The Mirror of True Womanhood Chapter Two

The True Woman’s Kingdom — The Home (continued)

Let us examine together how much there is in every one of these. We need not send to a great distance for one of those men famed for their skill in discovering hidden and plentiful springs of water beneath the surface of the ground. Their mysterious knowledge and the use of their magic wand are useless here. For, here we have seven pure and exhaustless wells of living water, created for our home by the Maker of all things, and placed ready to our hand for every need.

 

And, first of all, is a lively faith. We Christians are given that eye of the soul which enables us to see the invisible world, as if the vail which hides it were withdrawn. God becomes to us an ever-present, most sweet and most comforting reality. The great patriarch, Abraham, was bidden, in his long exile, and as a sure means of bearing up against his manifold trials, to walk before God, — that is, to have God ever present before the eye of his soul. This sense of the Divine Majesty as a vision always accompanying us in our every occupation, in labor as well as repose — just as the pillar of cloud went with the Israelites in their journeying toward the Promised Land — gives wonderful light to us in our darkness and difficulties, cheers us marvelously in distress and adversity, lightens the hardest labor and the most intolerable burden, imparts a divine strength in the hour of temptation; — for, what can we not undertake and accomplish, what enemy can we not resist and put to flight, when we feel that His eye is on us, that we have him there face to face, that his arm is ever stretched out to support and to shield us, and that all the love of his fatherly heart sweetens the bitterness of our struggle, and rewards our generosity in overcoming all for his sake?

Joseph and Mary at Nazareth were privileged above all human beings to behold that Wisdom which created the world living and laboring daily beneath their humble roof, and growing up into the successive perfection of holy infancy, boyhood, and manhood, while concealing his quality from the surrounding multitude, and revealing only to a few like themselves his Godhead and his mission. It is certain, that he practiced all the virtues and fulfilled all the duties of his age and station in the way best fitted to glorify his Father: he was enlightening the world, sanctifying himself, and marking out the path of life as truly for every one of us, during these long and obscure years of his abode in Nazareth, as when his teaching and his miracles drew around him all Galilee and Judea.

And what an eloquent lesson was there, exemplifying that “life of faith,” without which the existence of the Christian man or woman is barren of all supernatural merit! Christ, in the helpless years of his infancy and boyhood, when his life was one of entire dependence and submission, glorified and pleased his Father by solely seeking his good will and pleasure in obeying those appointed his earthly parents, and in accomplishing the obscure duties of his age. This lesson Mary and Joseph were not slow to learn and to practice. They read in the rapt charity with which their worshiped Charge offered to the Divine Majesty everyday and hour and moment of these golden years of humility and toil, — this all-important law of life for the children of God: ‘That the value of what we do does not depend on the greatness or publicity of the work accomplished; but on the spirit of love toward the Father with which it is undertaken and carried out; and that the pure purpose and offering of the heart is what God prizes above all else.’

It has been the constant belief and teaching of Christian ages that the lives of Joseph and Mary consumed in the voluntary poverty, lowliness, and toil of their condition, were ennobled, elevated, sanctified, and made most precious before God by being — after the example of the Divine Model before them — devoted to God alone, and animated by the one sole thought and purpose of pleasing and glorifying him by perfect conformity to his holy will.

The Mother who ruled in this ‘most blessed home, beheld in the Divine Babe confided to her, the Incarnate Son of God walking before her in the true way of holiness, and, like him, she applied herself to set the Eternal Father constantly before her eyes, studying to make every thought and aim and word and action most pleasing to that Infinite Perfection.

When Christ had begun his public life, when the home at Nazareth was broken up, and Mary had taken up her abode with her kinsfolk at Capharnaum, the light of the Father’s countenance, in which she had learned to live, accompanied her, and the grace of her Son’s example continued to surround her like a living atmosphere. After the terrible scenes of Calvary and the glories of the ascension, she brought with her to the home which St. John and his mother, Mary Salome, so lovingly offered her, the image of her Crucified Love, as the one great mirror in which she could behold the new heights of sanctity and self-sacrifice which she was called on to tread with him.

Since her day who was Mother of our Head, Mother of the Church which she labored to beget and to form, and Mother of us all — since she quitted her home on earth for heaven — the image of the Crucified God has ever been the chief ornament, the principal light, and the great Book of Life in every true Christian home.

Not one saintly mother among the millions who have trained sons and daughters, ay, and husbands and dependants, to be the true followers of Christ, his apostles and his martyrs, when need was — but always his faithful servants and imitators; — who did not read in the ever open page of her crucifix, how she might best lead a life of self-sacrifice, and best induce her dear ones to be “crucified to the world.”

But let no one fancy that, in placing before her this holy model-home of the ever-blessed Mother of God, it is the intention of the writer to urge any one who chances to read these pages to expect to equal in self-sacrifice either herself or her Divine Son. No: the aim of the instruction here given is to encourage all who look into this mirror to adorn their homes with some of the heavenly flowers which bloomed in Nazareth, to bring to the performance of their daily duties in their own appointed sphere, that lofty spirit of unselfish devotion to God which will make every thing they do most precious in his sight, transform the poorest, narrowest, most cheerless home into a bright temple filled with the light of God’s presence, blessed and protected by God’s visiting angels, and fragrant with the odor of paradise. It is merely sought to open to the darkened eyes visions of a world which will enable the burdened soul to bear patiently and joyously the load of present ills; to fire the spirit of the careworn and the despairing with an energy which will enable them to take up the inevitable cross and follow Mary and her Son up to heights where rest is certain and the promised glory unfading.

No — you shall not be asked to quit your home, or exchange your occupations, or add one single particle to the burden of your toil, your care, or your suffering; but she who is the dear Mother of us all will teach you by the silent voice of her example, how to bring the light of heaven down into your home, the generosity of the children of God into the discharge of your every occupation, and the sweet spirit of Christ to ennoble your toil, to brighten your care and your suffering.

Travelers among the loftiest mountains often chance upon calm, bright lakes within whose crystal depths are mirrored not only the blue heavens into which the eagle alone can soar, and the cold, ice-covered summits which only the feet of the most daring few have trodden, but the low and fertile hills around the shore covered with the green woods, the healthful pastures, and frequented by the shepherds and their flocks. It is to these lovely, safe, and accessible heights of virtue that this little book would guide the footsteps of mother and maiden alike.

And of such easy access is the height of purity of intention and living faith, which should be the constant light of your home. It is characteristic of the depth and constancy of womanly affection that the thought of the loved one, during the longest and most painful absence, will suffice to sustain them and to brighten a life which otherwise would appear cheerless. Thus it is said of that truest of wives,

St. Elizabeth Of Hungary,

that during her young husband’s long spells of absence at court or in the wars, she was wont to animate herself and her large household by the thought of how much he would be pleased, on his return, that they had endeavored to do every thing as they knew he would wish them. Elizabeth, before her marriage, had received from him, in a moment of bitter trial to her, a small pocket-mirror which gentlemen in those days usually carried with them. It was of polished silver, with the reverse adorned with a crucifix set in gems. She never parted with this dear pledge of his truth, often taking it out of her satchel to kiss it. During her cruel widowhood and when driven ruthlessly forth from her palace with her helpless orphans, she would continually hold this mirror in her hand, kissing the image of her crucified Lord and recommending unceasingly to his mercy the soul of her husband. Nor was this perpetual remembrance of him a source of prayerful resignation only; it also stirred her up to vindicate the rights of his plundered children. As she pleaded their cause before the Thuringian nobles, she would hold the well-known mirror in her hand, kiss it frequently, and press it to her heart, as if to warm herself to greater energy and eloquence. Nor were her nobles insensible to the spectacle of their young mistress’s fidelity and truth to her earthly love.

 

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

In like manner, if the thought of God and the remembrance of his incomparable love wave any influence on our lives, they will be the soul of all our actions, inspiring, directing, cheering, and sustaining us in all that we plan and undertake and suffer day after day.

St. Clement next praises in the Corinthians a “piety full of sweetness and modesty.” Piety is a word of Latin origin, and, among the old Romans who first used it, meant that spirit of dutiful and generous love with which children do the will and seek the interests of their parents. This sense of free, generous, disinterested, and unselfish devotion to the happiness, honor, and interests of one’s parents, is always contrasted with the selfish, mercenary, or compulsory service of a slave or a servant in a family. True-hearted children make their happiness to consist in seeking how they can best, please and honor father and mother: what they do is not dictated by the fear of punishment or the hope of reward or the prospect of gain or self-gratification. The hope or certainty of delighting or pleasing or helping the dear authors of their being, such is the thought which prompts the labors or obedience of a loving child.

Not so the mercenary: his motive is to gain his wages. He bargains to do so much in return for such a wage. The happiness of the family, the interest or honor of his employers, their satisfaction or the praise which they may bestow, do not, most likely, enter into the thoughts or calculations of venal souls.

You have known, perhaps, in many families, daughters so noble-minded, that they were content to labor untiringly for their parents, placing their whole delight in doing all they could to lighten the burden of father and mother, or to make the home bright an&-pleasant for brothers and sisters, without seeking or expecting one word of praise and acknowledgment. This is the best description of filial piety.

Only transfer to God’s service that same unselfish and generous disposition, — asking yourself only how much you cars do to please him, to glorify him, to make yourself worthy of him, to make him known and have him loved and served by others, — and you have an idea of what piety toward God is.

 

St. Clement I

Thus faith gives to the soul that “purity of intention,” which not only makes the thought of God habitual, but enables one to lift one’s eye toward the Divine Majesty in every thing that one does, — in labor as well as in repose, — in suffering as well as in enjoyment, at home and abroad, in company and conversation, as well as in solitude and silence. It kindles in the heart that flame of love which makes one burn with the absorbing desire of pleasing Him supremely. It is thus the foundation of piety, the motive power of every good work, — just as fire is the generating force of steam, and steam itself is the mighty force which annihilates distance on sea and land and transforms all the industries of the modern world.

The soul accustomed to keep God before her eyes in all her ways, cannot help being pious in the truest sense: nothing can prevent her from seeking in all, that she does the Divine pleasure, and of esteeming all that she can do and suffer too little for so great a majesty and such incomparable goodness.

This piety — working ever beneath that all-seeing Eye — must be both sweet and modest: sweet, in the calmness and gentleness with which every thing is undertaken and accomplished; modest, in that no seeking of self and no consciousness of evil can disturb or overcast the limpid purity of a. soul which reflects only the light and serenity of Heaven, and is divinely sheltered from every blast of earthly passion.

When we remember who these early Christians were whose sweet and virginal piety was praised by St. Clement, we are filled with astonishment at the total and sudden transformation which the truth of the gospel — the knowledge and imitation of Christ and his Virgin Mother — effected in the most ill-famed city of the pagan world and the most abandoned population known to history. The very name of Corinth was odious to the ancient Romans of the true republican era, — and when she fell beneath the Roman arms, she was utterly blotted out, lest the simplicity and austerity of the conquering race should become corrupt by contact with the voluptuous city. A Roman colony was afterward planted there, and Corinth arose once more from her ruins on that enchanted shore, shorn indeed of her greatness and power, but scarcely less infamous than her former self. It was like the alkali plains of our Western territories, where nothing seems able to grow but the sagebrush which saddens the eye. No sooner had St. Paul preached there, practicing all that he preached, than piety, purity, and modesty — all the gentle virtues of Mary’s horn at Nazareth — spread with the faith from house to house in Corinth, till the infant church there resembled a society of angelic men and women.

In soil deemed hitherto incapable of producing a single fruit of heavenly modesty, the cross of Christ had been planted; the curse of centuries was removed, and the land began to be fair with flowers of supernatural promise. What was the part of woman in this extraordinary renovation? Three women are mentioned in the New Testament as having been associated with the apostles in the work of planting and fostering the Christian faith in the beautiful city and its dependencies, — Prisca or Priscilla, Chloe, and Phebe, revered as saints from the apostolic times by the churches of the East and West alike. It was in the house of Prisca that St. Paul took up his abode when he first arrived at Corinth. Her husband, Aquila, was, like Paul himself a tent-maker; for it was the admirable custom, even of the highest and most wealthy Jewish families, to teach every one of their sons some trade or handicraft, which might place them above want, and thereby secure their independence, when persecution or adverse fortune deprived them of country and riches. Aquila had been expelled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius just before Paul’s arrival on the Isthmus of Corinth, and was working at his craft of tent-maker, weaving for that purpose the hair of the Phrygian goat into a much esteemed and waterproof cloth. Their common craft was a first bond of intimacy between the great apostle and this household; the Christian faith drew them still closer together. At any rate, though Priscilla and her husband opened their home and their hearts to the apostle and the divine message which he bore, we know from Paul himself that he would be beholden to no one for his support and that of his fellow-laborers in the gospel. Still that laborious and well-ordered household became the cradle of Christianity in Western Greece, the first sanctuary in Corinth where the Divine Mysteries were celebrated, and the word of God explained to the highest and lowest among the proud, cultivated, and pleasure-loving population. Not unlike Priscilla was Chloe, in all probability also a married woman, while Phebe, the female apostle of Cenchrea, the eastern suburb and seaport of Corinth, was unmarried, a deaconess, and the first fruits, on that long-polluted land, of the Virgin-Life destined to be so fruitful of holiness in Christian Europe.

Priscilla and her husband followed Paul to Ephesus in Asia, a city scarcely less ill-famed than Corinth, where the devoted and energetic wife shared the mortal dangers which beset the apostle, and instructed in the Christian faith the accomplished and eloquent Apollos, who was sent to Corinth to continue there the good work so gloriously begun. When Paul was sent in chains to Rome, the noble woman and her worthy husband forsook every thing, risked even life itself to be near him, and to share his labors and perils. Priscilla’s house in Rome became a church, a center of Christian activity and charity, and Chloe and Phebe’s names are associated with hers in the heartfelt commendations of the imprisoned apostle, and the undying gratitude and veneration of every succeeding age.

Most blessed, therefore, of God and man was the sweet and gentle piety as well as the unbounded hospitality of these early Christian homes. But pass we not lightly over this great home-virtue of hospitality: this, and the two other precious virtues mentioned by St. Clement, we must reserve to the next chapter.