(15th century illumination of Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the temple. From the Enkhuisen Book of Hours.)
When the heartless Herod died, the angel of the Lord immediately informed Joseph that the life of the divine Child was no longer in danger. The Holy Family left Egypt and returned to Galilee.
The sight of the houses of Nazareth on the horizon at the end of that long and perilous journey filled Mary, carrying Jesus in her arms, with sweet consolation. Surely she would encounter precious memories upon returning to her humble dwelling.
It was there that she enjoyed thirty years of incredible bliss, watching the tender unfolding of the Incarnate Word. Indeed, Our Lord’s human nature developed according to natural law.
His unbounded holiness and divine wisdom, on the other hand, could not increase, for infinity, by the very fullness of its perfection, is immutable. Nevertheless, Jesus wanted to reveal the treasures of His eternal wisdom gradually. Mary exultantly observed the progress of her beloved Son and entered more fully each day into His inebriating beauty.
One shadow of sorrow darkened those years of intimate joy. The mysterious sword foretold by Simeon pierced Our Lady’s soul and plunged into the intimacy of her heart.
Aside from the drama of Calvary, this was the most cruel martyrdom of her entire lifetime: She lost the Child Jesus.
Mary and Joseph journeyed to Jerusalem each year to celebrate the Passover feast.
When the Savior reached the age of twelve, He accompanied His parents to the Holy City. At that age, young Israelites became sons of the law and had to participate in liturgical ceremonies.
The great solemnities took place with their usual splendor, and the hour of departure sounded. The pilgrims of Galilee, separated from their homeland by a three-day journey, casually formed small groups as they walked.
The groups, spread out along the road during the journey, would gather again in the evening at an inn where all would spend the night. The Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph, although not seeing the Child with them, were not concerned, for both assumed that Jesus accompanied others of their traveling acquaintances.
For an entire day they continued their journey tranquilly. When night fell and everyone assembled at the first stop, they were surprised that the Child Jesus did not return to them.
Thus, they “sought Him among their kinfolks and acquaintances.” Looking throughout the camp and questioning each group, their fears mounted. Jesus was nowhere to be found.
What agony overwhelmed Mary’s heart! To understand the depth of her suffering, it is necessary to understand the breadth of her love for this One who was both her Son and her God.
She had entirely surrendered her virginal heart to Jesus. He, her joy, her reason for living, her entire life, was gone.
Uncertainty inclined her heart to anguish. She had no doubt that Our Lord was the Word Incarnate, but that did not prevent her from fearing for His life. Had she not seen Him suffer from cold?
Had she not seen Him hungry and tired like other children?
Perhaps some accident had befallen Him. Had she not seen Him hunted by the murderous rage of men like Herod? Had yet another enemy attempted to harm Him?
How often had she meditated on the Scripture passages in which Isaias prophesied the suffering of the Messias! She knew not when and how this noble sacrifice would take place.
Had the time of His martyrdom already arrived? An ocean of anguish engulfed her soul.
Our Lady exercised the highest form of virtue during those fearful moments. The holiest of God’s creatures, preserved by an exceptional life-long privilege from even the slightest imperfection, examined her conscience.
Pious authors say she feared being guilty of some negligence. Imbued with the sense of her lowliness, she thought herself unworthy to care for Our Lord.
To her feelings of unworthiness, Mary joined prayer and action. Nightfall rendered it almost impossible to continue the search, so she spent the entire night imploring the mercy of our Heavenly Father.
At daybreak, she and Saint Joseph returned along the same road they had traveled the previous day. Together they walked, grief-stricken, seeking the Child Jesus at every turn, hoping to see Him hastening to return to them.
At times in our spiritual journey, we also lose Jesus. I am not speaking here of sin, which indeed vigorously chases the Divine Friend from our souls.
Rather, I speak of the moment when, without our having gravely offended Him, Our Lord removes Himself from our grasp. He seems to flee from us, even to abandon us.
At those moments, we no longer fulfill our duties easily. It is as if grace were withdrawn from us. The joy of our heart diminishes and we no longer feel anything but suffering and self-contempt.
Times of temptation become even more difficult and painful.
Eternal justice inspires within us a holy fear; doubt, horrible doubt, cripples us. Has God forgiven our sins? Does He, far away in Heaven, even consider our nothingness? Has He any compassion on our misery? What will become of us, so utterly deprived of all help and joy?
In such painful moments, let us imitate Mary and humble ourselves all the more profoundly before God. At these times we must especially continue our prayer despite the aridity or the darkness in which our souls are plunged.
Do you imagine that the Child Jesus had ceased loving Mary in the abyss of her suffering? No, His divine heart observed her with great compassion in her immense distress.
Indeed, invisibly present to her, He remained close by, supporting her with His all-powerful grace. Allowing her this suffering, He gave the world a great lesson in detachment and obedience to His holy will.
Even when He seems withdrawn from you, the Good Shepherd does not cease loving you. We have only to let ourselves be led, eyes closed and with profound trust. “For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me,” the psalmist sings. Even though I no longer feel Thy presence, Lord, I believe, I know, that Thou art with me.
* * *
At the first light of day, then, Mary and Joseph had retraced their steps to Jerusalem, seeking all day for the Divine Child, but to no avail.
Darkness came again, and that night was worse than the previous one for Our Savior’s parents. Their hopes of finding the Child along the road to the Holy City had been dashed.
On the morning of the third day, Mary and Joseph entered the Temple. Under the archways, they saw an attentive crowd gathered around the learned men of Israel.
There, among the teachers, was Jesus, asking them questions and thoughtfully listening to their responses. Such profound and heavenly wisdom sprang from His lips that the doctors, captivated, questioned Him in turn.
Equally astonished were Mary and Joseph. Seeing them, the Child rushed into His mother’s arms and tenderly embraced her with charming grace.
It is not without mystery that Our Lord allowed Himself to be found in the Temple. If you desire to live in deeper intimacy with Our Lord, seek Him where He speaks to souls: in meditation and prayer.
The Immaculate Virgin closely embraced the Son over Whom she had cried with such anguish and gently whispered tenderly into His ear, “Son, why hast Thou done so to us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.”
Let us admire with what tender confidence Mary speaks to her Savior. His greatest servants speak to Him with similar holy familiarity.
One particularly trying day, Saint Teresa of Avila said to Our Lord: “If this is how Thou treatest Thy friends, I am hardly surprised Thou hast so few of them!” We should speak to Our Lord with similar ease, laying our troubles and fears before Him. We may even go so far sometimes as to complain to Him—very respectfully, of course, like Saint Teresa—of the great demands of His love for us.
He will respond to you as He did to His mother: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” He might add:
“While hidden, I was accomplishing the work of My mercy in thy soul, showing how insignificant it is without Me and inspiring in it a greater desire for My presence. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for eternal justice, for they shall be satisfied.”
* * *
In a preceding meditation we saw how imprudent it would be to ask God for suffering. Let us humbly accept the trials Providence sends us.
When the Master places the heavy burden of the cross on our shoulders, let us cry out to Our Lady of Sorrows to aid us in our troubles.
She will restore our serenity. We will see that she is truly the Mother of sweet hope and holy joy.