Consider first, that the wise men were no sooner informed, by the apparition of this extraordinary star, of the birth of the great King that was to rule the world, but they set out to seek him in Judea, where they understood, by an ancient tradition and by the prophecy of Balaam, Numb. xxiv. 17, that he that was denoted by that star should be born. And as it was natural for them to expect to hear news of him in Jerusalem, the capital city of Judea, they went thither to inquire after him. 'Where is he,'
say they, (Matt. ii. 2,) 'that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him' But as 'his kingdom was not of this world,'
but was to be established upon other kinds of foundations than any mortal empire - in the immortal souls of his people, and upon the ruins of worldly pride, and of all the pomps of Satan; he chose for his birth the humble stable of Bethlehem, before any of the stately palaces of Jerusalem, as being more agreeable to his kingdom, the kingdom of humility and truth. O how happy are those souls whose eyes are always open to this heavenly truth, and shut to worldly vanity and lies! How happy they who, by conforming in practice to these maxims of this great king, become themselves his kingdom; even that kingdom in which he shall reign for ever!
Consider 2ndly, how King Herod was troubled at hearing of the birth of this new king, and so was all Jerusalem with him; in which they were a figure of all such souls as are so wedded to this cheating world and its lusts, as to be more afraid of parting with them than of losing an eternal kingdom; and therefore they are troubled and disturbed when they are summoned by the messenger of heaven to arise, and leave these toys, to go and seek after Christ; and they even strive to stifle the heavenly infant that those lights and graces that offer to conduct them to him. O how much more happy were the dispositions of the wise men, who were willing at any rate to find Christ; and who gladly sought and embraced the directions of those that by their office were qualified to point him out to them? But alas! how miserable were those priest and scribes, who whilst they directed the wise men to our Saviour, took no pains to seek him themselves. See, my soul, this never be thy case.
Consider 3rdly, how the wise men, in their way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, were again favoured with the sight of the star, which both conducted them to Bethlehem, and pointed out to them the place where our Saviour was. This heavenly light filled their hearts with exceeding great joy; and going in, they found him whom their souls desired, and they paid their homage to him. O how precious, how lovely, how desirable is that light that conducts the soul to Christ! O what joy, what delight it is to the soul to see herself draw near to her God, her sovereign good! But then this heavenly manna is not usually given but to them that fight, and that conquer all the labours, difficulties, and oppositions that they meet with in the way to Christ, and who, like the wise men, are quite in earnest in seeking him. Happy they that follow this great example! Happy they that taste and see how sweet the Lord is to them that seek and find him!
Conclude to imitate the wise men, firstly, in their ready compliance with the divine call; secondly, in their diligence in inquiring after Christ; and thirdly, in their perseverance; and then you may confidently expect, like them, to find your Lord, and to rejoice in him.
Consider first, the strong and lively faith of the wise men. They set out with expectation of finding an infant king, attended with that state and pomp which was suitable to the dignity of one that was born to be monarch of the universe; and behold, instead of this, they meet with nothing but poverty and humility; a babe wrapt in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger; attended only by a poor maid, and an humble tradesman, an ox, and an ass. But their faith, by this time, was more fully instructed in the qualities of him whom they had been seeking with so much labour: and therefore they were not shocked by those mean appearances, nor looked upon them with a worldly eye; but, under this poor and humble equipage, believed and adored their King, their God, and their Saviour. O how happy are those souls whose faith takes no scandal either at the crib or at the cross of Christ, but rather knits them so much the more closely to him, by how much the more he has debased himself for the love of them.
Consider 2ndly, how the wise men, having found our Lord, immediately fell down prostrate before him, and worshipped him; professing, by this humble and submissive posture of the body, the profound reverence an adoration of their souls. Do we imitate them by the like humility, reverence, and adoration, when we appear before the same Lord in prayer? After this homage they opened their stores and made him their offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh - to signify, by the quality of these their gifts, their faith in him to whom they gave them. They presented him with their Gold, as a tribute due to him, as their king; they offered him their Frankincense (which was used in the divine worship), as to their God; and they gave him their Myrrh (which was used in the burial of the dead), as to a mortal man who came to redeem all mankind by his death. O let us, by their example, daily offer him our best homage in all these qualities; as our King, as our God, and as our Redeemer.
Consider 3rdly, that the wise men, having found Christ, were admonished from heaven not to return any more to Herod, and so went back another way to their own country, to teach us, that, after finding Christ, we must return no more to his and our enemies, Satan and sin, but must make the best of our way to our true country, by quite a different road from that by which we came away from it. Our true country is Paradise: we came away from this our country, by pride, by disobedience, by the love of these visible things, and by gratifying our sensual appetite with the forbidden fruit. We must take quite another road if we hope to return thither again: it must be by penitential tears, by humility, by despising these visible things; by restraining our sensual appetite, by wholesome mortifications of the flesh and other self-denials, and by a constant obedience, that we are to find the way back to our true home.
Conclude to quit the broad road of gratifying thy passions and sensual pleasures, and to pass over to the narrow way of penance and self-denial; and thou shalt be brought safely back to thy true country, and to thy Father's house.
Consider, first, that the 'gold, frankincense, and myrrh,' offered by the wise men to our new-born Saviour, mystically denote other offerings, which we, also, ought daily to make to him. In the first place, we must offer him the tribute of our gold, as to our true king; that is, we must daily present him with our souls, stampt with his own image, and burnished with divine love. This is the gold, this is the tribute our Sovereign expects from us. When the Jews asked him concerning their giving tribute to Caesar, he called for their coin, on which they had the image of Caesar, and inferred from thence, that they were
'to render to Caesar the things that were Caesar's,' Matt. xxii.; that is, to give him what was stampt with his image. Our souls are stampt with God's own image, to this very end, that we should give them in tribute to him, by perfect love: 'render then to God, the things that are God's,'
by daily offering your whole souls to him by fervent acts of love, and you shall have given him your gold.
Consider 2ndly, that we must also offer our 'frankincense' to our Saviour as to our God. 'Incense' in scripture is considered as an emblem of prayer, and expresses the worship we pay to our Lord, by sending up to him the odoriferous vapours of our devotions, as from the censer of a heart burning with the love of God. Prayer, then is the frankincense which we must, in imitation of the wise men, present to our Saviour, as to our God. This we must daily offer to him at the hours of incense, as a morning and evening sacrifice in the temple of God, which is within our souls; with this we ought also to endeavour to perfume in some measure all our other daily actions and employments, in order to make them agreeable to him.
Consider 3rdly, that with these offerings of the gold of divine love, and of the frankincense of fervent prayer, we must also join that of the myrrh of self-denial and mortification, which our Lord no less expects, and requires at our hands, than the other two; since he has expressly declared, that except we 'deny ourselves' and 'hate ourselves' in this world, we cannot be his disciples. 'Myrrh' has a bitter taste, but it is a wholesome bitter; and it has an excellent property to keep bodies from corruption. Thus it is an emblem of the mortification of our passions and sensual inclinations; which is somewhat bitter and disagreeable indeed, to the taste of our nature, but is sovereignly wholesome, and necessary to keep the soul from the corruption of sin. so that this offering of myrrh, like the other two, should be the daily exercise of a Christian; and should, as it were, season all his thoughts, words, and deeds, to restrain them from evil.
Conclude, O my soul, not to let a day pass without frequently offering to thy Lord, the gold of love and charity, the frankincense of prayer, and the myrrh of self-denial; and he will certainly accept of both thy offerings and thyself, and in exchange will give thee himself.
Consider first, how Jesus, Mary, and Joseph went every year up to Jerusalem, to the temple of God, upon the festivals, notwithstanding their poverty, and their living at the distance of three days' journey from Jerusalem; and there they employed the weeks appointed for the feast in assisting at the public worship, praises, and sacrifices which, at those times, were offered to God in the temple. Christians, learn from this great example, the diligence with which you ought to assist at the public worship of God upon festivals. Learn not to suffer every trifling difficulty to hinder your attendance in God's temple on those days, when neither the length nor the charges, either of the journey, or of the stay they were to make in Jerusalem, could keep this holy family from a constant observance of these times dedicated to God. But O! who can conceive the dispositions of soul with which they entered upon these journeys; their recollection on the road, their heavenly conversation in Jerusalem, their profound adoration, their inflamed love, their fervent prayer and devotion in the temple! Let us strive to imitate them.
Consider 2ndly, how when Jesus was twelve years old, and they had gone up, according to their custom, to keep the solemn feast of the Pasch in Jerusalem, after the days of the solemnity were fulfilled - when they returned, our Saviour withdrew himself from them and staid behind them in the city. They, innocently thinking him to be in the company, went one day's journey homewards without him, and then not finding him, were struck with unspeakable grief and concern for their loss: the more, because they apprehended, lest by some fault of theirs, they might have driven him away from them. Ah! what anguish must it be to a soul, that is sensible of the treasure she possesses when she has Jesus with her, to find that he has withdrawn himself from her; to find that she has lost her treasure. But how much more must this blessed couple have regretted the loss of their Jesus; their love for him being much greater than can be expressed or imagined! For in proportion to their love, their sorrow also must have been great beyond expression. Learn from hence, my soul, what value thou oughtest to set upon the happiness of having Jesus with thee; and how much thou oughtest to regret the loss of him.
Consider 3rdly, that although the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph had lost their Jesus, as to the sensible presence, yet they had not lost him, as to the presence of his grace and love; they had him still very near to them, because they had him in their hearts. A lesson for Christians of good-will, not to be discouraged, not to give themselves up to excessive anguish, if sometimes they experience the like subtraction of the sensible presence of our Lord, by a dryness in their devotions, and a spiritual desolation: let them but take care to keep their heart and will with him, and they may be assured he is not far from them. He has often dealt thus with the greatest Saints - and to their advantage too - to keep them more humble and distrustful of themselves; and to teach them not to seek their own satisfaction in the milk of spiritual consolations, but to be content to feed their souls with the more solid diet of conformity to the will of God, and to the cross of Christ.
Conclude to take care not to drive away Jesus by wilful sin: and be assured that nothing else can ever separate him from thee.
Consider first, how great an evil it is to lose Jesus by wilful sin. Ah! 'tis a far greater loss than if we should lose our all. This loss is the greatest misery that can befall any soul on this side of eternity - it wants nothing but eternity to make it hell. And yet how common is this loss? How often is Jesus lost in this manner, even in our most solemn festivals, by the abuse of these holy times? And how is it possible that a Christian soul should admit of any manner of comfort, joy, or pleasure, under so great a loss? What then must they do, that have reason to apprehend they have thus lost their Jesus; that he is now no longer theirs, and they no longer his? They must learn from the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, how they are to seek him, and find him again: for though this blessed couple had not lost him in that wretched way, yet the manner in which they sought him may be an instruction to all others, to teach them by what means Jesus may be found again when he is lost.
Consider therefore, 2ndly, that the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph were no sooner sensible that they had lost Jesus, but they began to seek him without the least delay; and they gave themselves no rest, till they had found him: to teach us, that there ought to be no manner of delay in seeking him, as soon as ever we perceive we have lost him; and how much we ought to regret so dismal a loss. They made no stay in the place where they were, but hastened back to Jerusalem, to find him there; not enduring to remain for ever so short a time at a distance from him: to teach us to spare no pains, either night or day, in seeking him, and in using all means in our power to come to him. They sought him, sorrowing, that is, with their souls full of grief and anguish, through the sense they had of the loss of their beloved; to teach us that the true way of finding Jesus when lost, must be by a sorrow influenced with love; that is, by a contrite and humble heart. They sought him with perseverance, and did not give over their search, till they had effectually found him: to teach us not to desist, upon meeting with difficulties and oppositions, in our search after Jesus, but to go on with diligence till we recover his gracious company.
Consider 3rdly, that Jesus was not found by the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph amongst their kindred and acquaintance. Alas! he is too often lost in the company and conversation of our worldly friends; but is very seldom to be found there. The common conversation of the world is at the best but empty, worldly, and distracting; and 'tis out of fashion to speak or think of Jesus in the company of worldlings. Therefore the soul that would effectually find him, must withdraw as much as may be from worldly company, and must enter into a kind of spiritual retreat; she must make the best of her way by spiritual reading, meditation, and prayer, to the temple of God in Jerusalem; or rather she must make a temple for her Jesus within her own self, and seek him there by inward recollection. 'Tis the surest place to find him. O sinners, return to your own hearts, and you will quickly find your God. When you went astray from him, you went astray also from your own hearts, and from your inward house; you forgot at the same time both God and yourselves. Return home to your interior, and you shall recover them both again.
Conclude, if at any time you have reason to apprehend that you have lost Jesus, to withdraw immediately from the crowd, to seek him in his temple in your own interior, and to give yourselves no rest till you have found him there. There he will hear you; and there he will teach you.
Consider first, those words spoken by our Lord Jesus to his parents when they found him in the temple, in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions, Luke ii., 'Did you not know,' said he, 'that I must be about my Father's business? I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me,' John iv. 38. This was his daily food during his mortal life.
'My meat,' said he, 'is to do the will of him that sent me,' John iv. 34. This then was the exercise of his private life which he spent in obscurity and retirement, under a poor carpenter's roof.
He was all the while about the business of his Father. He was ever doing the will of his Father. All his thoughts, words, and actions were directed to his Father's glory. And this is the great lesson we are to learn from him in his private life. We all of us, like him, came into this world for nothing else but to do the will of God: we all of us ought to be ever about the business of our heavenly Father: all our thoughts, words, and actions ought to be directed to him. O let us study well this great lesson, which the Son of God employed so many years in teaching.
Consider 2ndly, how 'he went down with Joseph and Mary to Nazareth, and was subject to them,' Luke ii. 51. O stand astonished, my soul, to see the Lord and Maker of heaven and earth submitting himself to his creatures, and obedient to them! O see how he serves them even in the meanest offices; how he works with his reputed father, at his mechanical trade. But with what modesty and silence, with what recollection and application of his soul to his heavenly Father by continual adoration, thanksgiving, oblation, and love, and by continual prayer and intercession for us! Christians, learn from this great example, to be ever humble, meek, and obedient. Learn to sanctify your ordinary employments, and even your common actions, by recollection and mental prayer. Learn that even the highest perfection may be found in the exercise of the lowest and meanest offices, if in these the soul does but take care to keep close to her God, and to embrace him by love.
Consider 3rdly, what is written of our Lord with relation to this private part of his life: that 'Jesus increased in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men,' Luke ii. 52. Our Lord, who from the first moment of his conception was full of all heavenly wisdom and divine grace, was pleased in proportion to his advancing in age, to show forth every day more and more, in his words and actions, the admirable treasures of wisdom and grace that were hidden in the soul, to teach us to make a continual progress in the way to God; and to advance every day by large steps, from virtue to virtue, till we come 'unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ,' Eph. iv. 13. Christians, do we seriously apply ourselves to learn this excellent lesson? What progress have we hitherto made, after so many years pretending to walk after Jesus Christ in the way of virtue? have we not for the most part rather gone backward than forward? O let us now at least, begin to be in earnest.
Conclude to learn of our Saviour all those lessons which he desires to teach us in his private life, particularly these three: 1, To be ever about the business of our Father; 1, To be ever submissive and obedient to his vicegerents; and 3, To be ever making the best of our way to him.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
Liturgia Latina Index