The Loss of Jesus in the Temple – Day of Loneliness
“I opened the bolt of my door to my Beloved: but He had turned aside and was gone. My soul melted when He spoke. I sought Him and found Him not: I called and He did not answer me” [Cant. 5:6].
After a sojourn of several years in Egypt, the holy family returned to Nazareth, and Jesus remained in childlike subjection to His Mother. Who can tell the days of grace which were spent in that holy house, where the incarnate Lord daily grew in wisdom and stature, every hour manifesting through His growing body more and more of the power of deity? This life of prayer and praise was varied only by the observance of the duties of religion. Every year they went up to the temple at Jerusalem to keep the great paschal festival. And when our Lord was twelve years old, they went up, according to the custom of the feast, and having fulfilled the days, they returned home. The Child Jesus, however, remained in the temple, and, amid the immense concourse, His parents, for the first hour of their journey, missed Him not, but “supposed Him to be in the company among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.” They therefore journeyed home, and not finding Him, were plunged in the deepest distress. They retraced their steps to Jerusalem, seeking Him everywhere along the road, until after three days they found Him in the temple, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions. And seeing Him they wondered. And His Mother said to Him, Son, why hast Thou done so to us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing. And He said to them, how is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” This dolor of our Blessed Lady consisted in the temporary loss of Jesus, and is full of mystery. It was, perhaps, the greatest of all Mary’s sorrows, while it is the most difficult to be understood. First of all, there could be no grief to her like the loss of her Child. All else to her was as nothing. She had all a mother’s love for an only child, heightened to a degree of which we can form no just conception. United to her maternal affection was the supreme adoration of her soul. He was her Child, her God, and her all. Suddenly He withdrew Himself from her, and with the loss of His presence He allowed the curtains of fear and gloom to be drawn around the happy heart of His Mother. He gave her no idea of His purpose; He made no explanations. He even withdrew His own inward consolations, and sent her away without Him to a cold and ungrateful world. So the poor and desolate Mother was bereaved indeed. All nature lost its beauty in her eyes. The holy house at Nazareth, with so many mementoes of Him, was only an aggravation of her grief. “Tears were her bread day and night, while it was daily said to her, where is thy God?” In all that she had seen before, the ways of providence were clear. In this there was an impenetrable darkness, and she was plunged into something of that deep abjection which led her Son to cry out on the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me.” In all her other dolors Jesus was with her, even when His torn hands and bleeding side broke her heart. Here she was alone. Her Beloved “had turned aside and was gone. She sought Him and found Him not: she called, and He did not answer her.” Three days of this grief were like many years, and left the imprint of sorrow upon her beautiful frame. There was no food for her but the bread of tears, no sleep amid the vigils of a breaking heart. And in this gloom which overshadowed her she found a wilderness darker than the forests of Egypt. The tempter, whose head she had crushed, could only wait around the portals of the tabernacle which God had sanctified for Himself. Yet with all his malignity, he wished to bring new clouds of fear around the house he could not enter. He saw the Virgin sorrowing and alone. Her Child had deserted her. What was the end of this separation? Had the sinless Mother given any offence to her Beloved? She could not say she had not loved Him, for every fibre of her heart was His, and yet perhaps she had not served Him as she ought. She was only the handmaid of the Lord. She was unworthy to be His Mother. Was her life only a bright dream of Heaven? Was she no more to see that face, or live in His smile again? Had she proved unfaithful to her celestial Spouse, and had He deserted her forever? As we know not the joy of the Mother of God, nor the bliss of her daily communion with Jesus, so we cannot understand the misery of her loss. St. Simeon had told her of the cross, and she saw no cross on the height of Calvary. The hour was not come, and this was not the cross. It was a depth of woe she could not have anticipated, for it was like the displeasure of her Beloved, and this would have chilled the current of her life. So the sorrowing Mother wept, and her sighs went up to the throne of her Son. She was going through the valley of darkness to seek and find a nearness to God which evens he had not before known. Her Child had not deserted her; He had hid His face through His great love. She was drinking of the torrent in the way, that she might lift up her head amid the sorrows of Calvary, when all flesh should fail, and at last upon God’s holy mountain forever. So in firm trust and unfailing hope she drank her cup of agony, and asked nothing but to see the face of her Son in His own good time. From this great and mysterious dolor of the Blessed Virgin we may learn submission to the ways of divine providence, and especially in the higher walks of the spiritual life. No one can come near our Lord without in some way touching His cross. Affliction in some form is our natural lot, since we are all born in sin, and inheritors of death. Desolation of heart is not only the consequence of our fallen state, but also a most important mean of sanctification. Youth is enthusiastic, and manhood is impetuous, and old age is selfish. It is only by affliction and self-denial that we learn how deceitful are the promises of the world, and how untrue is everything earthly. Religion renders this natural experience conducive to the purification of our souls, and even makes loneliness of heart, which the unregenerate soul dreads, a merciful visitation of God. And, perhaps, there is no other way f subduing worldliness, which infests even the most chosen hearts, and from whose invasions no sacred asylum is free. To live for the world, even under its most innocent aspect, is not the end of our being. To regard its maxims, or to be governed by its influence, is a grievous infirmity fatal to all true spiritual life. The way of the cross is in some way the path of every good Christian. And if God should lead any of us into great spiritual darkness, and seem to withdraw His presence from us, let us imitate the faith and patience of Mary. God would render us more worthy of that bright light for which He reserves us, and in the night, which is sure to bring a glorious day, we can be content. Constant self-examination and dissatisfaction with our own hearts will bring humility and abasement, which lead to exaltation. We sinners ought, therefore, never to dread loneliness, or even gloom, which has in it no element of discouragement. Beautiful is the night, in which at least, God puts all the shadows of sense to flight. If with pure hearts we seek Him for His own sake, and seek Him patiently, knowing that we are unworthy to find Him, He will, in His good time, manifest Himself to us. Let us cherish whatever draws our affections away from things earthly. The heart that is lonely and desolate through love of God will certainly be filled with joy, when amid the darkness either of our own sins, or of His jealous chastisement, Jesus appears to take us to His embrace forever.