The Flight into Egypt.
The Gospels don’t give us an exact timeline of the infancy narratives, but you can kind of work out that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He and His family stayed there for a while. He would have been circumcised there on the eighth day after birth and then Mary and Joseph took him the few miles north to Jerusalem for His presentation. Luke leaves out the rest saying when all was done they went back to Nazareth, but Matthew fills in the rest of all that was done.
The Magi came. Having read the signs properly, first, from the sky and very likely from the prophecy of Balaam which had been given to the pagans; they headed off to find the king of the Jews. Understandably they went to King Herod in Jerusalem.
Herod didn’t want a Messiah, and to make sure there wasn’t one, he ordered all the boys under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed. The slaughter of the innocents was the result.
But an angel came to Joseph and warned him, telling him to take his little family and flee into Egypt.
Leaving their lives behind, Mary and Joseph headed off into the desert, taking our precious hope of salvation with them. The sword in Mary’s heart was not just the loss of home and extended family, and having to become a refugee, but the realisation that already people hated her beloved Son. They hated Him enough to want Him dead.
For so many of us, our journey with Christ, with the Divine Child, is through the desert. It’s a long journey of spiritual dryness where the joy of the Temple seems far behind and we feel we are facing a life in Egypt where we don’t belong, and long for home. A desert prayer life is a lesson in faith. It doesn’t feel good and there are no (or few) consolations, but we do it anyway. It’s a big sign of contradiction to “feel good Christianity” that’s for sure.
There are two lovely golden legends about this journey. The first tells us that the soldiers chased after the Holy Family. Joseph quickly led them, and the donkey off the path and hid them in a cave. But the soldiers were searching everywhere.
As the little family huddled at the back of the cave, a spider came and quickly made her webs around the mouth of the cave and a soft wind sent dust over the webs.
When the soldiers arrived they said, “These webs have been here a long time undisturbed so they didn’t come this way.” They turned and went away.
The second story tells us that along the road, not far from Bethlehem robbers came to attack the family. One of them, a young one, was so taken with the baby he said he would not steal from them and he ensured they were allowed to go on safely.
This was St. Dismas who would continue in his life of crime and get arrested. He would then be crucified on Calvary that Friday before the Sabbath and he would in his own agony, repent, accept his punishment, rebuke his fellow criminal (one of the spiritual works of mercy) and declare his belief in Jesus and His innocence. So much good done while in such terrible agony!
I hope that the faith of Dismas helped mitigate, just a little, the intensity of the sword that pierced Our Blessed Mother’s soul that day. As you can see I have a big soft spot for St. Dismas who not only picked up his cross but accepted being crucified on it too.