by Rev. Albert F. Ernst O.S.F.S.
Our Lord's life was rather short. He lived about thirty-three years. During that time, our Lord was three hours on the cross before He died. He spent three years teaching the people Catholic doctrine, but He passed thirty years in teaching us by example how to live. Very probably, none of us will meet death by crucifixion; certainly none of us has anything to add to our Lord's teaching, but all of us have a life to lead. Consequently, Christ's behavior in the home is in some ways the most important consideration of His life for us.
During the first thirty years of His life, Jesus was a member of a family with Mary and Joseph. "He was subject to them." He lived a hidden life such as most of us are obliged to live. There were no servants to look after His every want. There was no abundance of money to be squandered on childish whims. We can easily picture Him helping cheerfully with the household chores, running errands, fetching material for Joseph, sweeping the shop and gradually learning the use of tools as He grew up. Later, presumable He worked as a full fledged carpenter. This in brief gives us a glimpse of our Lord's life as a boy. He was poor. He was obedient, and He had to help around the house. Jesus did not appear on earth as an adult, a grown person; but condescended to be a child and a youth for the instruction and inspiration of children and young people.
The lessons taught from the very beginning of His life, and which are extremely important, are His love for the virtue of holy purity. Purity is most pleasing to God. He wanted everyone who was in any way associated with His childhood and youth to be absolutely pure. His Mother was spotless and a most pure virgin. She alone was conceived and born without the least stain of original sin. Never had sin touched her soul. His foster father, Joseph, led a life of purity. Even John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the coming of our Lord was, and remained a virgin. Why this choice on the part of Jesus of purity in those he picked as His guardians and as intimate companions at the very start of His life? It was to impress upon everyone the greatness and the necessity of the virtue of purity. After the virtue of obedience to those in charge of us there is nothing more likely to preserve us from the dangers of spiritual, moral and physical ruin than the virtue of purity. On the other hand, there is nothing that will bring more success and happiness than the virtue of holy purity.
In His very first sermon to the people He spoke about purity, and He said pointedly, "Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God." (Matthew 5:8). On another occasion, Jesus stressed the importance of purity. A young man who approached our Lord to ask Him how to get to heaven, was told, "You know the commandments." Then our Lord mentioned the commandments starting with the precept of chastity, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," and ending with the honor that is to be paid to parents or those in charge of us. He emphasized these two virtues by uttering them first and last. Jesus mentioned purity before the honor that is due to our superiors to indicate, no doubt, that a person who is chaste will have little difficulty in paying proper respect and obedience to his superiors. Then the young man told our Lord, "All these things I have observed from my youth." And Jesus looking upon him, loved him. He loved him because his mind was pure and his heart was chaste. Jesus loved him so much that He wanted to make him one of His favorite disciples and He said to him, "Come, follow Me." God loves purity but people also admire what is chaste.
The ancient Romans had their vestal virgins in testimony of the fact that down deep people revere and prize whatever makes for purity and chastity. The Roman vestal virgins, as long as they were true to their profession of virginity were held in great esteem. If a conquering hero, returning from a glorious victory, was having a triumphal procession through the streets of Rome, and a vestal virgin came the other way, the procession was halted in deference to her and the conqueror paid her public homage. If on the street, she met the sorrowful procession of a man who was sentenced to death, and who was on his way to the place of the execution of sentence, she had the power to pardon him unconditionally on the spot. When the gladiators fought unto death in the arena, the vestal virgin could decide, at her pleasure, either for the life or death of the unhappy warrior. On the other hand, however, if the vestal virgin was untrue to her vow she was publicly and shamefully degraded and buried alive because of the scorn she brought upon herself by her infidelity to the virtue of purity she professed.
Before the birth of our Lord, the Blessed Mother demonstrated the esteem in which she held holy purity and virginity. Before she gave her consent to accept the highest dignity offered to her or ever to be offered to a human being, namely, to become the Mother of God, she cautiously asked the question how she could become God's Mother and still remain a virgin. St. Jerome tells us that she would have declined or refused to become God's Mother rather than give up her virginity. God loved her so much that He selected her to be His Mother.
Not only during His life, but even after death, our Lord showed His love for this holy virtue. We have all heard of St. Francis of Assisi. He was the son of a rich merchant who voluntarily renounced his family inheritance and embraced a life of extreme poverty. He is the founder of the great Franciscan order. It is related that Christ once appeared to him and asked St. Frances to make three offerings to Jesus Christ. "Thou knowest O Lord," replied the saint, "That I have already offered thee all that I have. Thou knowest I am all Thine and that I have nothing left in the world but this habit and cord, which are Thine also. What, therefore, can I offer to Thine infinity majesty? I would that I had another heart and another soul to offer Thee. But since You ask me to make another offering, give me something, O Lord, that therewith I may serve and obey Thee." God said to St. Frances, "Put thy hand into thy pocket and offer Me what thou findest." St. Francis did so and found in his pocket a piece of gold so large and beautiful that he had never seen the like. St. Francis stretched out his hand at once and offered it to the Lord. He was asked to do it a second and a third time, and each time he drew out another piece of gold and offered it. Then our Lord told him that these three precious offerings signified poverty, fair chastity or purity and golden obedience.
Notice the fondness our Lord has for purity. No wonder His favorite apostle was the virgin, St. John. No wonder that Jesus, as he hung dying on the cross, commissioned John to take care of His mother. John was not a soft character. As a matter of fact Christ called, John and his brother James, "Sons of Thunder." Toward the end of our Lord's life, He was on His way from Galilee to Jerusalem. He had to cross through Samaria. During the day all the apostles were with our Lord. As night approached He would ask them to go into the next town and get a place to stay for Him and His followers. On this occasion word was brought to our Lord that the Samaritans in the next town would not receive them. When John and James heard this they said, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and destroy them?"
Worldly persons picture people who commit sins of impurity as strong, manly, daring and courageous. They look upon the pure as weaklings and cowards. They depict the chaste man as pale and the chaste woman as a colorless flower. And yet, these people are absolutely radiant. Moreover, purity is really a noble virtue. It is a virtue to be classed with the courage of martyrs and the zeal of missionaries. It is a knightly virtue which strikes down those who would lay ugly hands on women and soiled hands on children. It is very much like that splendid Christian attitude which as a ship begins to sink prompts the cry, "Women and children first."
God's pure are never weaklings. In fact, their courage is heroic. Take the girl saint, St. Agatha. Born of rich and noble parents, she possessed much fame for her virtue (Purity) beauty. Quintianus was governor of Sicily at that time. It happened to be the time when Emperor Decius launched his violent persecution against the Christians. Learning through spies and informers that Agatha was a Christian and a believer in Christ crucified, Quintianus summoned her to his place of residence. Agatha knew full well the meaning of the summons and the terrible fate which was involved if she remained true to her religion. Unafraid, the young girl set out on her journey saying, "Oh, Jesus Christ, all that I am is Thine; preserve me and strengthen me to resist the threats of this tyrant." When Quintianus saw her he was struck by her beauty and innocence. He was so captivated by her that instead of ordering her to offer incense to the idols and so deny her faith, the lustful governor commanded her to commit a sin of impurity and in this way to deny her faith in Christ. She refused saying, "Christ is my life and my salvation." She was imprisoned in a dirty, filthy dungeon. She might yet change her mind. When imprisonment failed to break her iron will, Quintianus again summoned her before him. "If you do what I command, " he said, "and in this way renounce this god of the Christians, I will not only spare your life and give you liberty but everything that the heart of a girl craves." But all to no purpose. That frail young girl, beautiful and fair . . . stood before Quintianus and his court, the power of might Rome, the allurement of the flesh and challenged them to shake her faith in Jesus and her stubborn adherence to His laws.
At last, in a rage of passion, Quintianus ordered her breasts to be cut off. She didn't give in. Finding her still unyielding he commanded her to be stripped and rolled naked upon pointed, broken pieces of earthen pots and sharp rocks which pierced deep into her tender flesh. As the warm life's blood of this girl flowed slowly from a hundred deep wounds in her body and colored the rocky ground red, this brave girl turned her face towards heaven and with her arms upraised cried out, "Jesus, now I am all Thine." With these words on her dying lips her head fell back to the ground while her soul started its flight back into the outstretched arms of her God and Savior.