Flight of Jesus to Egypt

As the stag, wounded by an arrow, carries the pain with him wherever he goes, because he carries with him the arrow which has wounded him, so did the Divine Mother, after the sad prophecy of Saint Simeon, as we have already seen in the consideration of the first dolour, always carry her sorrow with her in the continual remembrance of the Passion of her Son. Hailgrino, explaining this passage of the Canticles, “The hairs of thy head, as the purple of the king, bound in the channel,” says that these purple hairs were Mary’s continual thoughts of the Passion of Jesus, which kept the blood which was one day to flow from His wounds always before her eyes: “Thy mind, O Mary, and thy thoughts, steeped in the blood of our Lord’s Passion, were always filled with sorrow, as if they actually beheld the blood flowing from His wounds.” Thus her Son Himself was that arrow in the heart of Mary; and the more amiable He appeared to her, so much the more deeply did the thought of losing Him by so cruel a death wound her heart. Let us now consider the second sword of sorrow which wounded Mary, in the flight of her Infant Jesus into Egypt from the persecution of Herod.

Herod, having heard that the expected Messias was born, foolishly feared that He would deprive him of his kingdom. Hence Saint Fulgentius, reproving him for his folly, thus addresses him: “Why art thou troubled, O Herod? This King who is born comes not to conquer kings by the sword, but to subjugate them wonderfully by His death.” The impious Herod, therefore, waited to hear from the holy Magi where the King was born, that he might take His life; but finding himself deceived, he ordered all the infants who could be found in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem to be put to death. Then it was that the angel appeared in a dream to Saint Joseph, and desired him to “Arise, and take the Child and His Mother, and fly into Egypt.” According to Gerson, Saint Joseph immediately, on that very night, made the order known to Mary; and taking the Infant Jesus, they set out on their journey, as it is sufficiently evident from the Gospel itself: “Who arose and took the Child and His Mother, by night, and retired into Egypt.” O God, says Blessed Albert the Great, in the name of Mary, “must He then fly from men, who came to save men?” Then the afflicted Mother knew that already the prophecy of Simeon concerning her Son began to be verified: “He is set for a sign that shall be contradicted.” Seeing that He was no sooner born than He was persecuted unto death, what anguish, writes Saint John Chrysostom, must the intimation of that cruel exile of herself and her Son have caused in her heart: “Flee from thy friends to strangers, from God’s temple to the temples of devils. What greater tribulation than that a new-born child, hanging from its mother’s breast, and she too in poverty, should with Him be forced to fly ?”

Any one may imagine what Mary must have suffered on this journey. To Egypt the distance was great. Most authors agree that it was three hundred miles; so that it was a journey of upwards of thirty days. The road was, according to Saint Bonaventure’s description of it, “rough, unknown, and little frequented.” It was in the winter season; so that they had to travel in snow, rain, and wind, through rough and dirty roads. Mary was then fifteen years of age a delicate young woman, unaccustomed to such journeys. They had no one to attend upon them. Saint Peter Chrysologus says, “Joseph and Mary have no male or female servants; they were themselves both masters and servants.” O God, what a touching sight must it have been to have beheld that tender Virgin, with her new-born Babe in her arms, wandering through the world! “But how,” asks Saint Bonaventure, “did they obtain their food? Where did they repose at night? How were they lodged? What can they have eaten but a piece of hard bread, either brought by Saint Joseph or begged as an alms? Where can they have slept on such a road (especially on the two hundred miles of desert, where there were neither houses nor inns, as authors relate), unless on the sand or under a tree in a wood, exposed to the air and the dangers of robbers and wild beasts, with which Egypt abounded. Ah, had any one met these three greatest personages in the world, for whom could he have taken them but for three poor wandering beggars.”

They resided in Egypt, according to Brocard and Jansenius, in a district called Maturea; though Saint Anselm says that they lived in the city of Heliopolis, or at Memphis, now called old Cairo. Here let us consider the great poverty they must have suffered during the seven years which, according to Saint Antoninus, Saint Thomas, and others, they spent there. They were foreigners unknown, without revenues, money, or relations, barely able to support themselves by their humble efforts. “As they were destitute,” says Saint Basil, “it is evident that they must have laboured much to provide themselves with the necessaries of life.” Landolph of Saxony has, moreover, written (and let this be a consolation for the poor), that “Mary lived there in the midst of such poverty that at times she had not even a bit of bread to give to her Son, when, urged by hunger, He asked for it.”

After the death of Herod, Saint Matthew relates, the angel again appeared to Saint Joseph in a dream and directed him to return to Judea. Saint Bonaventure, speaking of this return, considers how much greater the Blessed Virgin’s sufferings must have been on account of the pains of Jesus being so much increased as He was then about seven years of age an age, remarks the Saint, at which “He was too big to be carried, and not strong enough to walk without assistance.”

The sight, then, of Jesus and Mary wandering as fugitives through the world teaches us that we also must live as pilgrims here below, detached from the goods which the world offers us, and which we must soon leave to enter eternity: “We have not here a lasting city, but seek one that is to come.” To which Saint Augustine adds: “Thou art a guest; thou givest a look, and passest on.” It also teaches us to embrace crosses, for without them we cannot live in this world. Blessed Veronica da Binasco, an Augustinian nun, was carried in spirit to accompany Mary with the Infant Jesus on their journey into Egypt; and after it the Divine Mother said, “Daughter, thou hast seen with how much difficulty we have reached this country; now learn that no one receives graces without suffering.” Whoever wishes to feel less the sufferings of this life must go in company with Jesus and Mary: “Take the Child and His Mother.” All sufferings become light, and even sweet and desirable, to him who by his love bears this Son and this Mother in his heart. Let us, then, love them; let us console Mary by welcoming in our hearts her Son, whom men even now continue to persecute by their sins.