When we enter a well-cultivated garden, filled with flowers of every shade of color and every degree of beauty, it never enters into our minds that they grew so of themselves, or gave to themselves their delicate and exquisite perfumes. We know that the skill of the gardener had something to do with their growth and beauty; we know, moreover, that rain and sunshine, the quality of soil, and other natural influences, did what was totally beyond the power of the gardener; and finally we come to God, who is, ultimately, the sole Author of their very life, growth, and perfection.
We are now to enter God's glorious garden to contemplate the beauty of the flowers which He has planted and beautified by His grace. Every saint is like a flower, beautiful in proportion to the amount of grace he received, and in proportion, also, to the amount of his own free co-operation with this grace. Some received the grace of the apostleship, and all, except one, corresponded with that grace. Others received the grace of martyrdom; others received the grace of the priesthood; others the grace of trampling under foot the honors and pleasures of this world, by consecrating themselves to God in religious communities; while others, again, received the grace of becoming saints, while living in the world. Thus every one, by corresponding with his own grace, which gave him a supernatural strength, reached the glory to which he is entitled. No one in the whole of heaven can say that he enjoys its happiness by his own natural endeavors; for, without the grace of God, we cannot even have a good thought, nor pronounce the name of Jesus, so as to deserve a supernatural reward. Hence, the highest in heaven must say, with St. Paul: "By the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace in me hath not been void: but I have labored more abundantly than all they: yet not I, but the grace of God with me."*
* 1 Cor. xv.10.
It is by the aid of this grace that the blessed have reached the glory of heaven; it is by this all-powerful grace that they have deserved the unfading crown, whereof St. Paul speaks so boldly and confidently, when he says: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just Judge, will render to me at that day; and not to me only, but to them also, who love His coming."* This is the glorious crown we are now to consider; and first of all, in Jesus Christ, who, in His human nature, is elevated and glorified far above all, in heaven.
* 2 Tim. iv.7.
Jesus is the Son of God; but He is also "the Son of Man." As God, His glory is from everlasting to everlasting. It had no beginning, and it shall have no end. As its source is in His very essence, it can neither be increased nor diminished. But it is far different with the glory of the human nature which He assumed. That had a beginning, and could be increased, and, as a matter of fact, was increased, until He exalted it above all that is not God, in heaven. Let us now contemplate His bright glory, and rejoice with him in his surpassing blessedness.
See Him enthroned at the right hand of God his Father, clothed with "great power and majesty." The personal union of the eternal Son of God with the human nature gives Him, as man, undisputed pre-eminence over all, in power, holiness, beauty, and every other attribute communicable to a created nature. He is so completely possessed, embraced, and penetrated by the Divine Nature, that His adorable heart is the throne of the most perfect happiness ever enjoyed by man. That loving heart, which is purer than the sun's brightest rays, is filled to overflowing with the most exquisite joys emanating from the very bosom of the most Holy Trinity.
While on earth, no one ever loved God and man as He did; and now there is none in all the heavens who is equally loved in return, both by God himself and the bright throngs that surround this throne. No man, therefore, ever did, or ever can enjoy a happiness so pure, so exquisite, and in so eminent a degree as He does.
While on earth, His soul was sorrowful even unto death; but now it is inebriated with torrents of joy, too great for poor human language to express. While on earth, He likewise suffered in all his senses. He endured hunger and thirst, cold and heat, fatigue, and the numberless privations which His poverty entailed upon him. But it was especially during His cruel passion that his sight, hearing, taste, and particularly his sense of feeling, were tortured to the utmost; and now His glorified senses have become the avenues of the most exquisite and refined pleasures. He now sees himself surrounded by the thousands whom His precious blood has sanctified and beautified; and he continually hears the sweet harmony of their grateful songs. His sacred body, which had been bruised and mangled, disfigured and dishonored by the filthy spittle of His enemies, is now the most beautiful, perfect, and resplendent in the whole kingdom of heaven. It is the very sun which, by its splendor, gives beauty and life to the whole of heaven. In a word, Jesus, as man, is above all in power, majesty, wisdom, glory, and enjoys the most perfect and complete happiness that ever came from God.
But you will, perhaps, say: Does not Jesus enjoy all this unspeakable glory, simply and exclusively in virtue of His high privileges? Is it not on account of the Hypostatic Union that He is thus exalted above all in glory? I answer: Although the Hypostatic Union, by its very nature, gives Him the right to the first place in heaven, it gives him neither the glory nor the rewards which are due to Him as the Redeemer of mankind. The Hypostatic Union is a high privilege, a free gift of God, which He did not merit; for that privilege, in the designs of his Father, involved the office of Redeemer. This was His vocation in this world, and he corresponded to it faithfully. He taught the world, first by example, next by His heavenly doctrines. Then He submitted willingly, and even cheerfully, to all the indignities of his bitter passion, and finally consummated the great work of man's redemption by expiring upon the cross.
It is for all this life of poverty, suffering, and humiliation, that He is rewarded, and so wonderfully glorified, and not exclusively on account of the Hypostatic Union. Listen to St. Paul, and he will tell you why Jesus is exalted above all in heaven: "He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. For which cause God hath also exalted Him, and hath given Him a name which is above all names, that in the name of Jesus, every knee should bow of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth."* Surely this is far from saying that Jesus enjoys the highest glory of heaven, exclusively on account of the Hypostatic Union. It is given Him by his Father as a "crown of justice," which he really deserved by his sufferings and obedience unto the death of the Cross.
* Phil. ii.8.
It is, moreover, the beautiful canticle which forever resounds through the vaults of heaven. Listen to it: "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to take the book, and open the seals thereof: because Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us in Thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation."* It is evident, then, that Jesus is rewarded in His human nature with the highest glory of heaven, on account of his own individual merits.
* Apoc. v.9.
Let us now spend a few moments in contemplating the glory of the Blessed Virgin. Jesus is the King of heaven; Mary is the Queen. She certainly comes next to Jesus in dignity and merit, and her glory is, therefore, next to His in splendor and magnificence. She is the woman of whom the beloved disciple speaks when he says: "And a great wonder appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars."* This certainly expresses the highest glory and splendor imaginable. Human words can say nothing more; for our highest ideas of glory are borrowed from those beautiful worlds that shine above us in the blue ether. On her bosom she wears a jewel of unsurpassed splendor, whereon are written her three singular privileges. These are Immaculate, Mother of God, Virgin. These are high privileges which she alone enjoys, and which single her out at once as the Queen of angels and of men. The Eternal, by assuming flesh from her, united her to Himself by a bond of intimacy which is second only to that of the Hypostatic Union. He shed His own bright glory around her, and enthroned her at the right hand of Jesus. The Almighty Father looks upon her with complacency, as his own beloved daughter, faultless in beauty and every other perfection. The Holy Ghost calls her His own spotless and faithful Spouse, over whom the breath of sin never passed; while Jesus who, in all His glory, is still flesh of her flesh, and bone of her bone, calls her his own sweet and loving Mother. Can we conceive any greater glory unless it be that of the Hypostatic Union?
* Apoc. xii.1.
In this world, a great king may see with grief that many other women surpass his own mother, daughter, or spouse, in beauty, intelligence, virtue, and other perfections; but, however grieved he may be, he is totally powerless to remedy the evil, and he must continue to see others outshining those who are the dearest to his heart. Not so in heaven. Never shall it be said there that there are women holier, purer, more intelligent, or more beautiful than the Blessed Virgin. For God has the power to clothe her with attributes that will forever make her superior to any mere creature. Not only has He the power, but, as a matter of fact, he has adorned her by bestowing upon her every gift of nature, grace, and glory, in an eminent degree. She, above all saints, is "full of grace," and is made a partaker of the Divulge Nature, and, therefore, her Immaculate Heart, which is purer than crystal, is the home of the most perfect happiness ever enjoyed by woman.
But, remember well, she does not enjoy all this excellent glory exclusively on account of her glorious privileges. These are, like those of Jesus, free gifts of God, which she did not merit. But she freely and generously corresponded to all the designs of God, and, therefore, she is rewarded with the highest glory of heaven. She too, as well as Jesus, was obedient unto death. She too was submissive to the most trying dispensations of Providence. She too suffered patiently from every manner of privation; for she was poor. She too endured the most bitter anguish during the passion of her beloved Son, and had her pure soul overwhelmed with agonies whereof we can form no adequate conception. Hence, God hath also exalted her, and given her a name which is above every name except that of Jesus.
Thus we see that even Jesus and Mary, the bright King and Queen of heaven, are exalted above all angels and men in glory, on account of the heroic virtue they both practised in this world, and not exclusively in virtue of their dignity and high privileges. They both labored for it, both suffered for it, and both deserved it as a "crown of justice," which a just Judge bestowed upon them as a reward of merit.
It is impossible to think of Jesus and Mary without, at the same time, thinking of the illustrious St. Joseph. He is so intimately bound up with them, that we can neither forget him nor separate him from them. He was emphatically a hidden saint. He was truly "a just man," as the Holy Ghost calls him. He was so humble, so pure, so unspeakably charitable to the Blessed Virgin. Then, too, he loved Jesus so much, so tenderly, and took so great a care of Him during his infancy. Whenever he received a command, he always obeyed so promptly, without excuse or murmur, though at times the commands involved great privations and sufferings. In a word, St. Joseph, too, corresponded with the grace of his sublime vocation; and he now shines with exceeding glory near Jesus and Mary. He too is glorified on account of His tender love for God, for Jesus and Mary, and for his neighbor, and not exclusively in virtue of the glorious privilege of having been the guardian of Mary's purity, and the foster-father of Jesus. Therefore, His exceeding glory is also "a crown of justice," wherewith a just Judge has encircled his brow.