This week we will examine the Second Sorrow of Mary, which was the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt.
…Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod (Matthew 2:13-15).
Here was the happy little Holy Family, preparing to go back to the comfort and familiarity of their home, ready to be surrounded by their community of family and friends, only to be told to go to a strange land because the life of their newborn Son was under threat. One of the great sorrows in a situation like this is the complete loss of security. Egypt was a foreign country where they had no home to go to and where they did not know the language or the customs. It was a situation they were just going to have to figure out as they went along – with God’s help, of course.
Think about all of the things you hold dear to your heart. Consider your material possessions, people, your home, your professional career, or your physical abilities. Now consider that any one (or more) of those things can be taken away from you in an instant for any variety of reasons or circumstances. In other words, we are never guaranteed anything, yet somehow our tendency is to find security and comfort in things. That is not to say that we should not experience security and comfort in the many blessings that God bestows upon us. However, we should take moments to meditate on how things of the world come and go, but God never changes. Most certainly, Mary found security in her home and with her family and friends, but in an instant it all changed and she had to detach from those things and take solace in the perfect security that only God could provide for her family.
Another sorrow Mary may have experienced during the flight to Egypt was the feeling of such uncertainty. The angel did not tell them how long it would be until they could return home again, only to wait for another message. Like the Israelites, she had to live with her family in the desert for a length of time that only God knew. I know we all have moments in our own lives where we are wandering in a desert for what feels like an infinite amount of time. How many times in our prayers have we cried out to God in our hearts, “How much longer, O Lord?” Or have you ever been through a period of time where everything seems to be going wrong and the attacks are coming from every angle and you ask, “God, when will I get a break?” From time to time, we all walk through these deserts in our lives and the walk always comes with the uncertainty of how long it will last. The Holy Family also had this uncertainty, but unlike the Israelites, who preferred to whine about their time in the desert, they put perfect trust and faith in God’s plan for them, knowing that their time in the desert was for the greater good in the plan for their Son.
While Scripture does not specifically mention this, I cannot help but think of another sorrow Mary must have experienced during the flight into Egypt and that is the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. Herod was a mentally unstable ruler to say the least. He was so threatened by the announcement of this new king – of course, not recognizing the nature of Jesus’ kingship – that he had every baby under the age of two murdered. These are the Church’s first martyrs, the first people to die for Jesus. This act of Herod must have caused Mary great agony in her heart, not only for all of the innocent babies, but also for their mothers who had to endure the murder of their children. Likely, for many of us, the killing of the Holy Innocents parallels the horrors of abortion, which is so prevalent in our society today. We all feel sorrow and agony in our own hearts over the innocent babies who are murdered every day, as well as for their poor mothers who feel as if they have no other option. Most certainly, Mary prayed for these babies and their mothers as she and her own family fled to Egypt. We should follow her example and also pray for all of the victims of abortion.
So, in this Second Sorrow of Mary – the Flight into Egypt – I think we can extract two spiritual practices on which we can consistently work. The first is healthy detachment. We must practice detaching from things of the world, not because they are inherently bad, but because they are never guaranteed. This detachment also includes our attachment to control and to desire outcomes in specific situations. Typically, when we lose control of a situation, or have an outcome we did not want, we lose our peace and that is not of God. So, in practicing detachment, we necessarily must practice increased attachment to God. He doesn’t change, He won’t go away, and He is always in control. Make God your heart’s greatest treasure above all else.
The second spiritual practice is trust. Mary and Joseph didn’t ask any questions when the angel told Joseph to take his family and flee. They just put complete trust in God. They trusted there was a reason, they trusted He would provide, and they trusted all would be well, no matter how long it took. Imagine if we all trusted God as perfectly as they did. It takes practice to put aside your worry and surrender everything to God with a pure childlike trust.
Take some time this week to think about the things from which you need to detach. Think about what would happen if tomorrow you woke up and that one thing was gone. Would you know that you would be ok because you are more attached to God than whatever it is? Think about an area in your life where you could relinquish a little bit more of your need for control and surrender it to your good Father, trusting Him to take care of it for you. You may find that you have to surrender it many times over, but persist in doing just that. Meditate on all the sorrow that Mary must have felt for so many reasons and try to imitate her example of detachment and trust.