I am come to cast fire on the earth: And what will I, but that it be kindled? (Luke 12: 49)
The Fifth Joyful Mystery, The Finding of Jesus in the Temple, is all about the fire of love which Our Lord seeks to perfect in the human heart. Like many other things in Holy Scripture, the depths of the meaning of this incident in the lives of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is not immediately obvious.
There are, in fact, some things within Luke’s short account of this Mystery which, at least initially, may be quite disturbing to us. It is well, therefore, that we quote the whole:
And his parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the solemn day of the pasch, And when he was twelve years old, they going up into Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast, And having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not. And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day’s journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance. And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him.
And it came to pass, that, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers. And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? Did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business? And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them.
And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men.
A number of things in these Gospel passages may indeed irritate us. First, at the end of Luke’s account of this Mystery, we are told that Jesus came back to Nazareth with His parents and was “subject to them”. Yet, He does not appear to have been subject to them when He stayed in Jerusalem without even informing them, or seeking their permission.
Secondly, the Gospel says that both Mary and Joseph came a full day’s journey before they sought for Jesus among their kinfolk and acquaintances. Even if we accept that Joseph and Mary travelled separately, and that Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph, and vice-versa, it would indeed seem strange that they did not make certain that they were all on the same journey back home initially. That Jesus, Mary, and Joseph should have acted so “independent” of one another would seem to run contrary to our understanding of the love and intimacy which was absolutely integral to the Holy Family.
Third, and most important, we have the seemingly strange exchange between Jesus and His parents upon their finally being physically reunited in the Temple: “Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business? And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them.” Both Mary and Joseph knew that Jesus was God Incarnate. It should have not been a matter of ignorance on their part, therefore, that Jesus might be about His Father’s “business” in His Temple.
This Mystery must therefore involve a process of growth in love of Jesus Christ which can only be perfected for us mortals through the apparent absence of God, and the passion which such absence generates in our souls. It is this fire which Jesus sought to perfect in Mary and Joseph, and it is this same fire which He seeks to kindle in each one of us. Complete understanding is not at all necessary for the fire of God to do its work in our souls. On the road to Emmaus with Jesus after His Resurrection, the two disciples did not understand all that Jesus revealed to them. And yet later, “in the breaking of bread”, their eyes were opened and they proclaimed, “Was not our heart burning within us, whilst he spoke in the way, and opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24: 32). The fire of desire and love eventually opens our hearts to the light of understanding.
Clearly, there are “hidden designs” being worked out in this Mystery which are not at first apparent.
Mary of Agreda, in her work The City of God, which contains voluminous private revelations concerning the entire life of Mary (and also, of course, Jesus and St. Joseph), unravels these “hidden designs” of Our Lord in relation to this Mystery and the life of His Mother.
Because we know that Mary was conceived without original sin, was absolutely pure her whole life, and always cooperated fully with God’s Will, does not at all mean that during her life she could not grow and be perfected immeasurably in ever greater love and holiness, or that such a process was not necessary for her role as co-mediatrix in God’s plan for the redemption of mankind. Mary of Agreda writes:
“As we must judge of Her excellence (even if from afar), by the labor which Christ the Lord applied for Her formation, let us consider what labor He spent upon Her and how much upon the whole Church. To establish and to enrich His Church He deemed it sufficient to spend only three years in preaching, selecting the Apostles, teaching the people, and inculcating the evangelical law by His public life; and this was amply sufficient to accomplish the work enjoined upon Him by the Eternal Father and to justify and sanctify all true believers. But in order to stamp upon His Most Holy Mother the image of His Holiness, He consumed not three years, but ten times three years, engaging in this work with all the power of His Divine Love, without ever ceasing hour after hour to add holiness to holiness.”
In this exquisite formation of Our Lady for Her future role as coadjutor of His redemptive work, Mary of Agreda tells us that Our Lord “proceeded like a skillful artist”. This included not only imparting to her knowledge and wisdom beyond comparison with any other mortal, but also the interior perfecting of all her faculties. The absenting of Jesus from Mary and Joseph during this Mystery of the Rosary was therefore fully intentional. Again, we read:
“Not all the sorrows suffered by all the martyrs ever reached the height of the sorrows of Most Holy Mary in this trial; nor will the patience, resignation and tolerance of this Lady ever be equaled, nor can they; for the loss of Jesus was greater to Her than the loss of anything created, while Her love and appreciation of Him exceeded all that can be conceived by any other creature. Since She did not know the cause of the loss, Her anxiety was beyond measure, as I have already said. Moreover, during these three days the Lord left Her to her natural resources of nature and of grace, deprived of special privileges and favors; for, with the exception of the company and intercourse with the angels [who, at the command of Our Lord, did not reveal to her the whereabouts of Her Son], He suspended all the other consolations and blessings so constantly vouchsafed to Her Most Holy Soul. From all this we can surmise what sorrow filled the loving heart of the Heavenly Mother. But, O prodigy of holiness, prudence, fortitude, and perfection! In such unheard of affliction and sorrow She was not disturbed, nor lost Her interior or exterior peace, nor did She entertain a thought of anger or agitation, nor allowed Herself any improper movement or expression, nor fell into any excess of grief or annoyance, as is common in great affliction with other children of Adam, who allow all their passions and faculties to be disarranged, yes even in small difficulties.”
In other words, this “artifice” of Our Lord in respect to Our Most Holy Mother was purposed towards raising and honing all of Her sensitive passions to complete union with her higher faculties of intellect and will, which were firmly established in God. The following explanation was offered by Our Lady to Mary of Agreda”
“My daughter, all the works of My Most Holy Son and My own actions are full of mysterious instruction and doctrine for the mortals who contemplate them diligently and reverently. The Lord absented Himself from me in order that, seeking Him in sorrow and tears, I might find Him again in joy and with abundant fruits for my soul. I desire that thou imitate me in this mystery and seek Him with such earnestness, as to be consumed with a continual longing, without ever in this life coming to any rest until thou holdest Him and canst lose Him no more.”
In discussing this Mystery, Mary of Agreda several times refers to the Canticle of Canticles (Song of Songs), and seems to equate all that is happening within the interior of Mary during this Mystery with the divine poetry of love and desire depicted in the Canticle of Canticles:
“With this heavenly wisdom and with greatest diligence She sought Him for three successive days, roaming through the streets of the city, asking different persons and describing to the daughters of Jerusalem the marks of her Beloved, searching the byways and the open squares of the city and thereby fulfilling what was recorded in the Canticles of Solomon (Cant. 5, 10) Some of the women asked her what were the distinctive marks of Her lost and only Son; and She answered in the words of the Spouse: ‘My Beloved is white and ruddy, chosen out of thousands.’ One of the women, hearing Her thus describing Him, said: ‘This Child, with those same marks, came yesterday to my door to ask for alms, and I gave some to Him; and His Grace and Beauty have ravished my heart. And when I gave Him alms, I felt myself overcome by compassion to see a Child so gracious in poverty and want.’”
It is this necessity of “seeking Him with earnestness”, of being “consumed with a continual longing, without ever in this life coming to any rest until thou holdest Him and canst lose Him no more” which is the most important truth which Mary wishes us to focus on in this Mystery. It is no wonder, therefore, that St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest intellect that the Church has ever produced, asked that the Song of Songs in its entirety be read to him while he was lying on his deathbed.
Our Lady continues:
“In order that thou mayest understand better this sacrament [mystery] of the Lord, remember, that the Infinite Wisdom made men capable of His Eternal Felicity, and placed them on the way to this happiness, but left them in doubt of its attainment, as long as they have not yet acquired it and thus filled them with joyful hope and sorrowful fear of its final acquisition. This anxiety engenders in men a lifelong fear and abhorrence of sin, by which alone they can be deprived of beatitude and thus prevent them from being ensnared and misled by the corporeal and visible things of this earth. This anxiety the Creator assists by adding to the natural reasoning powers, Faith and hope, which are the spurs of their love toward seeking and finding their last end. Besides these virtues and others infused at Baptism He sends His inspirations and helps to keep awake the soul in the absence of its Lord and to prevent forgetfulness of Him and of itself while deprived of his amiable presence. Thus it pursues the right course until it finds the great goal, where all its inclinations and longing shall be satiated.”
Jesus Christ proclaimed, I am come to cast fire on the earth: And what will I, but that it be kindled? He tells us that the, “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away” (Mt. 11:12 At the First Eucharist, He exhibited this same fire and “violence” within His own human soul when he said, “With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer”. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in a “mighty wind” and in “parted tongues of fire”, and in the Book of the Apocalypse (3: 16) Our Lord proclaims that the lukewarm He will “vomit out of His mouth”. Meditation upon this Fifth Mystery of the Most Holy Rosary is designed to inculcate in our souls a consuming fire which cannot rest as long as we are short of the Beatific Vision of God Himself. It should have the effect of making the number one object of our righteous indignation, not anything outside of ourselves whether in the Church or in the world, but the lukewarmness and torpidity of our own hearts weighted down with the effects of both original and personal sins. It should make of us all “artificers” in pursuit of the passion and love of Mary for Her Son.
The means given to us by Our Lady Herself for practicing this Art of Love is the Rosary. Mary said that Her Immaculate Heart would not only be our Refuge, but the Way that will lead us to God. The Rosary is the Way in, by, and through which we can most effectively work, in cooperation with God’s grace, at integrating all of our faculties – intellect, will, memory, imagination, and all of our passions – into the pursuit of our Beloved. The thought that the Rosary is essentially a daily task that we must say, or the notion that it is virtually impossible to pray the Rosary with real attention – these ideas need to be expunged from our hearts and minds. If it is difficult – and because of our fallen nature, it certainly is – then we need to put all the more effort into overcoming these impediments, as we would with any human art. These are the Mysteries of the lives of Our Lord and Our Lady, and of the work of the Holy Spirit in our own souls. We need to labor at penetrating them with the understanding that comes from the heart. They are infinite in meaning. We need to passionately pursue the art of eliminating duplicity and double-mindedness from our own souls.
And when we are surfeited with trying to penetrate further into the meaning of the Mysteries, there are the words of the prayers themselves. We pray Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, and we become present with Jesus as spiritual children of Mary at the moment of the Incarnation. We pray, “Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, and with the simplest inclination of our hearts we can make a spiritual communion during every single Hail Mary. And with the words, Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, we can make that fundamental surrender of our whole being to Jesus through Mary which is the essence of Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. Focusing on the words which accompany these profoundly meaningful truths and acts of our Faith may indeed often be difficult, but so also is learning any other complex skill we may undertake in our lives (surely the perfecting of our prayer life is worth as much labor as all the effort we put into learning a trade, rearing our children, or becoming a violinist or a doctor). And when we fail in attentiveness and become distracted, we need simply respond with the humility which rises with alacrity (St. Louis de Montfort’s wonderful phrase) to resume our efforts. It is the work of a lifetime. It is the art of corresponding the word that comes out of our mouth with the “heart of flesh” which has been promised to us by God. It should be the singular passion – the Song of Songs – of our lives, because it is a foretaste of what will be ours in Heaven.
*Please pray every Rosary to include the intention: For the Purification of the Church. And also consider asking your pastor to have a Mass offered for this expressed intention.