The Apostle Saint James says that our perfection consists in the virtue of patience. “And patience hath a perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.” Our Lord having, then, given us the blessed Virgin Mary as a model of perfection, it was necessary that she should be laden with sorrows, that in her we might admire heroic patience, and endeavour to imitate it. The sorrow which we have this day to consider was one of the greatest that Mary had to endure in her life, the loss of her Son in the temple. He who is born blind feels but little the privation of the light of day; but he who has once enjoyed it, and loses it by becoming blind, indeed suffers much. Thus it is also with those unhappy souls who, blinded by the mire of this world, have but little knowledge of God, they suffer but little at not finding Him; but, on the other hand, he who, illumined by celestial light, has become worthy to find by love the sweet presence of the supreme good, O God, how bitterly does he grieve when he finds himself deprived of it! Hence, let us see how much Mary must have suffered from this third sword of sorrow which pierced her heart, when, having lost her Jesus in Jerusalem for three days, she was deprived of His most sweet presence, accustomed as she was constantly to enjoy it.
St. Luke relates, in the second chapter of his Gospel, that the Blessed Virgin, with her spouse St. Joseph, and Jesus, was accustomed every year at the paschal solemnity to visit the temple. When her Son was twelve years of age, she went as usual, and Jesus remained in Jerusalem. Mary did not at once perceive it, thinking He was in company with others. When she reached Nazareth, she inquired for her Son; but not finding Him, she immediately returned to Jerusalem to seek for Him, and only found Him after three days. Now let us imagine what anxiety this afflicted Mother must have experienced in those three days during which she was seeking everywhere for her Son, and inquiring for Him with the spouse in the Canticles: “Have you seen him whom my soul loveth?” But she could have no tidings of Him. O, with how far greater tenderness must Mary, overcome by fatigue, and having not yet found her beloved Son, have repeated those words of Ruben, concerning his brother Joseph: “The boy doth not appear; and whither shall I go?” “My Jesus doth not appear, and I no longer know what to do to find Him; but where shall I go without my treasure?” Weeping continually, with how much truth did she repeat with David, during those three days, “My tears have been my bread day and night, whilst it is said to me daily: Where is thy God?” Wherefore Pelbart, with reason, says, that “during those nights the afflicted Mary did not sleep; she was constantly weeping, and entreating God that He would enable her to find her Son.” Frequently, during that time, according to St. Bernard, she addressed her Son in the words of the spouse in the Canticles: “Show me where thou feedest, where thou liest in the mid-day, lest I begin to wander.” My Son, tell me where Thou art, that I may no longer wander, seeking Thee in vain.
There are some who assert, and not without reason, that this dolour was not only one of the greatest, but the greatest and most painful of all. For, in the first place, Mary, in her other dolours, had Jesus with her: she suffered when Saint Simeon prophesied to her in the temple; she suffered in the flight into Egypt; but still in company with Jesus; but in this dolour she suffered far from Jesus, not knowing where He was: “And the light of my eyes itself is not with me.” Thus weeping she then said, “Ah, the light of my eyes, my dear Jesus, is no longer with me; He is far from me, and I know not whither He is gone.” Origen says that through the love which this holy Mother bore her Son, “she suffered more in this loss of Jesus than any martyr ever suffered in the separation of his soul from his body.” Ah, too long indeed were those three days for Mary; they seemed three ages; they were all bitterness, for there was none to comfort her. And who can ever comfort me, she said with Jeremias, who can console me, since He who alone could do so is far from me and therefore my eyes can never weep enough: “Therefore do I weep, and my eyes run down with water: because the Comforter . . . is far from me.” And with Tobias she repeated, “What manner of joy shall be to me who sit in darkness, and see not the light of heaven?”
In the second place, Mary, in all her other sorrows, well understood their cause the redemption of the world, the Divine will; but in this she knew not the cause of the absence of her Son. “The sorrowful Mother,” says Lanspergius, “was grieved at the absence of Jesus, because, in her humility, she considered herself unworthy to remain longer with or to attend upon Him on earth, and have the charge of so great a treasure.” “And who knows,” perhaps she thought within herself “maybe I have not served Him as I ought; perhaps I have been guilty of some negligence, for which He has left me.” “They sought Him,” says Origen, “lest perchance He had entirely left them.” It is certain that, to a soul which loves God, there can be no greater pain than the fear of having displeased Him. Therefore in this sorrow alone did Mary complain, lovingly expostulating with Jesus, after she had found Him: “Son, why hast Thou done so to us? Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.” By these words she had no idea of reproving Jesus, as heretics blasphemously assert, but only meant to express to Him the grief proceeding from the great love she bore Him, which she had experienced during His absence: “It was not a rebuke,” says Denis the Carthusian, “but a loving complaint.” In fine, this sword so cruelly pierced the heart of the most holy Virgin, that the blessed Benvenuta, desiring one day to share the holy Mother’s pain in this dolour, and entreating her for this favour, Mary appeared to her with the Infant Jesus in her arms; but while Benvenuta was enjoying the sight of this most beautiful child, in a moment she was deprived of it. So great was her grief, that she had recourse to Mary, entreating her to mitigate it, that it might not cause her death. In three days the holy Virgin again appeared, and said: “Know, my daughter, that thy sorrow is only a small part of that which I endured when I lost my Son.”
This sorrow of Mary ought, in the first place, to serve as a consolation to those souls who are desolate, and no longer enjoy, as they once enjoyed, the sweet presence of their Lord. They may weep, but they should weep in peace, as Mary wept the absence of her Son; and let them take courage, and not fear that on this account they have lost the Divine favour; for God Himself assured Saint Teresa, that “no one is lost without knowing it; and that no one is deceived without wishing to be deceived.” If our Lord withdraws Himself from the sight of a soul which loves Him, He does not, therefore, depart from the heart; He often conceals Himself from a soul, that she may seek Him with a more ardent desire and greater love. But whoever wishes to find Jesus, must seek Him, not amidst delights and the pleasures of the world, but amidst crosses and mortifications, as Mary sought Him: “we sought Thee sorrowing,” as Mary said to her Son. “I learn, then, from Mary,” says Origen, “to seek Jesus.”
Moreover, in this world she would seek no other good than Jesus. Job was not unhappy when he lost all that he possessed on earth; riches, children, health, and honours, and even descended from a throne to a dunghill; but because he had God with him, ho was even then happy. Saint Augustine says, “he had lost what God had given him but he still had God Himself.” Truly miserable and unhappy are those souls which have lost God. If Mary wept the absence of her Son for three days, how should sinners weep, who have lost divine grace, and to whom God says: “You are not my people, and I will not be yours.” For this is the effect of sin; it separates the soul from God: “Your iniquities have divided between you and your God.” Hence, if sinners possess all the riches of the earth, but have lost God, all, even in this world, becomes vanity and affliction to them, as Solomon confessed: “Behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” But the greatest misfortune of these poor blind souls is, as St. Augustine observes, that “if they lose an ox, they do not fail to go in search of it; if they lose a sheep, they use all diligence to find it; if they lose a beast of burden, they cannot rest; but when they lose their God, who is the supreme good, they eat, drink, and repose.”