These are fictive meditations on the fifteen traditional mysteries of the Rosary. This third is the Nativity, which is the mystery by which the Incarnation of Our Lord appears in Creation outside of the Tabernacle, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. By this, the suffering of Our Lord already commences in His humility. If you are aware of the Rosary and do not pray it, or if you do pray it and do not attempt to meditate upon it, then you are acting foolishly. May the Lord reward you for your labors.
Dedicated to St. Abigail,
Pray for me,
And for my daughter,
As often as this story is read or told.
The little girl’s father was praying.
He had woken up early, before his family, and had already done a bit of work and then light reading. He had seen to the animals and bathed. Now, as the hour approached for his daughter to awaken, indeed as stirs and low babble could be heard from behind her door, he had reached the third decade.
“The third joyful mystery…”
The father walked along amongst pillars of great, white marble. All around him buzzed handsome young soldiers, moving to and fro with messages both from the peaceful as well as the more tumultuous regions of the war that raged outside the walls of that great city. They were joyful men, confident of victory, bedecked in splendor as if in parade march, even those that had recently seen bloody action and loss. They were on reprieve here, those involved in failures, and yet had such harmony with their profession as to labor even in their rest, not overcome by the grandeur of their capitol.
Amongst them, the father was like an ant amongst powerful mastiffs of war. They were, nevertheless, well trained in gentility. Indeed, they could be trusted with a babe between their jaws, and many had been, snatching such fragile victims from the evils of the war that could not have otherwise spared such as these. The ant that fritted hurriedly amongst them was less than that. Yet they did not destroy him, and he, for his part, avoided them with prudent fear if not respect, because he was a brief visitor with a precious petition, one he presented daily.
He came first to a building that was as immense and ornate as a cathedral of Italy. The entrance was flanked by two marble pillars, and the inside was decorated in a way that had no equal even in the Eternal City.
On the walls were delicate, pastoral scenes. A rainy glen, beehives abuzz, a sleepy, mud-thatch village, a flock of brilliant white horses. The great chamber was quiet, the illustrious visitors having come and gone, petitioners being few and satisfied, milling the outside edges to gaze upon tapestries more intimately. The mistress of the palace sat upon her throne.
The father approached her at her throne. She was luminous, clothed in a white mantle atop a green gown. Her hair was regal and red, bound up under a veil and cowl for modesty and majesty. Her fair skin was as beautiful as ever the daughter of any king’s.
She spoke, and her voice was like the calm waters of a babbling brook, full of fish, and musically Gaelic, “Ah, my humble friend. How may I help you?”
The father hid his eyes. “Princess, I come with a petition for the king. I am too vulgar to speak with him, but perhaps you can, for the interest of your namesake.”
“Of course,” she said, standing from her throne. “At the usual place? I shall ask that she be admitted to the city for her safety.”
The father bowed low. “Princess Abigail, do not deign to lower yourself from your seat in my sight, but permit me to leave, that I may petition others.”
The princess nodded. She then dismissed him.
The father backed away from her, bowed again, and never turned from her sight until he was back out in the midst of the martial bustle of the streets.
Again he hurried, avoiding looking at the resplendencies around him lest he be distracted. Deeper in the city, the personages roaming the street became grander and more formidable. His eyes were always averted, but he sensed a pressure of awe that threatened to overwhelm him.
Finally, he came to the next palace. This one was twice the size of the previous, all in grand red, gold, and Imperial purple. The marble pillars were eight, and they extended above the street like the bars of an open gate of the great king. They flanked the main entrance, which let in to a chamber that the father had often seen full of many wonderful altars that were used daily, night and day, for ceremony and ritual in honor of the twin princes, who themselves would attend at a special time every morning.
This was not the entrance which the father used. It was very well with him, because that entrance thronged with celebrants, guests, and petitioners which had more time than he, and who now prepared to celebrate sacred mysteries and thereby make appeal to the princes. But the father entered by a second entrance, that of their throne room, for it was still two hours before the mysteries.
This chamber was in construction symmetrical with the little Princess Abigail’s, but it was twice the size, and had a scheme and style different than the fair lady’s. The colors were primarily red, the scenes more urban and powerful than pastoral, and they depicted the two princes in professional black robes, administering healing to the poor.
The great personalities themselves sat at brief rest upon their neighboring thrones, at the top of a wide marble dais. The father approached as before and was greeted as before, “Our humble friend! How may we assist you?” Their voices were synonymous, harmonious, and in the measured tones of cultured Syria. Their mantles were of red, their skin bronze, and their robes black.
The father, eyes lowered, said, “Great Princes and physicians, I come with a petition for the king, but I am too vulgar to deliver it myself. Perhaps you may assist, for the sake of your great profession.”
The men rose immediately and as one. “There is still time! Shall we go with you to the usual place?”
The father humbly bowed. “Yes, but please, Princes Cosmas and Damien, do not deign to let me be in your presence as you descend your thrones. Rather, let me depart, for there is still one who I wish to join to your number.”
The men nodded and dismissed him quickly. He backed out as before until he was in the street again.
Now the travel through the city became a veritable siege upon the little ant. For he drove towards the very center, towards the King’s palace. The streets widened and became grander, with countless marble fountains and wonderful statues. The very lining stones were of marble, the cobble-bricks golden, the mortar silver, and precious stones adorned every available corner, as if there was an excess of them for which the builders and architects needed to find a use. Indeed there was, for the place that the father directed his steps, pressed shoulder-to-shoulder by powerful princes and majestic ladies in flowing gowns, was the palace and storerooms of the King’s own guardian, the man who kept the store of all the King’s valuables.
To this man’s own throneroom the father forced his way, swallowing his humility, asserting himself, trying to ignore the terror that crowded his mind and made him blind to the unimaginable splendor and vastness of this prince’s own house, for he was a prince as well as a keeper.
When he was in that prince’s presence, he was cognizant only of a few things, for the crowd was so thick and so full of those of which he was not worthy to be in the company, that the mortification consumed him. He noticed, however, the guards which gave him dangerous looks, and the prince himself in purple, upon his lofty throne, and the decorations about the walls which depicted, of all things, a carpenter’s tools and workshop.
“The ant has returned?” one of the prince’s guards exclaimed in a booming voice. “Bring him in front of the throne at once!”
The father quaked. Guards took him by the shoulders and cleared the way to the foot of this prince’s throne.
When he was there, he prostrated himself and said nothing.
For a moment, the grand personage studied him. On the steps of his dais, wide and broad, stood all manner of imposing military men, and every one of them fixed him with an unreadable glance that, nevertheless, he suspected held contempt. One of them near the top finally spoke, for the prince himself rarely spoke, and the voice of the man was the same as boomed before. “Little ant, you have done so many things to offend my master and his Son, your King, that every day we comprehend suing the King for justice, for the sake of His Glorious Reputation which you offend, that you may be put to death. And yet, every day at this time, you come before us. The impudence amazes us. Now, speak your petition to our master.”
The father shook and struggled to speak, but finally said, “Good Prince Joseph, everyone knows of your perfect justice. It is good and right that my crimes are acknowledged. But all know how you are the Guardian of All Virgins, that in your perfect chastity and charity, you are the patron of every innocent woman and child. And so I petition you not for myself, but for my daughter, for she is innocent, and every day I do penance for my evil ways, because I have been given her to be her father, as you were the foster father of our King.”
When he finished speaking, the good prince rose with a sigh. His voice finally came, and in it was the sound of the strength of all the Earth and every laboring man, of every soldier and father, of every king and prince, and all those who had authority. There was no boldness, only strength, like the rock that, undivided, opposes the turbulent seas of the world, and forms the dam that protects the people. He said, “You are a fortunate man, for long ago your wife petitioned me for mercy in relation to you. Even so, if it were not for my own Wife, of Whom you know you have the favor, and not by my choice, but She is quite fond of you, pitiful though you are. Very well. Will you be at the usual place?”
The father nodded as best he could still prostrate. He was then dismissed and hurriedly left the chamber through the crowd.
The next place he approached was the Great King’s own palace. This place, in every way, was inexplicable. It was not just grander and vaster even than the Good Prince Joseph’s palace, but was more humble in its manner. For the streets widened so much that they were instead more properly understood as an endless plaza. And this plaza, though built of still greater riches than the surrounding streets, was everywhere full of trash. The reason for this was for the King’s peculiar habit of welcoming such strange, dissolute, and vulgar variances of petitioners, some of whom could hardly speak two intelligible words together— and many indeed rambled like madmen in fanciful tongues invented in their own confused imaginations— let alone understand why it was wrong to leave trash before the King’s abode, that it was rather like a dirty village market but for the expert masonry and craftsmanship. Most people said this was a temporary affair, that one day everything would be cleansed and the ruffians thrown out or else imprisoned for a time. They said it was in connection to the war. They said the King had great pity for all those disaffected by His enemy, even the ones who held rank and land under the rebel flag, because they did not know what they did. But when the war ended, everything would be set to rights, and the gates of the city would be barred forever from trespassers.
The father, for one, was grateful for the King’s unfathomable pity. For there was a time before he had wed his wife and entered the city. He had been very loyal to the King’s enemy, had believed in the cause of rebellion, had vigorously sought gifts and offices from that enemy. He had been taught the first folly of this before his wedding and had then entered this city and stood in this very plaza, spreading refuse and acting with incredible pride, availing himself of the mistaken notion that this King owed him something.
His wedding had been the end of this. He had sought the King so earnestly for so many years for a wife, eschewing all the surrounding palaces in his pride that may have helped him, but was finally granted his wish. This was to the King’s own wisdom, for the woman he married was such a holy and wise possessor of the culture of that place, that he quickly reformed and converted until now, when he was beginning to be a friend and welcome sight to such as the Princess and the two Princes. In this labor of enculturation, he sought out all help he could, even the immense Good Prince Joseph, whom he feared, but who loved his wife as his own daughter.
He made his way through the vulgar crowds which he still resembled more than he desired, over to an entrance moderately used, even by those newcomers who otherwise generally stuck to the direct route. The direct route led to a small, unadorned drawing room. There, the King sat at a modest table and ate with the meanest entreaters, listening to their pleas and even washing their feet. It was the King’s peculiar way that this approach usually resulted in a denial of the petition; however, other and unexpected gifts were always given. Many petitioners left the drawing room grumbling. The father himself did for many years, asking for a wife and being denied. He had since made happy discovery through his wife and new acquaintances of the other entrances.
The one he approached was to the side of the direct route and resembled a cave. It had darkness and poverty about it, with the smell of animals, but it glowed faintly. This glow the father followed until the chamber widened, and he came to where the great people were gathered.
There were animals, indeed, and they were hushed. There was a donkey and sheep. It seemed as if this were their home, for there was straw and paraphernalia about, muck removed with signs of a recent sweeping, and a few mangers at the wall. There was a small crowd including the shepherds that held their animals hushed, although the animals seemed to be overcome for their parts by a natural solemnity of worship that would be unbelievable in any similar setting.
In addition to the shepherds, there were three men very foreign in appearance, wearing rich, kingly robes, with crowns on their heads, though they were stained by recent travel. There were no signs of their servants. They seemed like outcasts, and yet they held chests and urns that were costly and rare. The father knew them but had not yet made their acquaintance, though he knew one of their names.
Past them was the Princess Abigail. She sat on her knees and her clothes were different. She wore rough, poor clothing, not quite sackcloth, but rather the modest clothing of a village healer, what she must have worn before her adoption by the Royal Family.
Past here were the two Princes Cosmas and Damien. They stood, but their rich mantles were gone, and now they only had the black robes of physicians. So, too, it looked like they had been active, because there were stains and ruffles on their robes which the black was meant to conceal, but there were very many of them.
Past them, not far from the center but within reach of it, was the Good Prince. His change of attire was the most astounding. Gone was all semblance of royalty and power, the scepter and the crown, the purple. Gone was every extra ostentation, even the sort that showed poverty in such as way as to catch the eye. In the place of all this, he was dressed only in a simple, brown robe, dusty, that made him all but overlooked. The only remainder of his power was a simple wooden staff, the kind that any old man may have for a journey, well made, and indeed suggesting that he wielded only his own physical power.
The final person who was not the center was the Queen Mother Herself. She it was that dwelt in Her Son’s palace, and everywhere He went, She went, too, with the exception of a few places like the front drawing room, where She may be abused by the ignorant vulgarities of the people to which Her Son ministered. And yet, despite Her Son’s best efforts, They differed upon this single subject, and She often, of Her Own accord, would expose Herself to abuse and offense in order to minister as Her Son did to the unworthy wretches of the world outside the city. He would rather She be called blessed by all people or, failing that, unknown to them. But Her mercy oftentimes drew Her out into danger, and He allowed it, for it was but a shadow of His Own mercy, which knew that there were many whom He would destroy in His justice— they were such criminals— except that the Good Lady advocated for them.
Thus it was with the ant, the father who entered this cave. She had one time exposed Her reputation to his vulgarity, and doubtless he had abused it, and yet it was enough for him to have received all the graces he had, especially his wife, who was Her daughter. Still, the impress of this had not left him. He could not comfortably approach Her. He did not know how to act towards this wonderful Patroness.
And so he simply watched as She held Her Infant, lowering Him to the manger with more care and devotion than people use for the most sacred objects. Then everyone knelt who was not already. She beckoned to the father to approach that mangy crib, and he did upon his knees. She gestured for him to speak his petition, finally.
He could not. The words left him, all the ability, for his eyes were full of tears. He really was too vulgar. He had said it and not believed it before, familiar as he was with this place and this so approachable Infant King, but it was as if in the delicate, flawless features of the Holy Baby, that he saw that future Terrible Judge, in all His white robes of office, and he could make no defense for himself.
So he used the words taught to him by the Good Lady Herself, and he simply sang the praises of that Infant’s Fair Mother to Him.
“Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.”
Then it was that his companions spoke for him. He continued his chant, and Princess Abigail spoke first, “Wonderful King, Merciful Judge, Wise High Priest, this man who approaches has a daughter You know, named for me, and by my merits I ask that You admit her to Your city when it is time.”
Next was the shepherds, whom the father had not sought out, but nevertheless they spoke for him, “Wonderful King, Glorious Infant, Lord of the Poor, this man has a daughter and no money, and yet he has given his possessions for Your flocks. We ask by Your Charity that You give her long and prosperous life.”
Then the three foreign kings spoke, and this amazed the father, for he knew that they were highly esteemed and their assistance not easily obtained. “Wisest Counselor, Ruler of Creation, God Above, this man has a daughter who has committed no sin. We ask by our merits that she be given a holy, chaste spouse, like Your own guardian.”
Then the doctors spoke as the father repeatedly muttered his prayers, “Most High King, Most High Priest, Most High God, this man has a daughter who is baptized in a land of evildoers. We ask by our merits, that she be given our very occupation and skill. Moreover, we asked that she be preserved from the evils of money and the world, and that we may be permitted to be her patrons, that she is never exposed to the evils of her father and his people.”
The Good Prince Joseph spoke next in his way, reaching a gentle hand to stroke the Child’s cheek, “My Son, My Christ, My Lord, I have welcomed You to my house and cared for Your Body. Do not abandon this man’s daughter in the world, but as I protected You, keep her out of the world all her life. Adopt her as Your Own daughter.”
The father’s heart stopped, then, because the Lady spoke, “My Son, give this man what he desires. Give him a village of good Catholics in which to raise his children outside of the Babylon to which he was born. He will never merit it, but allow Me to merit it for him, and ask it for him, since he has already promised to make reparations to My Immaculate Heart.”
These were the requests made as the father prayed, and he did not know if they were accepted, but the people requesting are not often refused.
As his Lady taught him, he then glorified the Child’s true Father and His Spirit with Him. Then, finally, he addressed Him directly, because that was how his Lady taught him.
“Domine Iesu, dimitte nobis, debitte nostra,
Salve nos ab igne inferiori,
Perduc in caelum omnes animas,
Presaertim aos qui misericordiae tuae maximae indigent.
The father looked up from his rosary at his daughter’s bedroom door. The sounds there were insistent. He almost began the fourth, but then she cried loudly, and he went to get her.