From Matthew 2:
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
Myrrh is a precious ointment used both in funeral rites in the Roman world as well as priestly anointing among the Jews (Exodus 30:23). In today’s Gospel, we encounter the Magi who traveled untold miles to greet the Infant King. The gold, frankensense, and myrrh they presented in tribute enabled the Christ Child to escape the slaughter of the innocents.
Myrrh is mentioned several other times in the Gospel accounts. On the cross, Christ is offerd a mixture of wine and myrrh to alleviate His pain (Mark 15). And in John 19, the Lord’s secret follower Nicodemus appears a second time with a mixture of myrrh and aloe to anoint the crucified body of Christ.
However, in today’s Gospel, this substance is both prophetic … and pragmatic. As the Holy Family fled Herod’s vengeful slaughter, they did not have a great deal of time to plan their escape. They didn’t know how long they would be gone, or even if they would return. There was no time to sell their possessions, or even tell the neighbors of their travel plans. Once the angel spoke, they had only time enough to load the donkey … and take off into the night.
Imagine for a moment that you had lived next door to Mary and Joseph, and awakened one morning to discover that your neighbors had disappeared without a trace. Hours later … Herod’s henchman arrived and began pulling infant boys out of their mothers’ arms and crushing their tiny skulls, or sawing them limb from limb. Had Mary and Joseph somehow known what was coming … And if so, why had they not say a word?
If your son had died in the slaughter, how would you have felt when at last the Holy Family returned to Nazareth? Could you have invited Mary to tea to welcome her back, or watched her young Son at play without feeling as though you were about to choke with resentment? They saved their own child … Could they not have had the tiniest shred of compassion for others?
“A sword shall pierce your heart…” This was not a one-time event in the life of Mary. It was a way of life. As the mother of Christ, she went through life being questioned, judged, and misunderstood. And yet, she never altered her course. For she trusted in the Almighty Hands who had set that course ahead of her.
As we attempt to keep our eyes on the course we believe God has asked us to walk — whether with regard to our vocations, or our parenting, or some other aspect of family life — we will from time to time find ourselves caught in the crosshairs of misdirected anger or even grief. Our intentions, actions, and our words may be misconstrued or even deliberately mischaracterized. While suffering can enlarge the soul, bitterness tends to blind it.
Remember … Sometimes the light of love warms and nurtures … other times it is more like a sword that pierces the heart. Like myrrh, it expands when it is exposed to fire.
The Scriptures often portray the Blessed Mother as “pondering” rather than speaking. Like Mary, we may be called upon to meet words spoken in grief or anger not with explanations or equivocations … but with prayerful silence as we walk alone into the night, keepers of the grief … bearers of the Word.