The Flight into Egypt – Day of Self-Sacrifice
“Flee away, O my Beloved, and be like to the roe, or to the young hart upon the mountains of aromatical spices” [Cant. 8:14].
Our Blessed Lord was rejected by man even before His birth, and was born in a stable. He first opened His eyes upon poverty, and the contempt of the world He had created. Yet now we are to see the hand of violence raised to insult His sacred Person, and to destroy if possible His infant life. Herod, the king of Judea, heard of the coming of the Messiah, who was by prophecy to be king of the Jews. The Magi from the East had been sent to his court, telling of the miracle which had led them to seek His cradle. Fearing therefore for his own temporal power, he resolved to find out the abode of our Lord, that under the pretense of adoring Him, he might take His life. As the hour for the sacrifice was not come, the Child Jesus was forced to flee from the persecution, and to be an exile from His own country. The angel of the Lord appeared to St. Joseph by night, and bade him arise and take the young child and His Mother and fly into Egypt. So in the dead of night, without any preparation for the journey, the holy family arose and escaped from the land of Juda. The tender Virgin of only fifteen years takes her Infant in her arms, and under the guidance of St. Joseph, begins her long pilgrimage. They were forced to travel through deserts and over mountains, exposed to all the hardships of the forest, for four hundred miles, until they reached the land of bondage, out of which God had by wonderful miracles delivered the whole Jewish nation. More than once were they almost famished for food, and in the terrors of the wilderness were exposed to the attack of wild beasts, or the merciless assassin. From these dangers the angels of God often rescued them. But what a sight, to see the Lord of Heaven and His Mother in these hardships! Wearied and exhausted, they found no place to lay their heads at night, save under the shelter of the forest-tree, or on the rocks of the wilderness. Jesus slept on Mary’s bosom, and when Mary sank exhausted to sleep, St. Joseph kept vigil around their rude couch. After a journey or more than thirty days, they reached the land of Egypt, a land of idolatry, and found none to welcome the coming of the Son of God. There are traditions which tell us how the voice of inanimate nature proclaimed the presence of its King, and how the idols in the temples fell on their faces before the true God. Here, in a country where the religion of the patriarchs was unknown, St. Joseph sought a shelter for the Virgin and her Child, and here in poverty and distress for seven years they abode. They had no need to turn their faces towards Jerusalem, as the captive Israelites had done, for the glory of the holy city had departed. The pillar of fire, the ark of God, the manna from Heaven, the glory which abode between the Cherubim was exiled in the land of the pagan. In estimating the sorrows of Mary, we can consider her own physical distress during this long journey and still longer exile. The bodily fatigue and privation were no small trial of her tender frame. Yet this is but the smallest part of her dolor. It was her mother’s heart which was made to bleed. The hardships through which her Child was forced to pass, and the ignominy heaped upon Him, broke up the very depths of sorrow in her heart. A little infant is driven from home at night and forced to flee from the sword of a jealous king, and the martyred innocents are sent up to Heaven as mementoes of His childhood. All Judea is armed against Him to drive Him into the wilderness, to shut out from His eyes the light which He created, and to starve Him with hunger and thirst. And Mary, all the while adoring Him as the God of her salvation, felt every indignity which He so meekly and uncomplainingly received. To her the desert with Him in her arms was better than all Heaven without Him. But the more she knew of His love and grace, the more she felt the world’s ingratitude. And this was but the beginning of the melancholy end. The life which the sword of Herod could not reach, was to expire on the cross. All these things and many more than we can know, passed before the afflicted soul of our Mother of Sorrows. As God alone has a true hatred of our sin, so God alone could properly estimate the injury this offered to Himself. But Mary, looking always into His perfections, and herself as an agent in the work of redemption, was able to enter into even the divine view of sin, and to grieve as no other creature can grieve at man’s ingratitude. Nor did her grief ever disturb for one instant the serenity of her soul. Her sorrow was too deep and too divine for any outward manifestation. God’s providence enveloped her. A tranquil, steady grief grew and matured itself in her heart, a grief which came from God and was all for Him, for she was wrapped in the same mantle which covered her Child. So early began the work of expiation, and the new-born Infant touched the cross with His tiny hands, and the Mother was forced to cry out: “Flee away, O my Beloved, and be like to the roe, or to the young hart upon the mountains of aromatical spices.” Go in thy infant years, and be an exile from Thine own people upon the high mountains of sorrow, where Thy brethren have prepared for Thee wormwood and gall for Thy food, and myrrh for Thy sepulcher. In contemplating this dolor of the Blessed Virgin, we are at once struck with remorse at the similarity between our conduct and that of the Jews. How often have we been favored with the visit of Jesus and Mary, and how often have we repulsed their embraces? They have come to us to detach us from earthly things and to sanctify us. We have preferred the pleasures of the world and the gratification of our own wills, and were unwilling to stay in their company. Hence we have driven them from our hearts, or by the hand of mortal sin have persecuted them beyond our borders. No ingratitude of man was ever worse than this, for the sinful Jew had never been washed in the blood of Calvary, or born again of water and the Holy Ghost. We have done despite to the Spirit of grace, and have banished the Son of God from our hearts. Yet now once more the Mother comes with her Child, knocking at the door of our hearts. If we receive her now, the past shall all be forgotten, and in the mercies of this season we shall find strength to open our hearts to God, that He may take full possession of our souls and abide with us forever. And if thus with true hearts we seek the Lord and Him alone, we must be content to take our share in His exile. The world will become our enemy, and we shall be forced to flee like Jesus and Mary, and God will enable us to enter into their spirit of self-sacrifice. Over hill and mountain, in unfrequented places, amid the terrors of evil spirits, the path of our perfection shall lead us, until the flesh loses its charm, and God becomes the supreme rest of our souls. Let us never fear. We leave the world and its darkness behind us. We go with Jesus and Mary, and with them we shall find Heaven and eternal peace. Let us cherish then the darkness through which the unfailing light will one day shine. Let us remember that we are pilgrims and exiles journeying home. For are we not by baptism fellow-citizens of the saints, and members of the household of God? By this spirit of self-sacrifice let us judge ever of our spiritual state. We draw near to God in proportion as we forsake the world and the things of sense. When this earth becomes in reality a desert to us, through longing for God’s presence, then in this wilderness we shall travel with Jesus and Mary and Joseph and all the saints.