Anthony_Sermons - (ALLEGORICAL SERMON)
10. Joseph commanded his silver cup to be put, etc. Let us see what is meant, morally,
by Benjamin, his sack and the mouth of the sack, and the silver cup.
Benjamin is the penitent who is at first ‘son of sorrow’. He says: My sorrow is continually before me (Ps 37,18). Note that he says, ‘before me’. It is said2 that the ostrich lays her eggs in front of herself, and gazes upon them with a fixed and constant look; by gazing she warms them, and so the eggs hatch. In the same way the penitent should keep his works firmly before his mind, and often carefully consider them with sorrow, so as to produce from them the fruits of repentance. He who keeps himself before himself, will find in himself nothing but sorrow. Yet wretched sinners behave like apes, who (Natural History tells us) delight in the full moon and are sad when it wanes; and who carry the young they favour in front of them, putting the neglected ones behind them.
"Just like the moon, so varies fortune’s game:
It waxes, it wanes, it never stays the same."3
When worldly fortune is full, carnal folk rejoice. So Job 21 says:
They dance and play;
they take the timbrel and the harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ.
They spend their days in good things, and in a moment they go down to hell. (Jb 21,89)
A point pricks; at the point of death worldlings are pricked strongly by the devil, so that they are forced to jump out of the bed they are lying on into hell. When he shows them the crescent moon of adversity, they are sad. Adversity casts them down, prosperity lifts them up. These folk bear their ‘children’ (the glory of the world, the gluttony and lust of the flesh, which they love) in their breasts. They put the sorrow of penitence and the misery of this life behind them, where they cannot see them.
But let us hear what Benoni does: he says, My sorrow is continually before me. Because he loves sorrow, he keeps it in his sight and looks at himself in it as in a mirror, observing his defects. So Jeremiah says: Set thee up a watch-tower: make to thee bitterness: direct thy heart into the right way (Jr 31,21). Note the three words, ‘set’, ‘make’ and ‘direct’. One follows from another. He who sets the mirror of his life before himself makes bitterness for himself, and he directs his heart in the way of right action. And so, if he was Benoni, he will be Benjamin too, the son of the right hand.
11. Note that this right hand has two aspects: it is grace now, and glory to come. Apocalypse 1 says of the right hand of grace:
in his right hand he had seven stars. (Ap 1,16)
These seven stars are referred to in the reading at Mass, where we read of Saul that suddenly a light from heaven shone round him; he fell to the ground, and when he rose entered the city. He received his sight, and Baptism; he took food, and preached Jesus (cf. Ac 9 . The first of these denotes prevenient grace, the second the consideration of our frailty, the third the knowledge of our own sin, the fourth the cleansing of our conscience, the fifth the shedding of tears, the sixth the sweetness of contemplation, and the seventh the proclamation of the word, or thanksgiving. Let us look at each of these.
When the sinner draws near to Damascus (meaning ‘drink of blood’), in other words, when he is close to incorporating the uncleanness of sin within himself, all at once (for he knows not where it comes from or where it goes) a light from heaven shines round him, of which Job 38 says:
Show me where light dwelleth, and where is the place of darkness;
that thou mayest bring every thing to its own bounds. (cf. Jb 38,18-20)
The light is grace; the place of darkness is the sinner’s blinded mind; the bounds of sin are its ending. When the sinners mind is enlightened by grace, sin comes to an end.
He fell to the ground. The Psalm says:
All they that go down to the earth shall fall before him. (Ps 21,30)
This is as though to say, he who considers his own frailty humbles himself in the sight of God.
He entered the city. Thus: I walked sorrowful all the day long (Ps 37,7). Fighting outside, guilt inside. If someone suffered an injury out of doors, and on going into his house found it dirty and untidy, would he not be sad and sorrowful? Of course he would! So the sinner who notices the malice of the world without, and knows the uncleanness of his conscience within, walks sorrowful all the day. Note that it says ‘all the day’. Before the sun’s ray enters the house, you cannot see the dust in the air; but once the sun’s ray enters, you see that it is full of dust! The ray is knowledge, which shows a man the faults of his own conscience, and subtly reveals what at first was hidden. And it says ‘all the day’, because one should continually walk sorrowfully, not just now and then. He who wants to know his own wretchedness must walk within all day, not just half the day. And because from this sadness there arises the cleansing of the conscience, we come to the fourth point.
He received his sight. Luke continues: And immediately there fell from his eyes as it were scales (Ac 9,18). There is something similar in Tobias 11:
A white skin began to come out of his eyes, like the skin of an egg; and Tobias took hold of it, and drew it from his eyes. And immediately he recovered his sight. (Tb 11,14-15)
The ‘scales’ are the impurities of the mind; the ‘skin of an egg’ is vainglory, as in Lamentations 1: Her virgins are in affliction (Lm 1,4), where the word actually means ‘scabby’. ‘Scabies’ in a man is like scales on a fish or a snake. It is as though he said, even though they be virgins in body, they are scabby by the itching of an impure mind. The ‘skin of an egg’, thin and white, is vainglory, which is very subtle, because when someone knows he is thought devout, a tendency to vainglory arises. It is ‘white’, appearing outwardly delightful. But it is an artificial whiteness, not one that comes from nature. These two blind men, but by God’s grace they are rescued, their conscience is cleansed and their sight returns.
He received Baptism. In Judith 12 it says that Judith went out by night into the valley of Bethulia, and washed herself in a fountain of water (Jdt 12,7). Judith means ‘confessing’, and Bethulia is ‘the house giving birth to the Lord’. The night stands for the time of quiet, while the valley is humility and the fountain is tears. The penitent who confesses goes out from inward and outward clamour, literally by night, or at least in silence, to the valley of Bethulia, the humility of conscience which gives birth to the Lord in contrition (as to himself) and in preaching (to others); and there he washes himself in the fountain of tears.
He took food. Ecclesiasticus 15 says: She fed him with the bread of life and understanding (Si 15,3). Note that the sweetness of contemplation is two-fold. One is in the affection, and this is ‘life’; the other is in the mind, and this is ‘understanding’. The one consists in the ‘elevation’ of the mind, the other in the ‘alienation’ of the mind. "The elevation of the mind is when the vivacity of the intelligence, divinely irradiated, passes beyond the limits of human industry, yet does not pass into alienation of the mind, so that it sees what is above it, and yet hardly recedes from what it is accustomed to. Alienation of the mind is when the remembrance of present things is removed from the mind, and the state of the mind passes by the transfiguration of the divine operation into a pilgrim way, untrodden by human industry."4 Those who are refreshed and strengthened by such food can well preach Jesus, or give him thanks. The Psalm says:
The poor shall eat and be filled: and they shall praise the Lord. (Ps 21,27)
The poor (that is, the humble) first ‘eat’ in the understanding, and are ‘filled’ in their affection, and then they can praise the Lord.
These are the seven stars in Christ’s right hand, and his son is Benjamin who was formerly Benoni.
12. This Benjamin is called ‘younger’, because he is less than the rest of his brothers; this stands for the humility of the penitent. So I Kings 16 says of David:
There remaineth yet a young one, who keepeth the sheep. (1S 16,11)
Only humility of conscience can keep the sheep of innocence. Old Joseph ordered his silver cup to be put into the mouth of the sack of this Benjamin. The silver cup is the resonant confession of sins, which the penitent should fill with the wine of compunction and offer to Jesus Christ. In II Esdras 2, Nehemiah says: I took up the wine and gave it to the king; and was as one languishing away before his face (Ne 2,1). In Canticles 5 the Bride says:
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem (heavenly virtues), if you find my beloved, that you tell him I languish with love. (Ct 5,8)
He who languishes with the love of Christ, offers him the wine of compunction. Note that it says ‘I took up’. Hypocrites do not ‘lift’ compunction, they put it down, because they shed tears from vainglory.
This silver cup is put in the ‘mouth’, not the bottom. The rough sack is the contrite heart, of which Jonah 3 says that the king of Ninive was clothed with sack-cloth and sat in ashes. (Jon 3,6). Ninive means ‘beautiful’. It is the vanity of the world, which is like mud covered in snow. Its ‘king’ is the penitent who treads it down. Clad in sack-cloth, he sits in ashes, because in contrition of heart he ponders how he will end in ashes. He carries the silver cup in his mouth, he does not hide it at the bottom, being always ready to accuse himself. Note that it says ‘his cup’. You should attribute the grace of confession to Christ, not to yourself; everything good in you comes from him.
To him, then, be honour and glory, who from Benoni made Benjamin, from a son of sorrow a son of grace now ,and will make him a son of glory hereafter. Then, with those standing on the right, he will deserve to hear: Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom (cf. Mt 25,34). May he deign to grant this, who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.
1 ABBOT GAUFRIDUS, Declamationes, II,2; PL 184.438
2 e.g. by NECKHAM, De naturis rerum, 50
3 NOVATUS, Songs, 1183. See also above, p72.
4 RICHARD OF ST VICTOR, Beniamin maior, 5,2; PL 196.170
The copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd Dr S.R.P. Spilsbury
1. At that time: After the days of the purification of Mary were completed, etc. (Lc 2,22)
In this Gospel three things are noted: the offering of Jesus Christ in the temple, the fulfilment of the expectation of the just Simeon, and his blessing.
2. The offering of Jesus Christ: After the days, etc. In this first clause, three things are noted morally; namely the purifying of the soul, its offering, and afterwards its entry into the heavenly temple. But first, let us look at the historical meaning.
The Lord spoke to Moses, in Leviticus 12, saying:
If a woman having received seed shall bear a man child, she shall be unclean seven days. (Lv 12,1-2)
This is in distinction to her who gave birth as a virgin. Neither the child nor the mother needed to be purified by sacrifices; it was to free us from the fear of the Law, that is, from keeping a law which is observed in fear. It was laid down that a boy should be circumcised on the eighth day, and be taken to the temple on the thirty-third day after his circumcision, and that sacrifices should be offered for him, namely a year-old lamb; or if she could not lay her hand on a lamb, she should offer two turtle-doves or two young pigeons. Further to this, Josephus says that the first-born should be redeemed with five shekels."1 The blessed and poor little Mary offered the poor sacrifice for her poor Son, that the Lord’s humility might by all this be made manifest.
So the words, Every male opening the womb, etc. (Lc 2,23), must be understood like this. We read in Exodus 13:
Thou shalt set apart all that openeth the womb for the Lord; and all that is first brought forth of thy cattle. Whatsoever thou shalt have of the male sex, thou shalt consecrate to the Lord. (Ex 13,12)
"The first-born of the sons of Levi were offered and not redeemed, and the ever served the Lord. The other first-born were offered and redeemed. The first-born of cattle fit for sacrifice were offerings of the priests. Those of unclean animals were not offered, but they were redeemed- so that the first-born of an ass was exchanged for a sheep, which was offered instead. Some animals were killed and not redeemed, such as the first-born of a dog."2
3. After the days of the purification of Mary were completed. Mary (whose name means ‘enlightened’ or ‘bitter sea’, or ‘sovereign lady’) is any just soul which is enlightened in Baptism, a bitter sea in a contrite heart and afflicted body, and who will be a sovereign lady in the kingdom, when she will be joined to the eternal king. But meanwhile, while she is in this exile, she needs purification because she contracts many stains. So Ecclesiasticus 7 says:
Purify thyself with thy arms, and for thy negligences purify thyself with a few. (Si 7,33)
To purify is to remove all stains and leave only what is pure. Thorough purification is to purify oneself before the judgement ‘with arms’, that is, works of mercy; and to purify oneself from one’s neglect of the commandments ‘with a few’, for there are few who so purify themselves.
Natural History says that doves remove the dung of their chicks from the nest, and purify it; and when the chicks grow up, they teach them to throw out the dung. In the same way, just men purify their own and their subordinates’ uncleannesses, and teach them to cleanse their own. So Jeremiah 9 says:
Teach your daughters wailing, and every one her neighbour mourning.
For death is come up through our windows: it is entered into our houses. (Jr 9,20-21)
This as if to say, mortal sin enters the soul by the bodily senses, but it is cast out by medicine, the lament of penitence. When someone feels himself suffering from sickness, he accepts a purge in order to get better. So Ecclesiasticus 38 says:
The Most High hath created medicines out of the earth:
and a wise man will not abhor them. (Si 38,4)
The earth is the flesh, and the medicine is penance. Some cures are made from the flesh of serpents, and penance, the medicine of the soul, is made from our flesh. However bitter it may be, a prudent man who feels the sickness of sin affecting him will not shrink from drinking it, because by drinking the bitter potion he becomes well again.
It is a great foolishness, to let slip health because of bitterness, and risk death. Proverbs
It is nought, it is nought, saith every buyer:
and when he is gone away, then he will boast. (Pr 20,14)
Every sick person says, The drink shall be bitter to them that drink it (Is 24,9); but when the sickness passes, he will rejoice. So, too, every sinner says that penance is bitter; but when his soul is purged of guilt, he will rejoice in heavenly glory.
4. Let us say, then: After the days of the purification of Mary were completed. The soul which is so purified and cleansed must offer a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons (Lc 2,24). The ‘pair of turtle-doves’ stand for the two kinds of chastity, and the ‘two young pigeons’ for the two kinds of compunction. Let us look at each of these.
The turtle-dove, from its voice, is deemed a modest bird; if it loses its mate, it does not seek another. It wanders lonely and sighing, and loves solitary places. In the winter it comes down to the valleys, and losing its feathers it lives in hollow tree-trunks. In the summer it goes up the mountains and makes its nest there. In the same way, the penitent who is modest by continence in mind and body should seek the society of no mortal sin; for, as Isaiah 28 says:
The bed is straitened so that one must fall out:
and a short covering cannot cover both. (Is 28,20)
This is as if to say that the conscience of the just man is so constrained by the fear of God, that the devil can find no rest therein; because the saints who, as Job 3 says, curse the day (worldly prosperity), are ready to raise up Leviathan (Jb 3,8). The cloak of divine grace, though it be very wide, always seems short to a man, and it cannot cover both, that is, both husband and adulterer (mortal sin). The just man, while he is in the body, is absent from the Lord (cf. 2Co 5,6); he is deprived of his beloved. So he wanders alone, not mingling with the noisy crowd, sighing and saying:
Lord, all my desire is before thee: and my groaning is not hidden from thee. (Ps 37,10)
He loves solitude of mind and body, saying:
Lo, I have gone far off, flying away, and I abode in the wilderness. (Ps 54,8)
In the winter of our present misery, he loses the feathers of temporalities, and is content with drab clothing; but when the summer of eternal glory arrives, he will fly to the mountains of his heavenly home.
Again, the pigeon has a sigh for a song, because its intestine is full of gall, and from the great bitterness it seems to groan. Some say it has no gall-bladder, but it does not have its gall in the same place as other birds. It does not injure anything, nor does it live on carrion. It feeds the chicks of others, choosing pure grain. It lives beside running water, to hide from the hawk. It builds its nest in the clefts of the rock. In the same way, the penitent groans with sorrow, being full of the bitterness of contrition. He says:
I will cry like a young swallow, I will meditate like a dove. (Is 38,14)
Natural History says that if a young swallow’s eyes are pulled out, they grow again. The penitent who loses the eye of divine love cries out to recover it; for, in the bitterness of his soul he will remember the years of his life (cf. Is 38,15). He does not repay evil with evil; he does not live on the carrion of robbery; rather, he shares what he has with others- he rescues sinners from the devil and feeds them with the food of eternal life. He selects the grain of the Catholic Faith, dwelling by floods of tears, to protect himself from the devil’s deceits. He builds his nest in the wounds of Christ, wherein he places both the nest of his hope and the chicks of his works.
Alternatively, the Gloss says: "He who cannot find a lamb, that is, the riches of an innocent life, should have recourse to tears of compunction, which are denoted by birds, on account of their groaning. There are two sorts of compunction, according as we fear punishment from the remembrance of our evil deeds, or burn with desire for heavenly things and groan at their delay. So we are bidden to offer two birds, one for a holocaust, when we are afire with heavenly love, and the other for sin, when we groan for the evil we have done."
Again, the first-fruits represent the good works we do at the beginning of our conversion, which we as it were carry in our heart, and which we should attribute to the grace of God. We are bidden to redeem our evil deeds with the fruits of repentance.
Again, the five shekels with which we redeem our first-born are: to sorrow over our past deeds, to lay them bare in confession, to share our neighbour’s sorrow, to have fear in all things, and to persevere to the end.
Whoever is purified in this way, and offered with such sacrifices or redeemed with such a price, without a doubt he will be received by the hands of angels in the heavenly temple.
5. The fulfilment of the expectation of the just Simeon: And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, (Lc 2,25) whose name means ‘hearing grief’. He stands for the penitent who, whether eating or drinking or doing anything else, hears that terrible voice which says, "Arise, O dead, and come to judgement." He says with Job, in the last chapter:
With the hearing of the ear I have heard thee; but now my eye seeth thee.
Therefore I reprehend myself, and do penance in dust and ashes. (Jb 42,5-6)
He does not say ‘with the ear’, but ‘with the hearing of the ear’. The fool, like an ass, hears only the sound of the divine word; but the wise man perceives its force and keeps it in his heart. Natural History says that if the ears of deer are erect, they hear most keenly; but if their ears are down, they hear nothing. Those who are of the world turn their ears to the world, and so cannot hear; as it is said:
You hear them not, because you are not of God. (Jn 8,47)
Just men, because they are of God, lift up their ears to hear grief. Grief is ‘sorrow with silence’. With the hearing of the ear I have heard you preaching, Do penance, etc. (Mt 4,17); and now my eye sees you hanging on the cross. Alternatively, I heard you say in the judgement, I was thirsty, etc. (Mt 25,35); and my eye sees you sitting, terrible, upon the throne of your majesty. I reprehend myself in confession and do penance in humility of mind and affliction of body.
This Simeon is in ‘Jerusalem’, because his conversation is in heaven.
And this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Ghost was in him. (Lc 2,25)
The just man is so called, because he does what is right and lives according to the law. Servile fear is to refrain from evil out of fear of punishment, not love of justice. Charity casts it out, when a man does not love iniquity even when he can escape punishment. Chaste fear is when the soul fears to lose grace; and this brings it about that it takes no pleasure in sin, and it would fear that grace would abandon it even though it suffered no punishment. Charity does not cast out this fear, because it endures for ever and ever. Fear should be greater when wandering afar, less as one draws near, not at all when one arrives. The penitent is just in himself, and with devout fear towards God, waiting with filial fear for the consolation not only of himself, but of his neighbour. Thus, the Holy Spirit is in him, by whose inspiration he receives the sure response that he will not taste eternal death, but will see Christ face to face.
And he came by the Spirit into the temple (Lc 2,27). The temple, ‘amply roofed’, protects with its roof the ample number it takes in. The temple is charity towards God and neighbour. That towards God protects, that towards neighbour receives. No one can enter this temple except by the spirit, not by the flesh; for, God is a spirit (Jn 4,24), and, It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing (cf. Jn 6,64).
6. There follows:
And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law. (Lc 2,27)
Note that it says ‘the child Jesus’, not ‘Jesus as a child’. The Gloss says, "Since ‘childhood’ begins after the seven years of infancy, Jesus is often called a child, not because of his age, but because of his servitude3. The Prophet says, Behold my servant (Mt 12,18 cf. Is Is 42 Is Is 1), because
The son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister (Mt 20,28)
He was for us, then, first a servant serving us, as Isaiah 43:
Thou hast made me to serve with thy sins: thou hast wearied me with thy iniquities. (Is 43,24)
For thirty-three years he served us faithfully, and laboured for us so greatly that he sweated blood, and in the end suffered death for love of us. O my dearest brothers, what reward can we give so faithful a servant? What can be worthy of his benefits? (Tb 12,2). Certainly, we can say what Tobias said to Raphael:
If I should give myself to be thy servant,
I should not make a worthy return for thy care. (Tb 9,2)
What reward have we unhappy men given him? He says in the Psalm:
They repaid me evil for good, to the sterility of my soul; (Ps 34,12)
Because we do not allow the blood of his Passion to be fruitful in us. He laid down his own life, to gain our souls; but we deprive them of this fruit, when we give ourselves to the devil by mortal sin. It well speaks of the ‘child Jesus’; first he served us, then he saved us. No one can be ‘Jesus’ (‘saving’) unless he is first ‘child’ (‘serving’).
7. His blessing: He took him into his arms (Lc 2,28). Great is the humility of the Saviour! He who is not constrained by place is carried in the arms of an old man! An old man held the child, to teach us that we should put off the old man, who is corrupted, and put on him who is created according to God (cf. Col 3,9-10). He carries Christ in his arms, who embraces the word of God not only with his mouth but in works of charity; as Job did, saying in chapter 13: I
I tear my flesh with my teeth, and carry my soul in my hands. (Jb 13,14)
Our teeth divide our food, and they represent the rebukes and accusations of confession, with which the just man tears his flesh (his carnal actions), and so carries his soul in the arms of his works, ready to return it to his Creator whenever it is asked for. Then he will bless God with Simeon:
Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word, in peace. (Lc 2,29)
The servant who has served long, and laboured long, is dismissed in peace by the Lord, according to the word of peace. Stephen ‘ fell asleep in the Lord’ (Ac 7,60). The Lord’s word is:
Come to me, all you that labour and are burdened; and I will refresh you (cf. Mt 11,28)
According to your word, dismiss your servant now in peace. Behold the child who is Jesus, the servant and salvation, because he is dismissed in peace. Now you may dismiss me, because until now I have laboured and waited; but now, at the end of my misery, you may dismiss your servant.
So Job 39 says:
Who hath sent out the wild ass free, and who hath loosed his bonds?
To whom I have given a house in the wilderness, and his dwelling in the barren land. (Jb 39,5-6)
The wild ass is the penitent, to whom God gives a house in this present miserable life in solitude of mind; and also a soldier’s tent from which he can fight and resist in bitterness of heart. Jeremiah says of these two: From the presence of thy hand I sat alone, because thou hast filled me with bitterness (cf. Jr 15,17). The Lord gives him this in this life; and at death, free from guilt, he dismisses him and looses the bonds of punishment. Now, then, thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word, in peace.
8. Because my eyes have seen thy salvation (Lc 2,30). Note that God is seen in three ways: he is seen by faith and by contemplation on earth, and face to face in heaven. These three are ‘air’, ‘water’, and ‘earth’. Natural History says that birds flying in the air need sharp vision, because they see their food from very high up. Fish have watery eyes, because they need to see clearly in the dense water. Birds which remain on the ground, and do not fly, such as the hen, etc., do not need keen sight. The ‘birds in the air’ are the angelic virtues in heaven, which from the heights of heaven gaze with keen and clear sight upon God their food, on whom the angels desire to look (1P 1,12).The ‘fish in the waters’ are contemplatives in their tears. Their ‘watery eyes’ are the insights of a devout mind, which sees much because of the density of the water (that is, of contemplation); it is ‘dense’ and impenetrable, unless the contemplative vision is full of
devotion. Their eyes see the salvation of God. The ‘birds on the ground’ are active souls who feed their chicks like hens. They do not see much keenly, but the still see the salvation of God.
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples (Lc 2,31). This is concordant to Isaiah 52:
The Lord hath prepared his holy arm in the sight of all the Gentiles. (Is 52,10)
The Father’s ‘arm’ is the Son, ready to embrace the prodigal son who returns to him. So Luke 15 says:
Running to him he fell upon his neck and kissed him. (Lc 15,20)
In the first Advent, the Father prepared the Son ‘before the face of all peoples’, so that they might believe and love. In the second, he will prepare him so that Every people shall see him (cf. Ap 1,7), and, He will render to each one according to his works (cf. Mt 16,27 Rm 2,6).
A light to the revelation of the Gentiles (Lc 2,32). This is the Saviour himself, by grace in this present life. So in Isaiah 42, the Father says:
I have given thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles. (Is 42,6-7)
And Job 12:
He discovereth deep things out of darkness,
and bringeth up to light the shadow of death. (Jb 12,22)
He who is ‘light’ in the present will be, in the future, The glory of his people Israel (Lc 2,32), those who see God. May he grant us this, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
9. The bee is small among flying things: but her fruit hath the chiefest sweetness. (Si 11,3)
Natural History says that the bee generates without coupling, because she contains the power of generation. The good bee is small, rounded, dense and compact; she is cleaner than other flying creatures or animals, and because of this a bad smell annoys her, while a sweet scent delights her. She flees from no animal, and when she flies she does not go to different flowers, or leave one and visit another; she gathers from the one she goes to and then returns to the hive. Her food is honey, for she lives on what she
makes. She makes a house in which the king remains, and begins to construct the walls of the hive at the top, coming down little by little until she reaches the bottom of the hive.
In the same way our Lady, blessed Mary, gave birth to the Son of God without defilement, because The Holy Ghost came upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her (cf. Lc 1,35). This good bee was ‘small’ in her humility, ‘rounded’ in contemplation of heavenly glory (which has no beginning or end), ‘dense’ in charity (since she who bore Charity in her womb for nine months could not lack charity), ‘compact’ in poverty, and purer than others by her virginity. That is why, if one may put it this way, the stink of lust offends her, while the sweet scent of virginity or chastity pleases her. And so he who would please the blessed Virgin should shun lust and practice chastity. She flees no animal (that is, no sinner), rather she welcomes all those who have recourse to her, and so is called ‘Mother of mercy’. She is merciful to those in misery, the hope of the hopeless.
In Canticles 2 the Bridegroom says: I am the flower of the field, and the lily of the valleys. (Ct 2,1). Blessed Mary chose this flower, leaving all others, clinging to it and receiving whatever she needed from it. Nazareth, where she conceived, means ‘flower’, and she chose this place above all others. The ‘flower which sprang from the root of Jesse’ (cf. Is 11,1) loves a flowery homeland. The food of blessed Mary was her Son, the honey of the angels and sweetness of all the saints. She lived from the one she nourished. The one she suckled gave her life.
This good bee prepared a house: her mind by humility, and her flesh by virginity, in which the king of angels might dwell. And notice how the bee begins to build from above, because the blessed Virgin began to build not from below (in the sight of men), but from above (in the eyes of the divine majesty); and little by little, discretely and in due order, she began to come down to human attention, so that being already chosen in God’s sight, she might become admirable in human sight.
10. Let us say, then: The bee is small among flying things. While many virtues shone out excellently in blessed Mary, humility shone with even more excellence. So she refers to it as though forgetting all the rest: He regarded the humility of his handmaid (Lc 1,48), and so it is called ‘small among flying things’. The ‘flying things’ are her merits, flying up to the highest heaven. The last chapter of Proverbs says:
Many daughters have gathered together riches (i.e. virtues):
thou hast surpassed them all (because humility flies higher than all). (Pr 31,29)
While she was endowed with so many riches of virtues, and was lifted up by so many prerogatives of merit, our bee was ‘small’ (that is, humble), she who today offered her honeycomb to God in the temple today, the Word Incarnate, God and man.
The honeycomb consists of honey and wax, and in the child Jesus was divinity and
humanity. Natural History says that good honey comes from new wax, and good honey is like gold. The ‘new wax’ is Christ’s flesh, taken from the flesh of the most pure and glorious Virgin. In it was held the honey of divinity, symbolised by gold. So Canticles 5 says:
The beloved’s head is as the finest gold. (Ct 5,11)
The head of Christ is God (1Co 11,3); and so today we go in procession, carrying candles in our hands, lit from new fire. This represents the procession which Mary and Joseph made today, carrying the child Jesus to the temple, while Simeon and Anna prophesied and praised.
The Psalm says of this procession:
Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed. (Ps 84,11)
The mercy of our salvation, in the Redeemer; the truth of the promise, in Simeon whom the Holy Spirit had promised that he would not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord (cf. Lc 2,26). Justice, in blessed Mary and Joseph; peace, in Anna the prophetess, who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day. (Lc 2,37). And so today mercy came into the temple, and truth went to meet it; because Simeon took the child Jesus, and their justice and peace kissed. A kiss indicates unity and concord: what Mary and Joseph believed, Anna confessed, and so they came together in one spirit.
Note the three parts of a candle: the wax, the wick, and the flame. The wax is Christ’s flesh, the wick his Passion, and the flame of fire the power of his divinity. "Deck your chamber, Sion, and welcome Christ the king,"4 so that as you represent him today by the candle, you may carry him in your heart. The wax stands for purity of mind, the wick for affliction of body, and the flame for the ardour of charity. He who carries it thus, represents well. Glory and honour, then, be to the virgin bee, who today offered the honeycomb to God.
There follows, regarding her: but her fruit hath the chiefest sweetness. The fruit of the bee is the Son of the Virgin. Blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Lc 1,42), it says; and Canticles 2: His fruit was sweet to my palate (Ct 2,3). This fruit is sweet in its beginning, middle and end. It was sweet in the womb, sweet in the crib, sweet in the temple, sweet in Egypt, sweet in his Baptism, sweet in the desert, sweet in word, sweet in miracles, sweet on the ass, sweet in the scourging, sweet on the Cross, sweet in the tomb, sweet in hell and sweet in heaven. O sweet Jesus, what is more sweet than you are?
"Jesu- the very thought is sweet... sweeter than honey far."5
Name of sweetness, name of salvation. What else is ‘Jesus’ but ‘Saviour’? Therefore, kind Jesus, for your own name’s sake be ‘Jesus’ to us; so that you who have given the beginning of sweetness, faith, may give hope and charity. So, living and dying in them, we may be found fit to come to you; grant this by the prayers of your Mother, you who are blessed for ever. Amen.
Anthony_Sermons - (ALLEGORICAL SERMON)