremony itself consisted of offering a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons for sacrifice. Thereupon the legal blemish was removed.

One of the impressive rites of the Church which recalls Mary's visit to the Temple is the churching of women after they have given birth. In the minds of many there unfortunately exists a more or less hazy misunderstanding of the true meaning of the ceremony. Churching does not imply that women because of childbirth incur some sort of stain which must be duly removed by the prayers of the priest. It is a blessing which the Church confers on the mother; and the mother in her turn offers thanks to God for her safe delivery.

The ceremony is made up of a psalm of gratitude and praise, a blessing of the mother with holy water, and various prayers suitable for the occasion. As part of the rite, the priest places the end of his stole into the mother's hand and leads her into the church, saying, "Enter into the temple of God, adore the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who has given you the fruitfulness of offspring." Then he recites a special prayer as follows: "Almighty everlasting God, who through the delivery of the Blessed Virgin Mary has turned into joy the pains of the faithful in childbirth, look graciously upon this Thy handmaid coming in gladness to Thy holy temple to offer thanksgiving: and grant that after this life by the merits and intercession of the same blessed Mary, she may merit to arrive together with her offspring at the joys of everlasting happiness, through Christ our Lord. Amen." And to the mother the priest says, "May the peace and blessing of Almighty God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, descend upon you and remain always, Amen."

Since Mary had given birth to Jesus miraculously, she undoubtedly was not bound in conscience to observe the law of purification. In the same way Jesus was not obliged to be presented to the Lord, for He was already God by nature. The custom of offering the first- born to God hearkened back to the Israelites' release from captivity in Egypt. There, God struck dead all the first-born of the Egyptians, sparing, of course, the Hebrew children. In remembrance of this favor, first-born males were consecrated to God and then redeemed by the payment of a token price--five shekels, about $3.20. There is wonderful meaning in this scene of Mary and Joseph redeeming the Redeemer. Jesus submitted to the rite of Presentation in order to show us once again how truly and fully He became one of us.

When Mary and Joseph gave Jesus to the priest in the Temple to be offered to God, they united in that offering themselves--everything they were and everything they had. It was the closeness of their union with Jesus that made them holy; and if their Son in His human nature was making the oblation of Himself to His heavenly Father, these two beloved parents were not going to stint the generosity of their cooperation with Him. They would offer themselves, too.

As Mary and Joseph made their self-consecration, so should we. It is true that in a very correct sense everything we are and everything we have belongs already to God. He has given us even our free will. But in another sense God made us stewards of our talents, our bodies, our very souls, putting them into our charge to be cared for and developed so that they might ultimately be fit to be raised to eternal union with Him. In giving ourselves back to our Creator, we ask that we be employed according to His holy and all-good will. It is an offering born of love and gratitude.

Sometimes people are frightened to make such an offering. They imagine that God will ask them to undergo terrible sufferings, or that He will take away from them their legitimate pleasures. No, that is not the sense of self-oblation. It is merely an explicit method of telling God that you wish His will to be accomplished in your regard. You already know His will in its general aspects. Its purpose is one and only one: that you may become holy. The means to become holy you already possess. If you observe the commandments, receive the sacraments, and carry out the duties of your state of life, you are doing God's will. When you make the offering of yourself, you are saying equivalently that you desire to fulfill these obligations ever more perfectly and confidently leave yourself in His hands. Is there anything frightening in that?

In connection with the possible crosses you may fear, never forget that Almighty God is bound by His justice and by His own promise to give you all the graces you need to carry out anything He asks of you. Usually the worst crosses we bear are those we create in our imagination. And even if some trial we dread does come to us, it cannot be the agonizing experience we foresaw. The reason simply is this: at the moment we are called upon to carry the cross, we have the grace to do so. But at the moment we fear that this or that cross will come to us, we do not have the grace to bear it. In other words God has not needlessly given us the strength to carry a cross which He has not asked us to bear.

Look back on your life and count up some of the benefits you have received. Creation--redemption--sanctification: the last-named of these implying that you were baptized in the Church of Christ, nourished by the sacrament of the Eucharist, restored to peace with God or increased in that peace by the sacrament of Penance. Now you are united in another wonderful sacrament, Matrimony, in a lifelong union of married love. Probably you have or will have the inestimable blessing of seeing your children and children's children gather round you. (There are thousands of childless couples whose greatest cross is the fact that they cannot have children even though they desire them. They know what such a blessing would mean to them.)

There is so much, too, in your past life for which you feel grateful. In the rush of earning a livelihood or caring for the family you perhaps have been too busy to count up explicitly all these blessings--special favors from heaven that have been for your particular benefit. Yes, take the time, carefully itemize the list of all good things God has bestowed on you, and automatically there will rise in your heart a deep sense of thanksgiving that impels you to come to Joseph and Mary and ask them to accept the offering of yourself, to unite it to their own, and to give it to the beloved Infant so that it might arise together with the oblation of Himself to God the Father.

But your offering can be made still more complete. You will perfect it by including your whole family. Again the method of making this offering is as easy as it is efficacious. It is the consecration of the family to the Sacred Heart. Our Lord in His appearances to St. Margaret Mary promised special blessings to those families that have thus consecrated themselves: "I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life; I will console them in all their difficulties: I will bless every place where a picture of My Heart shall be set up and honored; I will be their safe refuge in life and still more in death."

Preferably this Consecration should be made officially by the Reverend Pastor or some other priest, but it is sufficient if the head of the family (or all the members together) recite this formula recommended and highly indulgenced by the Church. Preferably, too, the Consecration should be offered before a picture or statue of the Sacred Heart.

"O Sacred Heart of Jesus, who manifested to Saint Margaret Mary the desire to reign in Christian families, behold us here today in order to please You by proclaiming Your kingly rule over our family. We would live in the future with Your life, we would cause to flourish in our midst those virtues to which You have promised peace on earth, we would banish far from us the spirit of the world which You have cursed. You shall reign in our minds in the singleness of our faith; and You shall reign in our hearts by the love with which they will burn for You alone, with a flame kept alive by the frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist.

"Deign, O divine Heart, to preside over our gatherings, to bless our spiritual and temporal enterprises, to protect us from trouble, to sanctify our joys, and to lighten our sufferings. If ever anyone of us should have so great a misfortune as to displease You, remind him, O Heart of Jesus, that You are full of goodness and mercy for the penitent sinner.

"And when the hour of separation strikes and death casts mourning into the midst of our family, all of us, both those who pass on and those who remain, shall be submissive to Your eternal decrees. This will be our consolation, to recall that a day will come when our entire family, joined in heaven, will be able to sing forever Your glories and Your mercies.

"May the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the glorious Patriarch Saint Joseph deign to offer this consecration to You, and to preserve it in our memory every day of our lives.

"All glory to the Heart of our King and Father, Jesus!" (For indulgences see No. 655, The Raccolta)

After Joseph and Mary offered Jesus to His Eternal Father, there occurred that touching scene when the aged Simeon "came by inspiration of the Spirit into the Temple. And when his parents brought in the Child Jesus to do for him according to the custom of the law, he also received him and blessed God, saying, `Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O 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 of revelation to the Gentiles, and a glory for thy people Israel'" (Luke 2:27-31).

Simeon's canticle expresses so perfectly his joy over a life well spent that the phrase nunc dimittis (from the Latin, "now Thou dost dismiss"), has become a part of our language as an expression of satisfaction and thanksgiving to God at death's approach.

As you read these lines, you probably may think to yourself that you are far from the moment when you will be called to leave this world and go to your judgment and reward. Perhaps so; but you can never forget that the moment is ever advancing. It is at the same time equally certain and uncertain. There can be no doubt that it will occur, but just when it will occur is the greatest question mark in your life and in the life of every other person now on earth.

You can adopt only one sensible course about the moment of your death. Live in such a way that no matter how suddenly it comes, you will always be prepared to say your nunc dimittis with a heart trusting in the goodness of God, conscious of your lifelong efforts to serve Him and love Him faithfully.

There are, of course, the usual two extremes, but neither of them is to be recommended. Some persons avoid the thought of death as if by forgetting the inevitable, they could stave it off or dodge it completely. For them the pleasures and parties of their hurried existence are emphasized out of all proper proportion. These people cannot bear the thought that one day their life will be over and they will be face to face with the sole reality that counts for anything: Did they or did they not save their souls by obeying the laws of God and of His Church?

So much for the attitude of the sophisticates. At the other extreme is a smaller group of people who make their mistake in being "too good." True, there are not many of these, but enough are around us to serve as a warning to stay out of their class. These are the worriers who make life miserable for themselves (and incidentally for others also) by imagining God as some sort of bloodthirsty tyrant who wields over their puny heads the threat of instant death and eternal punishment. Fear rules their lives from start to finish-- fear that penetrates their most fundamental relationships with their Creator as well as their dealings with their fellow men.

What is their mistake? They are concentrating on merely one facet of God's infinite perfection. They see and hear and think of only His justice and punishments. They forget that He is all-good, that the source of all that is tender and affectionate and generous in us comes from the depths of His eternal love. Probably God in His goodness will magnanimously take care of them, for they are erring, as we would say, "in the right direction." Nevertheless, theirs is a real error, and it is far removed from that spirit of Simeon's nunc dimittis which we want to develop in ourselves.

The correct attitude brings serenity into our lives, peace in our dealings with others, and security and deep happiness because of our relationship to our God. We trust that we are ready at any moment to go before our Judge, and we do not worry about it. It is His part to determine when our time is fulfilled, and with His infinite knowledge and providence He knows what is best for us. We do not try to fathom the mind of the Almighty, but we do try to accomplish what we can, to have something to show in our favor on Judgment Day.

An attitude of this sort can usually be implicit and pervade everything we do. The thought of death will not spoil our enjoyment of life if we accept the licit pleasures God has given us as good things that help us live as humans ought. In such a life we cherish our husband or wife, we love our children and strive to fulfill our obligations toward them, we obey the Church in its position as the divinely appointed and divinely guided teacher of faith and morals. And in doing this, we are building stone by stone the tower of confidence on which we can stand when death approaches. Then will we look back on a life well spent and thank the dear God for helping us during the time of our pilgrimage.

At that moment, too, God will be bringing us into the place where the incomplete is made complete, the temporal is changed into the eternal, and the ties of love which we had on earth are forged into everlasting bonds of happiness uniting us and our loved ones to our Creator, our Last End. It is the realization of all this that will evoke from our lips, "Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, in peace."

But in the Temple at Jerusalem on that day two thousand years ago, Joseph and Mary were to hear more words from Simeon's lips, somber words that reminded them all too clearly that their own mission was just beginning, and that much suffering would be ahead of them before they could say their own nunc dimittis. "And Simeon said to Mary his mother, `Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35).

Simeon under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit prophesied Our Lady's role as the Mother of Sorrows and the Queen of Martyrs. Even though Mary's suffering was to occur in the future, the prophecy served to remind her of what was to come, and to prepare her for the trial which would test the supreme heights of even her sanctity and generosity.

It is in this light that we should interpret Simeon's prophecy. God did not cruelly send Our Lady an unnecessary cross. Long before the angel had asked her if she were willing to become the Mother of God, Mary knew from the Scriptures that the Messias would be the Man of Sorrows. When she consented, she realized what she was accepting. She would be closest to Jesus in everything--closest in suffering and love as well as in triumph and glory. In His Passion her sympathy was to be His greatest consolation. By a triumph of His grace Our Lady's merits, dependent on those of her Son, were to help restore the fallen human race to the friendship of God which it had lost when Adam, its head, betrayed his trust.

At the moment of Simeon's prophecy Joseph, too, understood what the sword of sorrow meant to his wife and what it would mean to the lovable Babe who had just been offered to His Eternal Father. The words of Simeon were a sign from heaven that Christ's oblation had been accepted. And because Joseph was closest to Mary in holiness, after her he was closest to Jesus in the suffering that redeemed us.

According to God's plan Joseph was not present during Christ's Passion and Crucifixion; but like Mary, he knew what the Scriptures had foretold of the Messias. Because his will was one with that of Mary and Jesus, Joseph truly sympathized with them in anticipation (for "sympathy" means "to suffer with") so that he participated intimately in applying Christ's redemption to mankind.

We should be careful to place the proper estimate on the attitude of the Holy Family. After Simeon's prophecy of the future martyrdom of suffering, Mary and Joseph did not live a dismal, foreboding existence in the years of preparing their Child for His future. Knowing as we do how closely they imitated Jesus, we can be quite certain of the serenity and happiness in their lives.

Jesus on His part always had before Him the prospect of His Passion and death, yet He never let it distress Him outwardly until the night of His agony in Gethsemani. Even then His action was not one of weakness but was deliberately permitted for our instruction and consolation. Moreover, He knew the glory of His Resurrection, and He looked forward to the wonderful joy and peace which He as the risen Saviour would bring to His friends, His adopted brothers and sisters.

How could He have appeared to His neighbors of Nazareth as a normal boy, "the carpenter's son," if His mood had been one of despondency or never ending seriousness? No doubt He was grave and dignified in His public life, but His love of little children and the trusting affection they gave Him in return show that His demeanor was not overwrought with heavy thoughts of His future. In the same way, Joseph and Mary were not glum folk but were accepted by their friends and fellow townsmen as normal, everyday citizens.

This proper picture is most important for our purpose. A one-sided presentation--that the Holy Family exclusively thought of suffering--would be erroneous. Their life could hardly have been the model of Catholic family life in all ages if they had permitted dread anticipation of the future to ruin their happiness constantly. It is interesting to recall that in Our Lady's Rosary there are only five Sorrowful Mysteries, but ten that are Joyful and Glorious.

In an earlier chapter we spoke of the essential goodness of human nature and of everything created. Now, humor, lightheartedness, and song are creations of God and therefore must be good also. They have their place (and a very important place it is) in the life of every individual and family. True joy belongs to Christianity alone. We see the bleakness of the old pagan religions appearing in the activities of the gods, who were never pictured as laughing, but rather engaged in quarrels, jealous rivalry, and Bacchanalian feasts.

There is a real need of a sense of humor and what is called common sense in family life. Undoubtedly, grave situations do arise at some time or other, but the ordinary husband and wife do not find their existence marked by constant crises. Rather, their life flows evenly, happily, and calmly.

In your own case if you were to dwell exclusively on weighty matters, believing that your religious observance was enhanced in proportion to your somber moods, you would merely be creating a useless trial for yourself and the rest of your family. Sadness cannot come from God but only from the enemy of all that is good. Idleness is not the devil's single workshop. Depression and moodiness serve him just as well.

The cheery husband and wife at peace with God enjoy life without resorting to all sorts of expedients to have "a good time." Happiness comes to God's friends naturally and that is why we know that happiness came to Mary and Joseph in abundance. Even in making the application of the serious lessons in their lives, we must not infer that they knew nothing of lightheartedness. Certainly, they drew their example from Him whose spirit would later animate St. Paul to write, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.... Have no anxiety but in every prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God. And may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

"For the rest, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever honorable, whatever just, whatever holy, whatever lovable, whatever of good repute, if there be any virtue, if anything worthy of praise, think upon these things.... And the God of peace will be with you" (Phil. 4:5, 6-9).


"NOW when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, there came Magi from the East to Jerusalem, saying, `Where is the newly born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him'" (Matt. 2:1- 2).

Who were the Magi? This is a much-discussed question to which no certain answer can be given. Probably, however, the "Wise men" were astrologer-priests of the Zoroastrian religion of Persia. Western Christianity thinks of them as the "Three Kings" because the liturgy for the age-old Feast of the Epiphany applies the text of Psalm 71, "The kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents; the kings of the Arabians and of Sheba shall bring gifts; and all kings of the earth shall adore him; all nations of the earth shall serve him."

When did the Magi come to Bethlehem? Apparently some time had elapsed after the birth of Christ. Since Herod later massacred "all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years old or under" (Matt. 2:16), Jesus was no more than two years old. We know that Herod died at Jericho about 4 B.C. after a lingering illness. He was not ill at the time the Magi visited him; that seems quite certain, for he was still living at Jerusalem. Evidently, then, the Magi visited Bethlehem during the year 6 or 5 B.C. They must have come some time after Christ's birth, for the journey from Persia to Jerusalem-- 1200 miles--took three months to a year by camel.

How many Magi were there? Again we do not know! Early Christian art represents two; tradition of Catholics of the Latin rite mentions three; a memorial in the old Roman cemetery of Domitilla depicts four; and the tradition of the Catholics of the Eastern rites favors twelve. The Latin Catholics have called the Magi Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar; the Armenian Catholics give them the names of Kagba, Badadilma, etc.; and the Syrians, Larvandad, Hormisdas, Gushnasaph, and so forth up to twelve.

There is the same divergence of opinion about the star which the Magi followed. Some writers hold that it was miraculous; others hold that it was probably an extraordinary conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and another heavenly body. The astronomer Kepler calculated that such a conjunction occurred in 7 and 6 B.C.

By their contact with the Jews the Persian astrologers may have been looking forward to the coming of the Messias, the savior of the world. In their religion they believed that each person on earth was represented by his star in heaven. A most unusual sign in the sky would thus signify to them that the long-expected savior had come, and they would naturally go to the Jewish capital, Jerusalem, to find the exact spot where according to the Jewish prophets the Messias would be born.

For our sketch of the life of the Holy Family a most interesting feature of the story of the Magi is St. Matthew's incidental comment, "And entering the house, they found the Child with Mary his mother" (Matt. 2:11). This seems to indicate that Christ was born in the stable only because of dire necessity. The Holy Family moved as soon as possible to a permanent residence in Bethlehem.

The Magi presented gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Throughout the centuries spiritual writers have made much of the symbolic nature of these presents, but in reality the Magi probably had no idea when they set out on their journey that Christ was God. He would, they thought, be a great man, a savior of his people and of the world, perhaps a powerful conqueror. Accordingly, he deserved the gifts befitting nobility.

It is more than a mere possibility that at the moment the visitors paid their homage to the infant King, a special grace illumined their souls, and they realized that their Creator lay before them, God in human form. The Magi were men of good will. They followed their conscience in what it told them was good and noble, and for this fidelity God was not to be outdone in generosity. He repaid them lavishly here on earth. They were the first Gentiles, representing the entire world, to behold the Redeemer. From this contact with the very source of divine grace they must have won for themselves eternal life in its fullness.

With us, too, God will not be outdone in generosity. Even though we are obliged to obey His commandments by reason of the fact that we are His creatures, in His goodness He will reward us for our fidelity as if we were doing Him a favor. Actually, because He is infinite, He needs nothing. By a triumph of His creative power He brought us out of nothingness, endowed with a free will. In other words He made us such faithful images of Himself that we have something to give Him freely and thus be repaid bountifully.

Of course, our complete reward will not come until we have passed from this life of testing and pilgrimage into the life where the obscurity of faith is removed. Nevertheless, occasions usually occur faintly foreshadowing the munificence with which God will treat us.

You yourself must certainly recall some instance when you were praying for a great favor, some spiritual or temporal grace which you needed urgently and which seemed to be for the good of your soul and body. The favor was granted--and at that moment a spirit of thanksgiving overwhelmed you which made you feel that all the fidelity on your part was as nothing to make you worthy of receiving such a gift. God showed that He would not be outdone in generosity. Yet an experience of this sort can be at best an inadequate preview of the supernatural reward God has promised to those who love Him.

If it were possible to feel shame in heaven, all of us would blush to the roots when we shall see with our own eyes so much from God in return for so little from us. That is why in this present moment we should build our "little" as high as possible, by giving back to our Creator the free will He bestowed on us, by the tribute of our faith in His word, our trust in His promises, our love of His goodness.

As was mentioned in an earlier chapter, this course is not easy to follow when difficulties and discouragement come into your life. It is, however, at such a time that you can merit most, for you draw more on your love in making an act of faith in God's goodness when bereavement or misfortune strikes. When your temporal fortunes are at high tide, it is easy to be strong in faith.

By way of habit you ought to remember in times of evident blessing and prosperity that other times will come when you will not see so clearly that God is still directing your life. The words of Holy Scripture describe this attitude accurately: "If we have received good things from the hand of God, why should we not receive evil? The Lord has given. and the Lord has taken away; as it has pleased the Lord, so is it done. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 2:10; 1:21).

This is the attitude of absolutely unshakable trust in God that brings down His superabundant blessings. God knows in His wisdom why He permits or sends what He does. We do not grasp these reasons, for our minds cannot comprehend the plans of creation which God has formulated from all eternity and which He is carrying out in time by means of His benign providence. We can, however, have the stanchest conviction that everything God does is for our good. With that attitude we rest content, leaving all our affairs in His hands.

"God will never be outdone in generosity"--that is the principle without exception, ever true. Sometimes you will hear complaints, or perhaps you yourself may be tempted to complain against God's justice. You read of a lifelong criminal reared in the slums, led astray in his earliest years by hardened sinners, excelling in works of evil, and in the end dying miserably without remorse or the least preparation for eternity. Someone will say, "But the poor man never had a chance! Why should he be damned?"

The answer is simple. We do not know that he is damned. God alone is aware of the state of that man's soul at the moment it appeared for judgment. We must, therefore, completely reserve all judgment on our part.

A related case of this sort actually happened in one of our large cities, except that the criminal in question was baptized and received into the Church minutes before his death. Here the objection was not that the unfortunate fellow had lost his soul, for according to all external signs he saved it: but good Catholics were heard to complain that such a last-minute conversion was unfair to the faithful souls who had frequented the sacraments, performed arduous works of charity, and had in the words of the parable of the workers in the vineyard, "borne the heat of the day."

It is correct doctrine that Baptism remits all temporal as well as eternal punishment, so that this particular criminal, dying immediately after Baptism, probably was received directly into heaven. On the other hand, so the complaint ran, the devoted Catholic, baptized in infancy, can die in the grace of God after a lifetime of service, yet some temporal punishment for forgiven mortal and venial sins can well remain, calling for purification in purgatory. "How can God be less fair, less generous?"

Again the answer must be: "Reserve judgment!" God has His own way of evening all scores. Here on earth we see only part of the pattern of His providence. In the next life we shall see it all, and one of the greatest joys of heaven will be the answer to this problem. We shall behold the picture of all creation moving before our eyes, and all along it we shall see that justice and mercy have both triumphed, and God's generosity has always surpassed by far the generosity of the noblest of His creatures.

In your own life the application is evident. If from your experience thus far you think God is treating you stingily your judgment is wrong. Perhaps you are the one at fault as far as stingy treatment is concerned. If, however, you are doing your best, the best that is in you, wait at least until the moving picture of your life is over. You will have all eternity to decide who has been more generous-- you or your Creator. Until then, wait! From the Magi you can learn that you will receive a reward tremendously greater than you expected.

The visit of the Magi to the Infant Jesus has, however, a lesson equally as impressive as that of God's generosity. Theirs was the occasion of the first "Epiphany," the "showing-forth" of the Saviour to the Gentile world which the Magi represented. In the early Church this feast, celebrated on January 6, rivaled and surpassed December 25 in liturgical importance (as it still does). The Christians of the first centuries considered the day of Christ's manifestation to the whole world even more momentous than the day of His birth.

We in our twentieth century cannot easily understand how exclusive the worship of God in the Old Testament had been. The Hebrews were the Chosen People, and to them God confided the revelation of the one true God and the promise of the Redeemer to come. The Jews thus became a people set apart. Theirs was not the mission primarily to spread Jewry to the ends of the earth as the one and the only permanent religion. They were to preserve their heritage free from the abominations of the idolatry practiced by their pagan neighbors. They were to make converts if possible, but even here they were warned against the possibility of being corrupted (as history shows they repeatedly were corrupted) by the example of those with whom they came in contact. Fundamentally, they were to keep pure the worship of the one true God in preparation for the Messias who would make all things new. All this led to the mistaken notion that exclusiveness was an essential feature of the Kingdom of God.

With the appearance of Christ all was changed. The years of promise were over, and the religion Jesus instituted was not to be a religion restricted to any one people or race or land. It was to be truly catholic. "Catholic" means universal, and universal means that it was to be made up of everyone everywhere. The Magi represented the multitudes of the Gentiles who were to accept the new faith when the Chosen People rejected their chance to be the first-fruits of Christ's redemption.

That is why the visit of the Magi teaches the universality of the good tidings of Jesus Christ. The allness of the Church means that no one in the Church is permitted to treat any human (any potential member of the Church) in such a way as to deprive him of his basic human rights.

All men have immortal souls, for whose salvation Christ died as much as for your own soul. The universality of Christ's redemption and of His Church brings before us a sharp conclusion: in God's sight there does not exist any inferior race or inferior people, and we are positively in the wrong and may be sinning against charity and justice if we treat any person unfairly because of his nationality, racial stock, or color.

If we were to act thus, Mary and Joseph would be the first to reprehend us. At Bethlehem there were no sharp looks at a skin darkened by the sun of another land, no curt snubs given in return for sincere good will, no condescension as to inferiors. None of these--for Joseph as head of the Holy Family was a just man, and Joseph knew that all men were sons of the same God, brothers in His creation. He understood that the Infant had come to save all men with no color-line distinction. Joseph treated the Magi for what they were, potential heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven, just as he and Mary were, with all the rights of human beings.

Or did Mary refuse to put the Babe into their arms to let them adore Him as grace told them who He was? The answer is given by the shrines of Our Lady in every corner of the earth. There are madonnas that are Chinese and Mexican and Negro and French and Bohemian and Italian. In every land the Mother of God extends her universal welcome.

If prejudice and early training or an unfortunate incomplete experience with a racial or national minority tend to make us forget the Church Universal, we have only to look at the Magi scene and then thank God that we were not the ones excluded on that day in Bethlehem. Had Christianity been reserved for the Jews alone (who after all, despite shortcomings preserved the knowledge of the true God and fought and died for it throughout so many centuries), would our supercilious treatment of other peoples still remain in us?

Again, it is this same St. Joseph, leading the foreign Magi to the Mother and Son who is Patron of the Universal Church. The Church is Christ's family, and all of its members are His brothers because He has adopted them as His own in a special way. Mary is its mother, for Jesus gave her to us when He gave her to St. John on Calvary. And Joseph. the foster father and protector of Jesus, thus becomes truly the father and protector of all the Church-- everyone, everywhere.

The Magi "found the Child with Mary his mother." Wherever we seek the Child, we, too, will find Him with Mary His mother. Our best guide to Mary in turn is St. Joseph, he who loves her more than any other creature and who is loved by her to the same degree.

Familiarity dulls our perception. We hear so often of the unsurpassable holiness of the Mother of God that its magnificent attractiveness escapes us. Mary is one of ourselves, with a character so sweet that we cannot imagine its full tenderness.

Her maternal compassion for all in this life is unbounded. Particularly will she aid mothers in their needs, for understanding what it means to be a mother she understands how to love as a mother. To those who are making an effort to carry out the law of God in their lives she is ever gracious. Even to hardened and blinded sinners she is always the mother, seeking her lost children.

In temptation, in difficulties of all sorts, go to Mary through Joseph. Mary will answer in some way or other every petition addressed to her. This is so certain that the Church has approved and indulgenced St. Bernard's prayer, called the Memorare from its first word in Latin: "Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that any one who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence I fly to thee, O virgin of virgins, my mother. To thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me, Amen."

You will never fail to obtain the peace of Christ through your prayer to Mary, for in every instance you will find the Child with Mary His mother.


THE rest of the story of the Magi is well known: how Herod jealously tried to trap Jesus in order to kill Him, and how God in His providence warned the Magi not to return to Herod to tell him the whereabouts of the Babe. Herod made another attempt to murder Jesus, even at the cost of massacring the boys of Bethlehem (of whom there must have been at most forty "two years old or under"). But again the crafty monarch was thwarted, for "when the Magi had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, saying, `Arise, and take the Child and his mother and flee into Egypt, and remain there until I tell thee. For Herod will seek the Child to destroy him.' So he arose and took the Child and his mother by night, and withdrew into Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod" (Matt. 2:13-14).

Because of the necessity of secrecy Joseph probably did not lead Jesus and Mary to the coast and then southward along it to Egypt; that route was too well traveled. Choosing the more difficult way, he went directly south in order to cross Palestine's boundaries as soon as possible. The legends locate the Egyptian home in Memphis, but it seems more likely that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph settled in the Jewish colony at Alexandria. Their trip from Bethlehem took at least twelve days and was about 350 miles long. As on that earlier trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Mary rode on an ass, but now she was holding Jesus in her arms while Joseph trudged alongside.

Since the Holy Family stayed in Egypt until after Herod's death (which occurred in 4 B.C.), their exile probably lasted about four years--from 6 to 3 or 2 B.C.

In our past glimpses of the life of the Holy Family we have had several occasions to point out the workings of God's providence in directing their course. In all the infancy and hidden life of Christ the story of the flight into Egypt teaches more forcibly than any other incident that God's ways are not man's ways, and that God in the end always obtains His purposes despite the deliberate attempts of man to frustrate His designs.

Herod was determined to murder the Infant. He craftily plotted in secrecy; God made use of extraordinary means to bring into the open Herod's hidden designs. The cruel monarch ordered a mass bloody execution; again God, without any great effort on His part (as it would seem to us), removed the Child Jesus and His mother safely from the clutches of the tyrant. Except for the angel's warning to Joseph, no special miracle was involved.

If we marvel at God's providence at work ("providence" means "seeing before," "planning ahead"), equally must we marvel at Joseph's obedience. Here is the perfect example of a creature's cooperation with the plan of his Creator. Joseph did not know the future. God alone knew what He was going to accomplish. Joseph blindly obeyed the angel, realizing that eventually he would see that this plan of action was the best because it had been ordered by God. Was it easy for him to act thus--or is it ever easy to act on blind faith in God's promises? If it were, the good Lord would hardly have rewarded His loved ones so munificently for their faith.

All through His life Jesus seemed to place a high premium on people's faith in Him and in His divine mission. He knew that they were acting against the sense of pride and material self- sufficiency which dictates, "I know what is best, I have intelligence enough to judge what is good for myself, and I believe no more than I see!"

So often our Lord's words dealt with faith and its reward. "Thy faith hath made thee whole." "Amen, I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel." "Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believed." "If you have faith like a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, `Remove from here,' and it will remove." "Woman, great is thy faith. Let it be done to thee as thou wilt." Always, the Sacred Heart of Jesus responded most warmly to the persons who had faith in Him, who trusted Him, who believed His words and His prophecies, even though they did not perceive at the moment how He would accomplish His ends.

We can well understand, then, with what joy the eyes of the Babe looked up at St. Joseph and saw him obeying promptly without a word of complaint or questioning. The angel had said, "Take the Child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, for Herod will seek to destroy him." That was all Joseph needed. "He took the Child and his mother and withdrew into Egypt."

It is the contemplation of this scene that has brought so many great writers and preachers to point out the rich depths of Joseph's character. Knowing what we do of Christ's later appreciation of those persons who had faith in Him, we see now why the Babe beheld His foster father with special approval. In a human way we could venture that Joseph's faith was enough to make even God marvel and say, "Truly have I selected a remarkable man to be my foster father on earth, a worthy companion and husband for Mary-- the wife who had heard from the lips of Elizabeth, that blessed was she who had believed, because the things promised her by the Lord should be accomplished."

However, our admiration of the workings of God's providence and of Joseph's faith and obedience must not stop at mere admiration. Practically, in our own lives we must apply the lessons before us. We must draw strength from the manner in which God justified His wisdom. Difficult times can easily occur when our trust in His providence will be sorely tried. On such occasions we will need all the strength we now have, and perhaps more. God for His part will give us sufficient grace; nonetheless, the struggle can be most difficult, and sometimes the outcome will remain long in the balance.

To understand God's providence completely is impossible, as we have commented so often. God is infinite, our minds are finite. Here on this earth we cannot see the why and the wherefore of all events because we do not see the whole picture. But for God everything is one eternal present. Before Him lies all creation, from its beginning to its end. He beholds good rewarded, evil punished, and His own justice and mercy vindicated. For us during the time of our pilgrimage and testing we are looking at only the reverse side of the tapestry of creation. Hence, our judgments about divine providence are of necessity woefully incomplete. There is one way of completing their evidence, and that is the way of faith.

On God's word we know that He is all-good, all-powerful, all-just, all-merciful. Nothing can happen in the world without His permission. We know, too, that He has created man with a free will. By this fact of creation He has implicitly pledged Himself not to interfere directly with the workings of that free will. He will help, He will coax, advise, admonish, but He will never force that will. Of course, we do not deny that there is a mystery here, for while man's free will ever works in full liberty despite the infinite power of God, nevertheless God's omnipotence somehow governs all things despite the freedom of man.

Joseph and Mary in their superlative sanctity trusted in God almost automatically. We, however, weak and inclined to sin, must study their reasons for such trust. We have to learn these reasons as a child learns his lessons at school, so that they will be at hand to strengthen us when trials come. At the moment we obey God's providence, at the moment we trust in His goodness, we will be using the same motives Joseph and Mary used in their marvelous obedience: God is all-good and will never permit us to be tempted beyond our strength.

Our vision on earth is always hampered unless we remember that temporal and created things are only means to our salvation. Life here simply is not the final goal. If it were, death would be the greatest tragedy possible.

After we have done our best, if the cross enters our lives, our attitude should be something of this sort: "O my God, I know from my faith in Your word that You are all-good, all-merciful, and all- just. I know that this trial has come to me by Your own permission. I believe that You wish nothing but my happiness. I believe firmly that in the end, either in this life or in the next, I shall see how all this suffering is for my own good. Here and now, accepting all this on faith, I welcome what You are sending me. If I ask anything at all, it is for strength to bear this trial generously, without complaint. Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in thee!"

Is this apathy? Not at all. An apathetic man shrinks back and refuses to do anything to reject misfortune. He does not have even the positive reaction of accepting for God's sake a trial which he cannot avoid. Nor is this the stoicism of the old pagans or the spinelessness of the decrepit and debasing religions of the Orient. Active conformity to God's will elevates human nature, enlightens it, lifts it to the level of the divine plan. Although you yourself do not know the exact reason why God desires this or that course in your regard, you are willing that it come to you because you know that the good Lord has chosen it for you. Relying on His word, you accept it willingly. Such trust can reach the heroic.

This trust in Divine Providence is not a substitute for personal effort. Only after we have done all we can, may we leave ourselves in God's hands complacently. In such an event our trust will never be fruitless.

Perhaps you can see from all these considerations why the Church has richly indulgenced the act of resignation to death: "O my God, I accept gladly and calmly whatever death it may please Thee to send me with its pain, anguish, and suffering." To make this act of resignation--or better still, should we not call it an act of conformity?--to make it only once during a lifetime is sufficient to gain a plenary indulgence at the hour of death provided we have confessed our sins, received Communion, and prayed for the intention of the Holy Father at the time we say the prayer.

As a daily habit, offer yourself to Divine Providence every morning. If in advance you accept what God will send for the day, you will be ready in advance. Your strength to bear the light crosses and trials--as well as the occasional heavy ones--will be increased a hundredfold. The offering is simple. It can be made at home in a moment, on a busy street corner, anywhere, anytime. "My God, I accept whatever cross and death it may please Thee to send me, whatever you send this very day." And why? "...for love of Thee."

There is the great motive: "for love of Thee." Your faith has flowered into love, for in making the act of loving conformity to God's will, you are making at the same time a deep act of faith such as Christ rewarded in all His dear ones. You are trusting the good Lord for all the strength necessary. You have no fear that you will be "snowed under" by troubles.

As we have already insisted, people fear that God will take advantage of their generosity if they explicitly accept what He will send them. No! In the ordinary case they undergo the same trials they would have encountered in any event. The only difference is that they themselves are changed: now no longer complaining or reluctant, but actively conformed to God's will.

This conformity does not mean that you must feel perfectly calm and happy in your knowledge that you are doing what God wants you to do. The mistake of assuming that feelings are the will is only too common. To put the matter simply, what you deliberately desire is the product of your will, a rational faculty. What you feel is the product of your sense nature.

It is a fact of experience that we do not have complete dominion over our sense nature. Feelings come unwanted and remain even after we wish to be rid of them. In the moral order this rebellion of our sense desires against our intellectual nature is called "concupiscence." Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were free from concupiscence and had their feelings under perfect control. However, in our own case, because of original sin our sense nature is attracted to all sorts of objects no matter whether they are good or evil. This involuntary attraction is not formally sinful in the slightest degree. Only in an analogous sense can it be called sinful, for by its drawing power it acts as temptation that inclines men to sin.

What we say here of rebellious feelings not in conformity with God's will is equally true of temptations against faith or against purity. Your rule for judging such thoughts should be this: "Do I want to think of this or not?" If you can truthfully say that you do not want a rebellious, blasphemous, or unchaste thought--no matter how attractive it may feel--you need merely disregard the temptation, treating it with absolute contempt. Because of this disregard the feeling will usually disappear of its own accord because it ceases to receive attention.

In all matters of this kind it is essential to draw your attention into some legitimate, interesting channel. You can easily perceive why it is dangerous to try to fight directly against thoughts of unchastity, complaints against God, or doubts against faith. The more attention you concede such thoughts, the stronger they are to tempt you. That is why the discreet and actually the braver method of action is to conquer them by flight. The testimony of psychologists is very clear: certain types of thoughts should be banished by oblique defense rather than frontal attack.

It is somewhat imprudent to judge yourself according to this norm: "Did I take pleasure in an illicit thought?" The difficulty in applying this standard to your conduct lies in your inability to find what degree of pleasure was voluntary, to what extent you perhaps consented to it. More safe and reliable is the rule we have already set down: "Did I want it or not?"

Perhaps this further consideration of judging our thoughts seems to have taken us far afield from our glimpse of Joseph's perfect conformity to God's will. In reality we have been considering explicitly all that would be implicitly included in Joseph's method of acting. Since Joseph was so great a saint, he obeyed God in complete peace of heart. We, however, must take more elementary means which Joseph in his heights of generosity did not have to employ, in order to keep our service of God from becoming a burden which it should not be. In St. Paul's words, our service should be reasonable.

All the generosity in the world will be of little avail if we fail to use prudent helps. Our service of God can and should be made at least as attractive as the sin and the selfishness which attempt to draw our hearts with the alluring glitter of their fool's gold.

For example, in the very instance of conformity with God's will which we have been considering, let us suppose that you begin bravely to accept every incident God permits to befall you. While following your high ideals in yeoman fashion, rebellious thoughts of one sort or another come into your mind. If you thereupon stop all your progress and concentrate on obliterating these thoughts (out of a mistaken notion that by direct attack you could be free of them), the struggle is exhausting. It would eventually become so one sided that your entire campaign of following God's will in your daily life would be discarded out of discouragement and disgust. On the other hand, sheer contempt and lack of notice of such temptations would prevent their further effectiveness against you.

Very often the devil does not use violent temptations against good folk who try to serve God as best they can. Such people are too generous, too alert, to fall into an open pit. But they are a prey to a snare--discouragement; and the best hook on which to hang discouragement (as Satan knows from long experience with the human race) is the idea of failure.

On the road to Egypt Joseph might have given in to this discouragement as a result of his apparent failure. After all, who was he? What success had he achieved? God had chosen him to be the foster father of Jesus Christ, God made Man. He was the husband and the guardian of the virgin Mother of God; but to correspond with that dignity what had he accomplished? He was only a carpenter in moderate circumstances at best. When Jesus was born, he could offer Him not even moderate comfort. For some reason or other, despite his best efforts he could find only a stable for the Christ Child.

He was a member of the Holy Family, that was true. Was he worthy to be the foster father of God Incarnate or the husband of the Blessed Virgin, of her who was chosen to be the Mother of God? Amid such sanctity any human being might feel that he is the worst sinner or at least potentially the most craven of souls. And, of all things, Joseph had authority over these two holiest! He, the carpenter of Nazareth, had been made the head of this Holy Family, and he was only Joseph, a failure.

Of course Joseph did not reason in this fashion. He could have done so had he been like ourselves. In these reasonings of false humility we see the virus of discouragement grow out of the thought of failure. In God's eyes there is only one kind of grave failure, and that failure is the loss of one's soul. If you save your soul, you are essentially a success. In God's sight, no matter how you may have failed in temporalities, you are a success.

In advising someone else it is a very simple thing to dispose of the problem of failure by saying that faintheartedness comes from wounded pride, and that discouragement could be avoided if one were perfectly humble. But it is an entirely different matter to feel in yourself the crippling, crushing burden that weighs down your heart and converts every sweet joy and pleasure into galling reminders of apparently unattainable happiness and satisfaction.

The reasons can be so many. A man starts early in life to found a business. It fails. A woman enters on a promising marriage. She meets sickness, estrangement, or worse. Parents may sacrifice everything they have and everything they are for the sake of their children. The children callously run off into wild, unhappy marriages or lose the faith. All such tragedies cut down the promise of a lifetime at its root and seem to spell but one word: failure.

Of course these are not ordinary occurrences, and they will probably never happen in your life; but you ought to remember the attitude Jesus and Mary and Joseph would have in order to help other people in difficult situations of this type. By means of your warmhearted sympathy you can bring comfort and consolation to those in distress or bereavement, and you can thus accomplish a vast amount of good as an instrument of God's mercy and love.

Most people occasionally feel they are failures in the little things of life, such as the constant monotony of working for years without promotion, or simply the humdrum raising of a family. Yet as we have repeatedly insisted, this so-called humdrum raising of a family can be a very holy, happy experience; and the spirit of faith and unselfishness in family life is lavishly rewarded by the love and gratitude it evokes in others.

For some persons the idea of failure occurs in their spiritual life. They have been waging a gallant struggle against strong temptation or a strong habit which they never completely overcome. After months and years of successfully making more and more progress, they still feel discouraged. The thought strikes them, "Why try any more? You're still tempted. You're a failure."

To such false reasonings there is only one answer needed, just as Joseph would have answered the false difficulties put to him on the road to Egypt: "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee." The fact is that temptation in itself is never sinful. To resist temptation steadfastly is a great virtue. Perseverance in doing good should have but one result--buoyant inspiration and zest for the future.


"BUT when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, `Arise, take the Child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who sought the Child's life are dead.' So he arose and took the Child and his mother and went into the land of Israel. But hearing that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there; and being warned in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee. And he went and settled in a town called Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong. He was full of wisdom and the grace of God was upon him" (Matt. 2:19-23; Luke 2:40).

It is quite noteworthy that Joseph carefully studied the political conditions of Judea before he settled there with his two charges. Finding the reign of Archelaus potentially as dangerous as that of his father Herod, Joseph decided not to reside in Bethlehem but to travel eighty miles farther north to Nazareth in Galilee, which was under different rule. His actions confirm our previous estimate of his great character--a character prudent, brave, trusting in God's word, yet not presuming that miracles would occur when human foresight and initiative would be sufficient to protect the life of the Christ Child.

We can hardly make the same claim for ourselves in our own lives. When problems arise that call for immediate adjustment, we pray to God for help, almost expecting miracles to solve our difficulties. Of course, the spirit of faith and trust in God that such prayer indicates is highly laudable; and if our prayer is sincere, God will infallibly help us in one way or another. The point to remember, however, is that God in His wisdom has chosen a certain order of providence. The events which we call "ordinary" in this present order would be most stupendous miracles if God had chosen to run this world according to a different plan. Because they happen every day, we often fail to see how unswervingly they point to the wisdom and love of the Creator.

The sun, for instance, rises and sets daily with precision more perfect than that of any clock; and this precision affects not only our one sun with its system of planets and its moon, but the entire vast universe with its thousands of such suns already known to us and its possible billions of which we know nothing. And all these bodies whirl in space so far extended that its huge dimensions lose meaning for our minds.

You yourself speak with a fluent tongue resulting partially from a wonderful system of nervous telegraphy in your body. You present a pleasing appearance because of the health maintained in you by an automatic chemical equilibrium that is far more delicate and self-adjusting than anything possible in our best-equipped laboratories. You work with a stamina governed by the minute secretions of glands whose intricate internal structure and operations are still largely a scientific mystery.

In other words God has chosen a certain order and kind of events within which He is exercising His omnipotence. He wishes us to utilize the facilities which we find at hand in this order. Only as a means of convincing incredulous human nature (and for reasons He alone fully comprehends) will He interfere with the order He has established.

The lesson is simple, yet so hard to learn for all of us. It is the lesson Jesus, Mary, and Joseph have exemplified throughout: Pray as if all depended on your prayers, and cooperate with your prayer by working as if all depended on your work. Nor should you be surprised when your prayer will be answered--most likely in an ordinary way!

Such are our thoughts as we travel north with the Holy Family toward Nazareth. The years of exile are over, and now the Three are returning to the spot which for thirty years will witness the hidden life of the God of all creation. It will be a quiet life of obscurity, so overwhelmingly ordinary as to convince even the most skeptical that Christ actually did come on earth to redeem and to teach the ordinary man and woman, the "man on the street."

Of the period of the hidden life we are told only one incident-- touching, human, yet veiled with mystery--the loss of Jesus in the Temple, and His painful separation from Joseph and Mary.

"His parents were wont to go every year to Jerusalem at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the Feast" (Luke 2:41-43).

It was a custom for Joseph and Mary to make the yearly trip to the Temple at Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. Whether or not they took Jesus with them on each occasion we do not know. However, since their Son's obligations as a Jew would formally begin with His twelfth, or as others claim with His thirteenth year, they brought Him with them on this occasion which St. Luke describes, to perform His duties as a faithful Jew, or else at least to familiarize Him with these obligations.

It may appear puzzling why Jesus, God Himself, would have to be familiarized with the duties of a faithful Jew. Did He not know all things?

As God, indeed, Jesus had infinite knowledge, and as man He received abundantly all infused knowledge He would need for His mission here. However, in addition to this, He willed to be educated and to learn by experience just like every other ordinary person. His purpose was always the same: to be as much like us as possible.

"And after they had fulfilled the days, when they were returning, the boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know it. But thinking he was in the caravan, they had come a day's journey before it occurred to them to look for him among their relatives and acquaintances" (Luke 2:43, 44).

Mary and Joseph committed no fault of carelessness in losing Jesus. For one thing, as He was to say Himself, He willed to remain in Jerusalem as the Eternal Father willed Him to do. Moreover, at the Passover it was customary for the Jewish boys to be grouped in a sort of catechism class. When their caravan would be due to leave the Holy City, they might travel together just as their fathers and mothers traveled in separate groups. After the slow first day's ride the family groups would reunite at evening at the first khan or caravansary several miles outside of Jerusalem. It was here that Mary met Joseph. Jesus was not to be found.

We can hardly realize how much Joseph and Mary suffered at this moment. In our own lives we question God if He sends us suffering; but can we ever wonder and complain at our lot after we see here the two holiest of God's creatures being given a cup of sorrow directly from the hand of their loving Son, God Incarnate? From the depths of His own love for Mary and Joseph, Jesus willed to remain in the Temple, knowing the agony which He would cause His parents. There was a higher obedience here which Jesus respected.

Joseph and Mary remembered what the inspired prophets had written. The Messias, the Saviour of the world, was to be a man of sorrows, and He was to redeem mankind by means of suffering. But Joseph and Mary were not God; and from every indication given us by the Gospels, they themselves were not apprised of the exact future, the moment when their Son would lay down His life for His adopted brothers.

The two loved Him as their Son with the love of parents. They loved Him as their God as only the two peerless saints of all ages could love Him. Nonetheless, they were always still His creatures, and they recognized their position perfectly. For all that Mary and Joseph were aware, the time for the Redemption might have arrived. Perhaps at this very moment Jesus was being subjected to the indignities and vicious attacks that were to make Him "despised and the most abject of men." His parents could not deny that they had lost Him through no fault of their own, but they always felt themselves as the two to whom He had been entrusted.

No exile was hard, no poverty was grinding no suffering counted for anything as long as they possessed Jesus. He was the light of their lives around whom their love centered in a manner which ordinary parents' love for their children only faintly shadows. Now Jesus was gone, and terrible loneliness set in for these two hearts. It was a darkness the extent of which we cannot measure unless we compare it with the greatest of all lonelinesses which Jesus was to let Himself experience in the agony in Gethsemani and during the three hours on the cross.

And yet how all this suffering bound Joseph to Mary and Mary to Joseph! Before, they had been united closely, as closely as possible. Now, that "possible" was increased by this suffering together. They were one as they otherwise never could have been. At this moment of desolation, with Jesus gone--they knew not where or why or how--they had only each other.

In our own day we often pray to our Blessed Mother and offer her our sympathy in this dolor.

What is our sympathy compared to that of Mary's husband? Do we realize what Joseph meant to Mary in that moment of anguish? His was the heart most closely attuned to hers, emptied of self-love in its love for her. How true it is that God, even while He permits or sends the bitterest suffering, sweetens it with some consolation to make it easier to bear! In this case, when the presence of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was withdrawn from Mary, the heart that comforted her was, after her own, the heart closest to Him whom she had lost.

Suffering is like a powerful drug. Bringing out all the nobility of the human soul, it can bind husband and wife (just as it bound Mary and Joseph) more closely than all the love of prosperous times. On the other hand, if accepted with bitterness and resentment, it acts as a force to separate even the closest of hearts and to expose the selfishness and cowardice that all of us know lie hidden in our hearts.

In your own experience you have undoubtedly witnessed the tenderness of a generous husband toward a sickly wife. Perhaps you have heard a widow courageously tell of her satisfaction that she was the one who was left behind to fight life's battles, because her "George" or "Bill" or "Tom" could never have fought alone if she had been the one who was taken first by death.

These are the people who in this twentieth century mirror in their lives the mutual support and affection that Joseph and Mary shared on that evening two thousand years ago, when clammy fear gripped Our Lady's heart and troubled the deep calm that had characterized Joseph's conduct in every previous trial.

"And it came to pass after three days that they found him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who were listening to him were amazed at his understanding, and his answers. And when they saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, `Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold, thy father and I have been seeking thee sorrowing.' And he said to them, `How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?' And they did not understand the word that he spoke to them" (Luke 2:46-50) . If Joseph and Mary did not understand at that time the meaning of this desolation, their loss of their dearly beloved Son, how can we expect to do so now? We reverently wait in patience, knowing that one day in heaven we shall understand (as they already have understood) how and why God sent this cross to bless those whom He loved most. Together with Joseph and Mary, we can say that this is our mystery also.

We do, however, learn this with certainty: Jesus evidently willed to separate Himself from His parents to show us that God's will must come first, above all human ties, even if the preference will cause pain. If the loss in the Temple had never occurred, we in our day might have said, "God willed something in my life which was a source of much pain to me. Was it a punishment of sin? Or am I one of the unlucky ones who are not favorites of the Almighty as were Joseph and Mary?"

Now we cannot have even a pretense of justification for our complaint. The so-called favorites of the Almighty are not wrapped in heavenly bliss during their lives on earth. They have been subjected to obedience to the will of God not only as much as, but tremendously more than we have ever been or shall be. Jesus wished to indicate that His mission on earth was more important than His tenderest and closest ties. Years later, in the Garden of Gethsemani, He would show that His mission was--in a certain sense--even more important than any other consideration in His life: "Father, not My will but Thine be done!"

The conduct of Joseph and Mary is a good example for all parents to follow when they discern the seeds of a priestly or religious vocation in their children. Mary and Joseph perceived that Jesus had reasons of His own for bringing about the temporary separation, painful though it might be; but those reasons were God's reasons, and it was not in the province of His creatures, even the two closest to the Creator, to dispute them.

Mother and father will discern that their children have reasons of their own for wishing to leave home, and if those reasons are based on the desire to devote their lives entirely to the service of God, mother and father, like Mary and Joseph, will wholeheartedly acquiesce.

Ordinarily, good Catholic parents will make no objection when their children find suitable partners and leave home life to found a family of their own. It is painfully surprising that sometimes these same parents are the most reluctant to permit their sons and daughters to take up lives consecrated to God in the seminary or convent. One of the most common and most shallow of arguments used to dissuade such vocations is the fallacy that the close ties of family life will thus be sundered irrevocably. Actually, a strange paradox occurs. In the religious and priestly life spiritual bonds unite parents and children much more strongly than did the former links of home life. In the case of those children who choose marriage, the objection is not made; yet it is of the very nature of married life that husband and wife relinquish their dependent connections with father and mother in order to devote themselves entirely to each other and to the home of which they are now the new founders.

In the ideal Catholic home parents pray that God will call at least one of their progeny to His service. The honor of serving God specially by His own invitation is an honor bestowed on the whole family. In such a family the entire atmosphere is favorable to the development of a vocation, but at the same time there is no "forcing" of a son to look toward the priesthood or of a daughter to desire convent life.

All imprudent and reprehensible urgings of an overfond parent are definitely out of place in a case where the children themselves evince no desire to follow Christ's call. They probably have not been called. Moreover, a vocation to the priesthood or to religious life as a lay brother or a nun is an invitation, not a command. To repeat: the proper attitude is neither to exert undue influence where the vocation does not exist, nor to attempt to discourage it where it does exist.

If, however, hindrances are placed in the children's way, they can well reply in the words of the boy Christ that they "must be about their Father's business." A higher call has come to them, and no one has the right to interfere. In cases where interference does occur from an importunate parent, selfishly wishing to monopolize the child's affection for a lifetime, it can often be traced to the lack of realization that the years of helpless infancy and childhood are over. The once dependent boys and girls are now entering on their own lives, and they begin to possess their own rights.

As parents, there should be no regret on your part that the children have at last arrived at the age of choosing their state in life. This is the time when the grandeur of your vocation as parents is ripening into full maturity. In earlier years you were sowing the seeds of your children's character by the good example and the training you gave them. Now you have the opportunity of seeing your efforts rewarded. If your son seeks the priesthood, if your daughter wishes to enter the convent, you have the joy of knowing that you have been instrumental in helping to bring forth another life consecrated to the service of God. On the other hand, if your children enter married life, your happiness will be full provided that you have given your own example of holy married life to stand out in their minds as the ideal they wish to imitate directly.

All these considerations look only to the present life. The ultimate norm is eternity. The manner in which you raised your children can be judged correctly in the light of what you did to assist them to save their souls. You have a special interest in those souls. By your own action you cooperated with God's own creative power. At the moment of conception God cooperated with your parental act to create and infuse those immortal souls whose destiny you were to influence. There was the essential dignity of your parenthood. Its corresponding responsibility was to mold and guide these children entrusted to you. Why, then, should you feel regret and sorrow if you see the members of your family embarking on careers that are likely to bring them safely into their eternal destiny? The only possible regret and worry would be in the event that by your own negligence your children's salvation would be seriously imperiled.

In another fashion the stewardship of parents may be terminated by the angel of death, taking one of their charges prematurely. It is pitiful to behold the broken hearts of fathers and mothers who have lost children in infancy or at any time before adult life has been reached. By all means it is a most difficult cross, but their sorrow should be softened and sweetened by thoughts such as those on which we have been reflecting. God, the loving Master, has seen fit to take an account of His stewards earlier than ordinary. The child was entrusted to his Catholic father and mother to be prepared for eternity, as every child is entrusted. God has taken him to heaven perhaps before the inevitable frailties of human nature could tarnish the freshness of the gift of sanctifying grace he received in Baptism.

As for the parents, their work is done with regard to their youngster. They can look forward now to a family in two worlds, represented by a saint in heaven praying for his brothers and sisters and father and mother still on earth.

These are not merely comforting thoughts enunciated here for the solace they impart. They participate in the absolute truth of our faith, and they are not true because they are comforting, but they are comforting because they are true. Bereaved parents can look to the bereavement of Joseph and Mary as they seek Jesus in the courts of the Temple. From Joseph and Mary they will receive the peace of Christ, and solace and hope in the day when once again their family like the Holy Family shall know the satisfying joy of reunion--reunion in God.


"AND he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them; and his mother kept all these things carefully in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and men" (Luke 2:51-52).

Jesus returns with His parents to Nazareth, and Holy Scripture draws a veil over the hidden life of the next nearly twenty years. The Son of God faces the vast task of redeeming the world. At the same time with the purpose of being our perfect model He chooses to live a life of obscurity, prayer, and obedience amid the drab monotony of commonplace everyday life.

If we would ask a proof that Christ came on earth to teach us by His example, the hidden life at Nazareth should more than satisfy us. Very few people are in the limelight. Most of us find our lives extremely ordinary. Even the relatively few who mount to fame find that the glamour and the glory soon pass, and that their private lives are fundamentally just as obscure as those of the rest of their fellows.

Throughout His life on this earth Jesus was constantly making use of common things to teach us the ways of holiness. In the sacraments He elevated such everyday materials as water and oil and bread and wine into signs that impart the grace of God Himself. So, too, He did in the case of this most common of all commodities--obscurity. By taking on Himself an obscure life He wished to show all men that holiness was possible and was easily attainable in a life known only to God, hidden from the world, perhaps even despised by arrogant worldlings for its lowly seclusion.

Christ's obscurity, however, was not only that of an individual; it was also that of a family. Jesus recognized that a very small proportion of families would have to undergo persecution similar to that which beset the Holy Family in those early years, as when after the divinely foreseen circumstances of the Nativity and the visit of the Magi there followed the hostility of a jealous king, the need of flight to a strange land and exile there. Christ was aware of all this; and although the lessons of His first years were immensely valuable, nevertheless He willed to approach now closer to the life of the average family. He approximated this average life so closely that it would seem St. Luke finds nothing special to relate of it--no miracles, no preaching, no teaching of new and sublime doctrine, none of the intense martyrdom of suffering which the Passion and Crucifixion were later to bring.

How successfully Jesus, Mary, and Joseph played their part in the humdrum town life of Nazareth can be judged by the incredulous remarks of their neighbors when later they refused to believe in the divinity of Christ's mission. "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary?" (Matt. 13:55.)

What, then, does Christ's obscurity mean for us? It means that we are not to give up striving for a more perfect service of God merely because our life is ordinary, humble, average.

More important, however, must be our utilization of Christ's obscurity to resist temptations against trust in God as our loving Father. Such temptations cleverly allege, "You aren't anyone in particular--why should God care for you?--you don't have the great sanctity of Mary and Joseph and the saints--you are living in family life out in the world, not in a monastery or convent. Why do you think that Almighty God should have a special place in His heart for your concerns and your prayers?" The temptation is insidious. Worse still, it is very, very common. Only God knows whether or not it succeeds in preventing people who live in the world from loving Him trustingly and with an open heart.

Christ's obscurity brings to the fore one salient fact: the value of our life is measured only by what we are in God's sight--not by any human standard, not even by our "feelings" that we are more or less progressing in our religious duties. God alone sees our will. He alone knows our strength and the graces given to help us. He alone is aware of the full nature of the difficulties that beset us. Hence, He alone is capable of judging us worthy of reward or punishment. Fame in the world means absolutely nothing in itself with regard to our salvation and perfection. How we might use that fame is, of course, important; but whether or not we are known by millions or by a handful, our position in God's sight is shielded from the prying gaze of the world. For God our true value lies in the inner life of humility, patience, and the other virtues. This is the life hidden with Christ in God, ever to be cultivated and esteemed above all else.

The lesson of obscurity is not difficult to understand when applied in this manner to the difference between worldly and supernatural standards. More involved (because requiring more supernatural faith) is the application of obscurity to purely supernatural matters. For example, a great preacher works many conversions from his sermons; a radio orator succeeds in spreading universal good will toward the Church; deathbed repentances and conversions are multitudinous; huge numbers of people outside the Church die in apparent good faith, and in all likelihood have saved their souls by obeying God as their conscience indicated to them. Who prayed and worked and suffered for all this apostolic harvest? Christ's merits, of course, primarily brought it about; but cooperation with grace is also required, and in God's providence the grace to cooperate with another grace often seems to depend on the prayer or the good deed of some generous soul, offered for the purpose.

Do you see now what is meant by "supernatural obscurity"? You may be living your life in what you think is a very ordinary way. In God's sight, on the contrary, you are waging a courageous battle against temptation; you are fulfilling the duties of your state of life with superior fidelity; and in general you are consistently carrying out the two great commandments of love of God manifested in love of neighbor. What of the graces you are possibly winning for the spread of Christ's spiritual kingdom? The fact that you may be ignorant of their existence does not nullify their efficacy, nor does it make your actions less pleasing in God's sight. In this manner a life that exteriorly appears to be very ordinary and very average may in reality be highly effective in the supernatural order. This is the exercise of charity not merely for the good of the body but also for the benefit of the soul.

Christ our Lord referred to the reward awaiting charity when He described His position as judge at the great final Judgment: "Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked and you covered me; sick and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.

"Then the just will answer him, saying, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee; or thirsty, and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and take thee in; or naked, and clothe thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and come to thee?' And answering, the King will say to them, `Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me' " (Matt. 25:34-40).

Jesus revealed in these words how much good is accomplished without its recognition in this life. In the case of supernatural obscurity, where good deeds win graces for the spread of Christ's kingdom, the application is equally as strong as if those good deeds were done for the welfare of the bodies instead of the souls of others.

Another benefit to be derived from the sight of Christ's obscurity is a new motive against failure: a confidence that no failure can crush. If all our essential value lies only in what we are in God's sight, then what we are in the sight of the world means nothing in case we fail, even miserably. True, our feelings may perhaps react strongly, and our self-appreciation may decline because of our inability to establish ourselves in social or business prestige; but basically, deep down in our soul, we possess ourselves in peace.

We cannot lose our trust in God when we lose our fame or fortune, because we know invincibly that fame and fortune are worthless in God's reckoning. Men and women with no religion, with no faith in an all-good God who will never desert them or judge them unfairly- -these are the ones who, when temporal disaster crushes them, seek to compensate for their loss by temporarily drowning their sorrow in sin, or even by cutting off their existence in this world.

How different is the case with the person who recognizes his obscurity and perceives that his actual success is to be weighed by what God reads in his soul! A businessman of the author's acquaintance was an almost complete failure throughout his entire career. He died too penniless to be a bankrupt. Nonetheless, his was a holy death, for he had always striven to serve God and his fellow men, to be a faithful father and husband, a generous provider for his family. Financially he accomplished nothing. Again and again throughout the years his best efforts seemed to amount to a sort of anti-Midas touch that blighted and withered what had previously been successful business ventures. The secret of his constant confidence for the future, the hope that buoyed him up even in his darkest moments, was this knowledge that his conscience gave him: "What you are in God's sight, counts. What the world thinks you are, does not count. Try again. God knows you are trying, and that you are not succeeding, but it is for no selfishness or sin on your part. Try again." It was this supernatural faith and trust that not only bore up his morale but even saved his reason.

Such are the lessons of the obscurity of the hidden life. No matter what the conditions of your life may be, sanctify them by offering them to God Almighty as so many prayers of adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and petition. This, your "hidden life" on earth, will be the glorious life in God's sight which you will see credited as merit when your turn comes to stand before the tribunal of our blessed Lord.

Another great lesson of the Holy Family at Nazareth lay in the prayer they constantly practiced. Jesus, of course, was God, but in His created human nature He could and did pray to His Father.

We must always remember in speaking of Jesus that His Incarnation is a mystery of mysteries, second only to the fact of the Blessed Trinity in being august and unfathomable. by our intellects.

Jesus was divine, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and God by nature equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit. He united in Himself the nature of God and the nature of man. How this was accomplished we cannot understand. We simply know that it was done, and that it was by this means that He could pray to God His Father while being God Himself.

Since the Holy Family observed the Jewish law in its perfection, we can deduce quite accurately what prayers they recited. The Psalms, of course, were the favorites. Three times a day Jesus, Mary, and Joseph said the Tephillah, "The Prayer," consisting of eighteen long invocations and blessings. Joseph (and later Jesus when He attained to manhood) was obliged to say the Shema, a sort of profession of faith in the one true God, twice daily.

A very interesting Jewish custom of prayer that must have been observed in the house at Nazareth was that of the Mezuzah, "the doorpost," and the "phylacteries," small square calfskin boxes with Scripture texts written on parchment inside them.

One of these texts was part of the Shema that Joseph recited: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole strength. And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thy heart; and thou shalt tell them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping, and rising. And thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand, and they shall be, and shall move between thy eyes. And thou shalt write them in the entry, and on the doors of thy house" (Deut. 6:4-9).

This injunction was taken so literally that Jewish men would bind the phylacteries on the left arm and the forehead when saying the prescribed prayers. The Pharisees went much further and strictly enjoined the constant wearing of ornate phylacteries, but the common people (among whom St. Joseph would be counted) did not follow so strained and exaggerated an interpretation of Holy Scripture. Hence, Joseph probably wore them at prayer time alone.

On the doorpost of the house at Nazareth was fastened a wooden tube containing a rolled parchment inscribed with the passage quoted above from the Book of Deuteronomy and another passage (11:13-21) citing the blessings of serving God. On entering and leaving the house the members of the Holy Family would piously touch this Mezuzah, saying, "May God keep my going out and coming in from now on and forevermore." All this was intended to show reverence for the word of God.

Such was the vocal and the more or less formal prayer which Jesus, Mary, and Joseph offered in their home at Nazareth. In their hearts, however, they prayed always. Just as the Heart of Jesus was constantly united with His divinity, so were the hearts of Mary and Joseph so closely bound to God that their every action was a prayer.

"But," you say, "how did the Holy Family find time to be ordinary people, as their neighbors certainly understood them to be, if they were praying constantly?" The answer is better given by another question: Why should constant prayer make anyone less neighborly? As a matter of fact, the difficulty here rests on the false assumption that prayer necessarily entails many words, a long face, and an austere disposition.

This is only one of the popular misconceptions of the nature of prayer. As long as such false ideas might persist, it would be well- nigh useless to urge the imitation of the spirit of prayer that prevailed at Nazareth. For this reason and for the sake of encouraging and advancing those who already pray well, we must explain in some detail what is meant by genuine prayer.

Volumes have been written on how to pray, yet essentially everything they have expounded and everything we will describe here is based on the definition of prayer. In other words, if you are raising your heart and mind to God, you are praying. Whether you use words or not, whether you say much or little, you are genuinely praying if your intention is directed to "talk" to God.

There are countless ways of praying. The misunderstanding of the true nature of prayer has resulted from an artificial limitation of its meaning to perhaps one type, namely, vocal prayer. Vocal prayer is that which follows a set formula, usually composed by some one else. It has undoubtedly great value, but it is not the only way of talking to God.

The other type, far more easy to practice at all times and in all places, is mental prayer. Here we speak to God as friend to friend, exactly as our heart dictates. There need not even be any words expressed on our part. For example, you can visit the Blessed Sacrament and let the good Lord in His holy sacrament "shine" on you from the Tabernacle. You need say nothing. Merely sit in His presence, united to Him by the love of your friendship with Him.

Another kind of mental prayer is "contemplation," where you mentally behold, in the Ignatian application of this word, some event transpiring in Christ's life. This is a sort of mental moving picture.

Still another type is called "meditation" in the formal meaning of the word. In meditating you tell God your reaction to what you are considering. Is it hard or easy? Do you think you would wish to act that way or differently? Do you need help to do so? Do you wish you could be better in practicing this virtue or in avoiding that fault?

Then there are those fascinating combinations of vocal and mental prayer that we call "aspirations" or "ejaculations." Some modern writers have colorfully described them as "quickies." That is what they are, for you recite the aspiration so quickly that you don't have time to be distracted! In a second or two you can say, "Lord, I love you," or "Jesus, Mary, Joseph, help me always," or "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee," or "Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." You can use these ejaculations in crowded buses and streetcars, out in the open country or in the busy city, a few times each day, or just as often as you please, all without the mental fatigue that eventually results from protracted prayer.

Another method of combining vocal and mental prayer is to recite slowly to yourself some simple prayer which you like, such as the "Our Father," the "Hail Mary," or the "Hail, Holy Queen." Say it lingeringly and rhythmically, perhaps a word for every breath. If you have leisure and sufficient quiet to attempt more concentrated prayer, stay on each word of these prayers as long as you find relish in it.

The essential thing to remember is that prayer is the candid talk of one friend to another, of yourself to God. While you must, of course, remain respectful, you should not let your respect frighten you from being familiar in your prayer. Prayer is something very private, and you have a right to speak to God in the intimate relation of creature to Creator, friend to Friend.

Moreover, you should not restrict yourself to the prayer of petition, that is, asking God for what you require in order to live a better life spiritually and temporally. Your prayer should have other purposes also. For example, express your gratitude to God for the benefits He has bestowed on you, on your family, on the Church, on our country and the world. Or make reparation to God for so many sinners who are deliberately offending Him. You can make further reparation, too, for sins and negligences in your own life.

These three types of prayer--petition, thanksgiving, and reparation--are more or less related to the benefits God has given us. The fourth kind, the prayer of adoration, is in itself more selfless. When we adore God and praise His goodness, His mercy, and His justice, we are adoring Him not for what we have received from Him but for what He is in Himself. On some occasion when you would like to pray mentally but do not feel inclined to attempt any particular subject, pay homage to God Himself in the prayer of adoration. The Divine Office of the Church--its official prayer-- consists mainly of the Psalms, which themselves are made up largely of sentiments of praise and adoration.

In any discussion concerning prayer the question usually arises, "How can I pray always? I have necessary occupations to attend to, I have legitimate recreations and lawful pleasures. How can I pray while engaged in them?"

Pray by offering these good actions as your prayer. A most effective practice of this sort is the Morning Offering of the Apostleship of Prayer. "O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer Thee my prayers, works, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of Thy Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, for the intentions of all our associates (in the Apostleship of Prayer), and in particular for the intention selected this month by our Holy Father, the Pope."

Throughout the day renew this intention occasionally. It can be done very simply and briefly by some such aspiration as "All for Thee, O Jesus," or "I wish to do everything for love of Thee, my God."

What we have said up to this point has pertained chiefly to prayer on the part of the individual. There is also the most perfect prayer of all, the Mass, the renewal of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. In the Mass we are privileged to unite ourselves with the priest in order to offer God the spotless sacrifice of adoration, praise, reparation, and thanksgiving. You will appreciate and relish the Mass much more deeply if you follow the actions and words of the celebrant with a missal of your own, containing the translation of all the prayers said at the altar.

However, for the purpose of this book one group prayer must receive special emphasis, the family Rosary. The custom of saying the Rosary privately is most praiseworthy; the practice of the family recitation is the logical extension of this prayer of Our Lady, and can hardly be recommended too strongly.

Again and again in crises of the Church the popes have called on the Queen of the Rosary for help. In fact, the entire history of the devotion of the Rosary simply repeats how strikingly Mary came to the aid of the Church on each occasion she was petitioned through the group recitation of her Rosary.

St. Dominic was the first to preach the Rosary as a successful spiritual weapon against the Albigensian heresy in the 13th century. In 1571 the Turks were defeated at Lepanto, and Europe was thus saved from Mohammedanism at a moment when the Catholic world was reciting the Rosary in petition for so all- important a victory. In 1716 the Moslems were turned back in Hungary, again at a time when the confraternities of the Rosary at Rome were conducting solemn public prayers for the success of the Christian cause. In fact, the power of the Rosary so impressed Pope Leo XIII that during his pontificate he issued twelve encyclicals in order to urge Catholics all over the world to pray the Rosary. The fortunes of the Church in those days were in dire and precarious straits. Leo could think of nothing that was possibly more efficacious than the Rosary.

In our present day, we, too, together with the Church are passing through a grave crisis. Family life has been derided, abused, and neglected to such an extent that some observers think that the family has already been destroyed. Such a pessimistic outlook we do not accept; nonetheless it is a timely warning of social deterioration that must be heeded. The family is the building block of society, the foundation of our whole modern civilization. Not only the practice of religion and the advancement of culture, but our entire modern society together with all the rights of man as a human being would be wiped out if the family were destroyed and state nurseries were put in its place.

The attacks have come from without as well as from within. Those from within the family are the more to be feared. Healthy family life can always combat successfully external adversaries. But family life cannot be healthy if divorce, race suicide, and the shirking of responsibility guide the men and women who are to bring children into the world and who are to educate them to reach their eternal destiny by means of a Christian life in this world.

Divorce, race suicide, the shirking of responsibility--these are the internal enemies so much more devastating than any others can possibly be. Hence, the practice of the family Rosary has come to the fore particularly in our times to fight them. The Holy Spirit in His guidance of the Church has inspired our popes, bishops, priests, and faithful to pray the Rosary as the most efficacious means of gaining assistance against the powers of evil undermining family morality and family existence.

Not only does the family Rosary bring down blessings by way of Mary's intercession. In itself, looked at from a purely natural point of view, it is a bond of union. When the members of a family meet daily for ten to fifteen minutes of common prayer, they are guaranteed at least one sacrosanct period when business and social engagements will not interfere with corporate life at home. This union in prayer links the minds and hearts of all present. Supernaturally, Christ is among them in a special manner. "Where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20).

The Rosary is so powerful a prayer because it depicts the chief mysteries of our Redemption in a manner most pleasing to Mary and to God. In the short, easy meditations on each Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mystery, there stands out the part of Mary as the humble handmaid of the Lord in whom He accomplished mighty things. The merits of Our Lady are presented to Jesus again and again, so that He in His goodness bestows particular graces in order to honor His mother. She had been all-faithful in her service of her Creator and Redeemer. With Jesus she cooperated intimately in the work of His Redemption. So, too, does she cooperate with Him in intervening to distribute the fruits of His Redemption in order that it may be more effective.

The very derivation of the name "rosary" indicates the homage of Our Lady which it embodies. During the Middle Ages as formerly among the Romans, persons of royal blood wore crowns of flowers called chaplets. As the custom grew with the passing of centuries, the chaplets became crowns of gold presented to kings and princes as tokens of submission and honor. In Mary's case the rosary is a triple chaplet--three crowns made up of roses of Hail Mary's and Our Father's, during the recitation of which the story of Mary's part in our Redemption is lovingly and gratefully recalled.

At Nazareth the Rosary, of course, could not be said. Something greater was done. In the hidden life of obscurity, prayer, and work, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were drawing the pattern for every future family--a pattern which all members of every Catholic family should examine and imitate as from eldest to youngest they recite their family Rosary together.

Obscurity, prayer, work--these were the three great characteristics of the Hidden Life. We have already seen the lesson taught us by the obscurity and prayer of the Holy Family at Nazareth. There remains a final summation--the dignity of labor.

To the ancient pagans manual labor was disgraceful, but to the Christian work is ennobling. The lesson of the Holy Family is too clear to deny. God Himself in human form took up the trade of a carpenter. Mary His mother performed all the household tasks just like every other wife and mother of her time. Joseph supported Jesus and Mary by his earnings as village carpenter. That is the true picture. We cannot improve on the facts, the reality. The Holy Family engaged in labor; therefore, no one can think himself degraded by engaging in labor. On the contrary, if we offer our work as prayer, we raise its value even higher. Pope Pius X composed an indulgenced prayer to St. Joseph, patron of working people, that expresses concisely the Christian attitude toward labor. It summarizes also for us the lessons of the Holy Family's work at Nazareth.

Glorious St. Joseph, model of all who devote their lives to labor, obtain for me the grace to work in the spirit of penance in order thereby to atone for my many sins; to work conscientiously, setting devotion to duty in preference to my own whims; to work with thankfulness and joy, deeming it an honor to employ and to develop by my labor the gifts I have received from God; to work with order, peace, moderation, and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties; to work above all with a pure intention and with detachment from self, having always before my eyes the hour of death and the accounting which I must then render of time ill spent, of talents wasted, of good omitted, and of vain complacency in success, which is so fatal to the work of God.

All for Jesus, all through Mary, all in imitation of you, O Patriarch Joseph! This shall be my motto in life and in death, Amen.

(500 days' indulgence, S. Paen. Ap., 28 Mar. 1933.)

Reluctantly we close the chapter on the hidden life of obscurity and prayer and work and intimate family union at Nazareth. The years are passing on, and the paths of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph will soon begin to separate. The years of preparation for Jesus are over. God's work of redemption must be accomplished.


IT IS quite certain that St. Joseph died before Christ began His public life. When the infuriated Nazarenes tried to ridicule the sublimity of Christ's doctrine by naming His living relatives and thus showing how common He was, they neglected to mention His foster father (Matt. 13:55). Our strongest argument, however, is drawn from Christ's words on the cross. To St. John He said, "Son, behold thy mother." And to Our Lady, 'Woman, behold thy son" (John 19:27). It was Joseph's right as well as his obligation to care for Mary. The only reasonable explanation for Christ's action of commending His mother to St. John must be that Joseph had already passed away, to await the day of his resurrection with Christ.

By reason of the fact that he died in the presence of Jesus and Mary, Joseph has rightly been chosen by the popes as the patron of the dying. Because of his closeness to the Son and the mother, he has the greatest intercessory power with them; and because of the circumstances of his death--in the arms of Jesus and Mary--his patronage is doubly fitting.

Joseph's death before the public life began was providential. Had he lingered on in his position as "father" of Jesus, he might have hindered the effectiveness of Christ's preaching and Christ's manifest claims to be divine. With Joseph's passing the holy trinity on earth was temporarily separated. For Jesus and Mary it meant the end of the quiet, long years of calm and happiness spent with him. The moment for Christ's great redemptive act was close now, and with it there also approached the initiation of Mary into her vocation as co-redemptrix, queen of martyrs, and mother of the Church.

What a farewell--an au revoir in the strictest sense--that was at Nazareth! The work of Joseph the just man was completed, and with the absolute conformity of his will to the will of his foster Son, he wished that there might be accomplished in him only that which would further the cause of saving souls through Christ's atonement. This was the moment, too, when Joseph received from the lips of the Mother of God and from God Himself the words of gratitude for all he had done for them. There were no regrets, no fruitless bitter sorrow. It was the model deathbed, a lesson for all time.

Joseph must have mused gently over the past. Seemingly there had been nothing in his life to mark him as outstanding. He had been just another citizen of the Empire, to his fellow townsmen, "only Joseph." A good neighbor, a quiet fellow, one who would help in time of need--yes, he had been all of these, but thoroughly ordinary, as ordinary as any man of Nazareth. That was how he thought of himself.

After all, of what could he boast? Of money? Hardly that, for with all his diligence he was able at best to keep his family in moderate circumstances. His royal blood? No, he was too candid to bask mentally in the long-vanished glory of the stock of David. He knew that his worth lay in what he actually was, not in what his ancestors had been.

How could he ever forget how it had all begun! In that stalwart early manhood he had been a suitor for the hand of Mary when he first realized that a special Providence was gently changing the course of his life. There was the espousal, the agonizing perplexity, the angel's revelation bringing floods of peace, the virginal marriage to the very Mother of God.

And how those next events stood out, vivid and fresh in his memory! The manger in the cave at Bethlehem, the hasty departure by night for Egypt, the careful return to Nazareth, the heartbreaking separation in the Temple incident, and then the years of obscurity and labor that were so happily spent in the company of Mary and Jesus.

Always deep down in his heart he had realized that he possessed a treasure infinite, a treasure whose secret he was chosen to guard. Mother and Son had been entrusted to him from on high. He, Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth, was the shadow of the Eternal Father on earth. On his labor had depended the life and the well- being of the Word Incarnate. And yet--he was always only Joseph, in himself nothing, but by some unfathomable design of God raised to the position most privileged among all men of all time.

His own strong, toil-worn hands had guided the fingers of Him who had fashioned the universe. He had seen the lesson those other hands were teaching for all ages--work is good, work has dignity, work can be made a meritorious prayer. Could he lead others to imitate that example of his Son?

And here, as he lay dying, he saw the end of his task on earth. In obscurity he had always lived, in even greater obscurity he was passing away. In the life of the Church his memory was to remain equally obscure for a thousand years until in God's own time, when the doctrines of Christ as God and Mary as Virgin Mother were clearly established in the minds of men, he would begin to appear in his true worth. But he would always be "only Joseph," lovable, the friend of all.... "Jesus, Mary! Mary, Jesus!" ...The end had come.

The house was silent. The two who remained saw their task yet before them. It was the will of the Father in heaven, and that was all that counted.

So, too, in your family life, there must inevitably come a day when you or your loved ones will see the hand of death take a child, a husband and father, a wife and mother. In the first shock of bereavement the dull sense of emptiness may perhaps lead to a deeper sense of hopelessness.

But Jesus and Mary and Joseph have gone before. Death is the end of the time of testing, the completion of the life that must have sorrows mixed with its joys. The pilgrimage is over for the soul that has passed from the shadows of faith to the clear light of eternal reality.

For those who remain behind, the house is silent. They see their task yet before them. It is the will of the Father in heaven, and that is all that counts.

St. Joseph's happy death can lead our thoughts in only one direction: our own preparation for a happy and holy death when our time comes. In an earlier chapter we touched on the peace which a well-lived life brings at the moment it draws to a close. The courageous and steadfast fulfillment of your family obligations will bring about a tranquil conscience which will withstand all worries and fears at the hour you realize that your pilgrimage on earth is soon to end.

For you as a Catholic, however, another factor will be most important in helping you to die well as you have lived well--your use of the sacraments, particularly Holy Eucharist, Penance, and Extreme Unction. In fact, St. Joseph's intercession often shows itself most strongly in the manner in which Joseph's friends are provided with the last sacraments to be with them on their last journey.

In general, our Catholics are well aware of the doctrine relating to the Blessed Sacrament and its marvelous effects. Thanks to the decree of Pope Pius X in 1905, frequent Communion has become a custom, and daily Communion commonplace among the faithful. But with regard to Penance and Extreme Unction, especially as sacraments preparing for a holy death, rather widespread misunderstanding exists which hinders the full utilization of their sacramental benefits. Hence, several cardinal points must be clarified concerning these two sacraments.

Above all else Penance is the sacrament of peace, because outside of it, ordinarily no greater assurance can be obtained on this earth that God has forgiven sin and has completely restored the sinner to His friendship. Christ our Lord instituted the sacrament of Penance primarily in order to remit all serious sins committed after Baptism. He also wished that the sacrament exercise a secondary effect as well. When received by a person who has no mortal sins to confess, Penance bestows an increase of sanctifying grace and grants extra special helps of actual grace to combat temptations and faults.

One misunderstanding regarding Penance is that it cannot be received unless the penitent has committed mortal sin since the last confession. In reality, such is not the case. It is sufficient either to mention a few venial sins of which you are aware, or to make a general accusation of some sin from your past life (and here, too, a venial sin is sufficient). In this manner you are able to gain the special graces which only Penance can impart.

Of course, all mortal sins committed since the preceding confession must be mentioned, although if any are forgotten in good faith, they are indirectly forgiven by being included in the act of contrition of the penitent and in the absolution of the priest. If later they come to mind, they should be specified in the next confession not in order to be forgiven (for they have already been remitted), but in order that the law of Christ concerning the confession of mortal sins might be fulfilled. This is why mortal sins are called "necessary matter" for confession in distinction to venial sins, which are called merely "sufficient matter."

Although at least one venial sin must be confessed in order to provide this "sufficient matter" (if there is nothing serious to mention), there is no obligation to confess all venial sins inasmuch as they can be forgiven outside of the sacrament by means of an act of contrition, the offering of other prayers, or the performance of good works. Nonetheless, all venial sins are forgiven in every good confession provided that the penitent includes them at least in a general, implicit fashion in his declaration and acts of contrition, including his purpose of amendment.

By submitting venial sins to the tribunal of Penance, part at least of the temporal punishment is remitted. Venial sins do not incur any eternal punishment because while they are flaws in our friendship with God, they by no means constitute the wanton ingratitude and treason which we call mortal sin. In the present state of human nature our faith tells us that no one can go through life without committing venial sin, unless he or she has been given a very special grace. Our Blessed Lady certainly enjoyed this privilege, and we piously believe, St. Joseph. In our own case, however, we know how easily we fail. Anger, jealousy, manifestations of selfishness, rash judgments, hesitation in repelling temptation--these are some of the faults that mar our perfection but can be gradually eliminated from our conduct.

There is one particular circumstance which calls for explicit mention. Let us suppose that by some misfortune serious sin has been committed and confession at the moment is impossible. Must mortal sin remain on the soul?

God in His goodness has given the weakness of our human nature a first-aid remedy even in this instance. An act of perfect contrition will remit mortal sin provided there is included at least implicitly the desire to receive the sacrament of Penance and thus have the mortal sin forgiven officially. Such serious sins must be mentioned in the next confession. To make such an act of contrition, we must regret having sinned because we have offended God Himself, who in Himself is all-good, all-worthy of our love. In other words the motive for perfect contrition is love of God. This is more than is required for confession, where only an act of "attrition" is requisite--that is, sorrow for sin arising from a motive of fear of punishment or detestation of the malice of sin in itself. But this sorrow is not to be without wholesome acknowledgment of, and reliance on, God's mercy and love.

Such are the general principles regarding the use of Penance as a remote preparation for a happy and holy death. The frequent reception of the sacrament throughout your life will deepen ever more and more the serenity that characterizes the children of God and the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus. In a sense, Penance is always a "last sacrament" because it provides a fund of supernatural peace to offset any worry or fear that may arise when the unpredictable moment of death approaches. Sins from one's past life are so positively forgiven when subjected to the sacrament of Peace, that years later there can be absolutely no ground for umeasiness concerning them.

The misunderstandings regarding Extreme Unction are even more erroneous than those concerning Penance. Very many Catholics dread the moment when the priest must be called to administer Extreme Unction, as if by that very fact they or their loved ones will necessarily die. Often they delay the moment of reception as long as possible, so that a recovery is no longer to be hoped for and sometimes death has already supervened.

Extreme Unction has been called the "cinderella of the sacraments" for the reason that it is associated in the popular mind with inevitable death. Yet how different and consoling is the true doctrine! As the Church teaches us, Christ wished to provide salutary remedies against all the wiles of the enemy of human nature. Satan utilizes every occasion throughout the whole of life in order to attempt to trap souls; but at no time is he more active than at that instant when he perceives that his last chance of seducing a faithful Christian is at hand.

The main purpose of Extreme Unction is to fortify the soul at this critical moment of serious illness. In addition, the sacrament forgives sin and remits temporal punishment just as does Penance, in case the sick person cannot confess sins for which he or she is sorry. Extreme Unction also cleanses away the "remnants of sin." Finally, if it be expedient for the soul, Extreme Unction restores even bodily health. Daily experience confirms this teaching of the Church, for apparently desperate cases yield to treatment on many occasions only after Extreme Unction has been administered. The testimony of non-Catholic as well as Catholic doctors on this score is not difficult to obtain.

All these effects are indicated in the words of St. James, who in his Epistle promulgated what Christ had previously instituted. "Is any one among you sick?" he writes. "Let him bring in the presbyters (priests) of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him" (James 5:14, 15).

As a practical rule in every household, the priest should be summoned as soon as there is a prudently probable danger of death. The sacrament will by no means make death inevitable. Instead, it may effect a cure of the body, if expedient as it will impart strength to the soul. And if God wills that the soul should now pass on to its judgment and reward, the reception of Extreme Unction will guarantee confidence in God's mercy as well as sentiments of love, fervor, and ineffable peace. This, the moral certainty of possessing sanctifying grace and merit in God's sight, is truly what we call a happy death. It will be our means of imitating the death of Joseph in the arms of Jesus and Mary.


AFTER Joseph passed away, the Two quietly went about their daily tasks, realizing how soon they would be parted. During those days before His leave-taking Christ supported His mother by the products of the carpentry Joseph had taught Him. These were precious days; and Jesus and Mary, intensely and perfectly human as they were, appreciated the last quiet moments mother and Son would spend together before the shadow of the cross became the cross itself.

Finally there came the morning of departure. Jesus was to leave out-of-the-way Nazareth to meet the hostility of the world in founding a Kingdom of God that would last into eternity. Mary understood all that this meant. From her long years of closest contact with God, her Son, her heart was one with His. She knew that as His mother she would be closest to Him in His suffering. But all this did not matter. She loved Jesus, loved Him as only the most exquisite person created by God could love Him. Her union with Him consoled Him far more than any other creature could do. In her love for Jesus she did not forget that after the Passion and death would come the Resurrection, the triumph of the cross and of Christian truth over Satan and the self-indulgence and rebellion that is sin.

She would visit Jesus occasionally while He was preaching and teaching and healing during His public life, but never again on this earth would she have the unutterable joy of living constantly in His presence, day and night, under the same roof, sharing the same table, teaching Him in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

These years at Nazareth with Joseph and Jesus had been Mary's period of consolation, given her for the purpose of strengthening her for the awful moment when the full weight of the burden of the Queen of Martyrs would descend on her soul. It was the love of the Giver which she desired at all times, and in His present gifts of peace she could see only Him.

After Jesus' departure the little house at Nazareth would be empty, the memory of its two menfolk recalled constantly by the sight of the things they had made and handled. Mary would be left alone with her thoughts, her work, her prayers. Yet would she ever be really alone? No, in those prayers she would constantly unite herself with Jesus, her Son and her God. He would be doing the work for which He had come down to earth. She knew that now; and there was not that sickening uncertainty and dread that had struck St. Joseph and herself when the Child had been lost in the Temple some twenty years ago.

Would the Three ever be united again? There was no doubt of that. In God's own time Jesus and Mary and Joseph would transplant the spirit of their home at Nazareth to a new home in eternity, and the Holy Family would live together in heaven, always the model of family life, watching over fathers and mothers and children, encouraging them, loving them. But that was not yet to be. The moment of farewell had

We leave the final leave-taking of Jesus and Mary to themselves. It is a scene too intimate, almost too ethereal in its winsomeness to attempt to portray, even inadequately at best. In the privacy of our hearts, however, we kneel close to the Two, just where they want us ever to be. There is a last affectionate embrace of mother and Son, no weeping for sorrow on their part. But as we ourselves look on, the poignant beauty of Mary and Jesus overwhelms us, and we can look no more for our tears.

Jesus turns, walks for the last time through that doorway through which long ago He had taken His youthful steps. But now, carrying the load of punishment for the world's sins, He gravely wends His way down the narrow, crooked street. At its bend, as He turns toward the open road and the world beyond, He waves to His mother. She stands in the doorway, waves back. She stands...our thoughts look ahead.... "At the cross of Christ, her station keeping, stood His mother, close to Jesus to the last."

Our sketch of the family life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is ended. In your own life by your frequent meditation on the Holy Family you can extend their lessons further so that you imitate them more closely and love them more dearly. And you can offer them yourselves--your husband or wife, your children, your family--in your life consecrated to the Holy Family of Nazareth.

"O Jesus, our most loving Redeemer, who having come to enlighten the world with Your teaching and example, willed to pass the greater part of Your life humbly and in subjection to Mary and Joseph in the poor home of Nazareth, thus sanctifying the Family that was to be an example for all Christian families, graciously take to Yourself our family as it dedicates and consecrates itself to You this day. Defend us, guard us, and establish among us Your holy fear, true peace, and harmony in Christian love; in order that by conforming ourselves to the divine pattern of Your family all of us without exception may be able to attain to eternal happiness.

"Mary, dear Mother of Jesus and our Mother, by your kindly intercession make this our humble offering acceptable in the sight of Jesus, and obtain for us His graces and blessings.

"O Saint Joseph, most holy Guardian of Jesus and Mary, help us by your prayers in all our spiritual and temporal necessities; that so we may be enabled to praise our divine Saviour Jesus, together with Mary and you for all eternity."

(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father, thrice. 500 days' indulgence S. Paen. Ap., 20 Oct. 1935.)