Et Homo Factus Est
The Reed of God
HUMANLY speaking, the time of Advent must have been the happiest time in Our Lady's life.The world about her must have been informed with more than its habitual loveliness, for she was gathering it all to the making of her son.
But sometimes a pang of grief must have shot through her; for example, when the young wheat grew and she saw it pierce the earth with little swords. Perhaps the first sword to pierce her heart was a blade of green wheat. For was not her precious burden a grain of wheat sown in a field ? Was He not bread ? The world's bread that must be broken ? Everything must have spoken to her of Him, as if the beauty of the world was one more prophecy. To children it seems perfectly natural that God's thoughts should become snow and water and stars ; and creation itself is simply His meditation on Christ.
The seed in the earth is the unborn child. The snow on the field is the Virgin Mother's purity. The bloom on the black thorn, flowering through the land, His birth. The falling of the red rose leaves foretells His passion, the wheat is bound in sheaves because He was bound, it is threshed because He was scourged. The fruit is red on the bough because He was crucified ; because He rose from the dead, spring returns to us again.
If such is the beauty of the world to ordinary children, what must it have been to the Mother of God, when her whole being was folded upon the unborn Christ within her ?
He was completely her own, utterly dependent upon her: she was His food and warmth and rest, His shelter from the world, His shade in the Sun. She was the shrine of the Sacrament, the four walls and the roof of His home.
Yet she must have longed to hold Him between her hands and to look into His human face and to see in it, in the face of God, a family likeness to herself !
Think of that ! But perhaps you cannot, unless you happen to be a young priest newly ordained, waiting for the moment when you will hold in your hands the first Host that you have consecrated at your first Mass.
It must have been a season of joy, and she must have longed for His birth, but at the same time she knew that every step that she took, took her little son nearer to the grave.
Each work of her hands prepared His hands a little more for the nails ; each breath that she drew counted one more to His last.
In giving life to Him she was giving Him death.
All other children born must inevitably die; death belongs to fallen nature; the mother's gift to the child is life.
But Christ is life; death did not belong to Him.
In fact, unless Mary would give Him death, He could not die.
Unless she would give Him the capacity for suffering, He could not suffer.
He could only feel cold and hunger and thirst if she gave Him her vulnerability to cold and hunger and thirst.
He could not know the indifference of friends or treachery or the bitterness of being betrayed unless she gave Him a human mind and a human heart.
That is what it meant to Mary to give human nature to God.
He was invulnerable; He asked her for a body to be wounded.
He was joy itself; He asked her to give Him tears. He was God ; He asked her to make Him man. He asked for hands and feet to be nailed.
He asked for flesh to be scourged.
He asked for blood to be shed.
He asked for a heart to be broken.
The stable at Bethlehem was the first Calvary.
The wooden manger was the first Cross.
The swaddling bands were the first burial bands. The Passion had begun.
Christ was man.
This, too, was the first separation.
This was her son, but now He was outside of Her: He had a separate heart: He looked at the world with the blind blue eyes of a baby, but they were His own eyes.
The description of His birth in the Gospel does not say that she held Him in her arms but that she "wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger."
As if her first act was to lay Him on the Cross.
She knew that this little son of hers was God's Son and that God had not given Him to her for herself alone but for the whole world.
This is one of the greatest of all the things that we must learn from our contemplation of Our Lady.
Few mothers realize that their children are part of a whole and that the whole is the family of God, to whom every child born owes all the love and service of a brother or sister.
Many mothers try to shield their children from the common life, to give them a sheltered upbringing, so to shield them from all risk of sickness or pain or poverty that they are shielded from vitality and the vast experience of living.
They hate to see them grow or experience anything that will make them independent.
Sometimes a possessive mother even grudges a child his dream kingdom.
I remember a little boy who was punished for day-dreaming. His dream kingdom was a deep green forest peopled by wizards and gnomes and magic children but where no grown-up people could come. Here he was king. But when I saw him his white face was dirty with tears, and his mother explained that she had punished him because when she asked for his attention, he was "so far away."
Many women feel the same fear and resentment of the Kingdom of God, particularly as the boy who adventures into that kingdom will have to take up arms, to face ardours and endurances, to make sacrifices; and if ever he is crowned, it will be with thorns. Two things afflict the mother who resents this. One is that her child should suffer and even, it seems, suffer through his own fault. The other is that he should escape from her ; in that kingdom he is alone and independent ; like the dreaming little boy, he is (or seems to be) "so far away."
Our Lady knew that her little boy would inhabit a secret kingdom and suffer and die to be crowned in it.
She did not want to take back anything of her gift of herself or take away one tittle of His suffering from Him.
She knew, better than anyone else will ever know it, that the greatest of all griefs is to be unable to mitigate the suffering of one whom we love. But she was willing to suffer that, because that was what He asked of her.
There was no trace of indifference or detachment in Our Lady's attitude. She was not indifferent to Christ's suffering, but there was something that she was deeply aware of which made her more than ready for it.
It was this : that little shivering mite in the manger was her own flesh and blood; her Advent work was done; she had formed Christ of her own life, in herself; and now that she had brought Him forth, she lived in Him.
Quite literally, her life was in Christ.
Therefore there could never be anything He suffered which she did not.
He would suffer and she with Him.
Everyone has the right to the loneliness of his own sorrow.
Christ, who so willingly accepted comfort, sympathy, friendship all through His life, cried out "I thirst" on the Cross.
He meant all thirst. His body was dried up with the terrible thirst that comes from loss of blood and His soul thirsted for the people He was bleeding for, and His heart thirsted for the compassion of His own people.
But when a soldier, moved by compassion, gave Him myrrh to ease His thirst, He tasted it and turned away.
Mary also refused the myrrh.
She would not try to take away His suffering. In this she was more than one with Him ; she was one with Him even in His aloneness.
This is another of the things to be discovered in contemplating Our Lady. We ask Him to come and abide in us; we ask the Holy Spirit to form Him from our lives ; we believe that He does do this.
If Christ is formed of our lives, it means that He will suffer in us. Or, more truly, we will suffer in Him. "And He was made man."
Our Lady saw at once what was meant in her case : supernaturally, He was made herself.
If He is made man in you, He will be made you; in me, me.
It is extremely difficult to lay hold of this fact. It is very hard not to think of a kind of mystical Christ just beside us, or just in front of us, suffering with infinite patience and joy, being obedient, humble, persevering, fulfilling His Father's will.
It is really difficult to realize that if He is formed in our life we are not beside Him but in Him ; and what He asks of us is to realize that it is actually in what we do that He wants to act and to suffer.
For example, if you are conscripted, it is Christ Who is saying good-bye and leaving His home; Christ Who is marching on the endless route march. The blisters on the feet of the new recruit are bleeding on the feet of Christ.
Again, if you are an office worker and the person over you is trying, perhaps rather limited in intelligence, so that you imagine you have some kind of right to be irritable, well, it is not you at all that must be obedient and humble and gracious, it is Christ, Christ, Who said to the weak and timid civil servant, Pontius Pilate: "You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above."
It really needs to be practised to be understood. We need to say to ourselves a thousand times a day: "Christ wants to do this"; "Christ wants to suffer this."
And we shall thus come to realize that when we resent our circumstances or try to spare ourselves what we should undergo, we are being like Peter when be tried to dissuade Our Lord from the Passion.
There is one tremendous answer to the question which is reiterated to the point of utter weariness : "Why should I ?"
It is another question: "Ought not Christ to suffer these things and so enter into His glory ?"
During this Advent, with Mary, let us “form” Jesus within us
ADVENT is the season of the seed : Christ loved this symbol of the seed.
The seed, He said, is the Word of God sown in the human heart.
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed."
© Caryll Houselander THE REED OF GOD