On The Third Dolor: Of the Loss of Jesus in the Temple
(Reflections on each of the Seven Dolors of Mary in Particular)
From The Glories of Mary by St. Alphonsus de Liguori
ST. JAMES the Apostle has said, 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.” The Lord having then given us the Virgin Mary as an example of perfection, it was necessary that she should be laden with sorrows, that in her we might admire and imitate her heroic patience. The dolor that we are this day to consider is one of the greatest which our divine mother Buffered during her life, namely, the loss of her Son in the temple. He who is born blind is little sensible of the pain of being deprived of the light of day; but to him who has once had sight and enjoyed the light, it is a great sorrow to find himself deprived of it by blindness. And thus it is with those unhappy souls who, being blinded by the mire of this earth, have but little knowledge of God, and therefore scarcely feel pain at not finding him. On the contrary, the man who, illuminated with celestial light, has been made worthy to find by love the sweet presence of the highest good, oh God, how he mourns when he finds himself deprived of it!
From this we can judge how painful must have been to Mary, who was accustomed to enjoy constantly the sweet presence of Jesus, that third sword which wounded her, when she lost him in Jerusalem, and was separated from him for three days.
In the second chapter of St. Luke we read that the blessed Virgin, being accustomed to visit the temple every year at the paschal season, with Joseph her spouse and Jesus, once went when he was about twelve years old, and Jesus remained in Jerusalem, though she was not aware of it for she thought he was in company with others. When she reached Nazareth she inquired for her Son, and not finding him there, she returned immediately to Jerusalem to seek him, but did not succeed until after three days. Now let us imagine what distress that afflicted mother must have experienced in those three days in which she was searching everywhere for her Son, with the spouse in the Canticles : “Have you seen him whom my soul loveth?” But she could hear no tidings of him. Oh, with how much greater tenderness must Mary, overcome with fatigue, and yet not having found her be loved Son, have repeated those words of Ruben, concerning his brother Joseph: The boy doth not appear, and whither shall I go? “Puer non comparet, et ego quo ibo ?” My Jesus doth not appear, and I know not what to do that I may find him; but where shall I go without my treasure? Weeping continually, she repeated during these three days with David: “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 mother had no rest, but wept and prayed without ceasing to God, that he would enable her to find her Son. And, according to St. Bernard, often during that time did she repeat to her Son himself the words of the spouse: “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.
Some writers assert, and not without reason, that this dolor was not only one of the greatest, but that it was the greatest and most painful of all. For in the first place, Mary in her other dolors had Jesus with her; she suffered when St. Simeon uttered the prophecy in the temple; she suffered in the flight to Egypt, but always with Jesus; but in this dolor she suffered at a distance from Jesus, without knowing where he was: “And the light of my eyes itself is not with me.” Thus, with tears, she then exclaimed: Ah, the light of my eyes, my dear Jesus, is no more with me; he is far from me, I know not where he is! Origen says, that though the love which this holy mother bore her Son, she suffered more at this loss of Jesus than any martyr ever suffered at death. Ah, how long: were these three days for Mary! they appeared three ages. Very bitter days, for there was none to comfort her. And who, she exclaimed with Jeremias, who can console me if he who could console me is far from me? and therefore my eyes are not satisfied with weeping : “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?”
Secondly. Mary well understood the cause and end of the other dolors, namely, the redemption of the world, the divine will ; but in this she did not know the cause of the absence of her Son. The sorrowful mother was grieved to find Jesus withdrawn from her, for her humility, says Lanspergius, made her consider herself unworthy to remain with him any longer, and attend upon him on earth, and have the care of such a treasure. And perhaps, she may have thought within herself, I have not served him as I ought. Perhaps I have been guilty of some neglect, and therefore he has left me. They sought him, lest he perchance had left them, as Origen has said. Certainly there is no greater grief for a soul that loves God than the fear of having displeased him. And therefore Mary never complained in any other sorrow but this, lovingly expostulating with Jesus after she found him : “Son, why hast thou done so to us? Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.”! By these words she did not wish to reprove Jesus, as the heretics blasphemously assert, but only to make known to him the grief she had experienced during his absence from her, on account of the love she bore him. It was not a rebuke, says blessed Denis the Carthusian, but a loving complaint : “Non erat increpatio, sed amorosa conquestio.” Finally, this sword so cruelly pierced the heart of the Virgin, that the blessed Benvenuta, desiring one day to share tho pain of the holy mother in this dolor, and praying her to obtain for her this grace, Mary appeared to her with the infant Jesus in her arms; but while Benvenuta was enjoying the sight of that most beautiful child, in one moment she was deprived of it. So great was her sorrow that she had recourse to Mary, to implore her pity that it should not make her die of grief. The holy Virgin appeared to her again three days after, and said to her: “Now learn, oh my daughter, that thy sorrow is but a small part of that which I suffered when I lost my Son.”
This sorrow of Mary ought, in the first place, to serve as a comfort to those souls who are desolate and do not enjoy the sweet presence they once enjoyed of their Lord. They may weep, but let them weep in peace, as Mary wept in the absence of her Son. Let them take courage, and not fear that on this account they have lost the divine favor, for God himself said to St. Theresa: “No one is lost without knowing it; and no one is deceived without wishing to be deceived.” If the Lord departs from the sight of that soul who loves him, he does not therefore depart from the heart. He often hides himself that she may seek him with greater desire and love. But those who would find Jesus must seek him, not amid the delights and pleasures of the world, but amid crosses and mortifications, as Mary sought him: We sought thee sorrowing, as she said to her Son: “Dolentes quasrebamus te.” Learn from Mary to seek Jesus, says Origen “Disce a Maria quaerere Jesum.”
Moreover, in this world we should seek no other good than Jesus. Job was not unhappy when he lost all that he possessed on earth; riches, children, health, and honors, and even descended from a throne to a dunghill; but because he had God with him, even then he was happy. St. Augustine, speaking of him, says: He had lost all that God had given him, but he had God himself: “Perdiderat ilia quse dederat Deus, sed habebat ipsum Deum.” Unhappy and truly wretched are those souls who have lost God. If Mary wept for the absence of her Son for three days, how ought sinners to weep who have lost divine grace, to whom God says: “You are not my people, and I will not be yours.” For sin does this, namely, it separates the soul from God: “Your iniquities have divided between you and your God.” f Hence, if even sinners possess all the goods of earth and have lost God, every thing on earth becomes vanity and affliction to them, as Solomon confessed: Behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” But as St. Augustine says: The greatest misfortune of these poor blind souls is, 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 they lose the highest good, which is God, and yet they eat and drink, and take their rest.
We read in the Annual Letters of the Society of Jesus, that in India, a young man who was just leaving his apartment in order to commit sin, heard a voice saying: “Stop, where are you going ? He turned round and saw an image, ia relief, of the sorrowful Mary, who drew out the sword which was in her breast, and said to him: “Take this dagger and pierce my heart rather than wound my Son with this sin.” At the sound of these words the youth prostrated himself on the ground, and with deep contrition, bursting into tears, he asked and obtained from God and the Virgin pardon of his sin.
O blessed Virgin, why art thou afflicted, seeking thy lost Son? Is it because thou dost not know where He is? But dost thou not know that He is in thy heart? Dost thou not see that He is feeding among the lilies? Thou thyself hast said it: “My beloved to me and I to Him who feedeth among the lilies.” These, thy humble, pure, and holy thoughts and affections, are all lilies, that invite the divine spouse to dwell with thee. O Mary, dost thou sigh after Jesus, thou who lovest none but Jesus? Leave sighing to me and so many other sinners who do not love Him, and who have lost Him by offending Him. My most amiable Mother, if through my fault thy Son hast not yet returned to my soul, wilt thou obtain for me that I may find Him. I know well that He allows himself to be found by all who seek Him: The Lord is good to the soul that seeketh him: ” Bonus est Dominus . . . animse quaerenti ilium.” Make me to seek Him as I ought to seek Him. Thou art the gate through which all find Jesus; through the I too hope to find Him. Amen.