THE POVERTY OF THE INFANT JESUS
What went ye out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments are in the houses of kings. (Gospel of Sunday. Matt. xi. 2-10).
Instead of soft garments the Infant Jesus has but a few poor, rough, cold, damp rags. “The Creator of the Angels,” says St. Peter Damian, “is not said to be clothed in purple but to have been wrapped in rags.” Everything that is in Heaven and on earth is God’s: The world is mine, and the fulness thereof (Ps. xlix. 12). But even this is little. Heaven and earth are but the least portions of the riches of God. The riches of God are infinite, and can never fail, because His riches do not depend on others, but He, Who is the Infinite Good, possesses them Himself. For this reason it was that David said: Thou art my God, for thou hast no need of my goods (Ps. xv. 2). Now this God, Who is so rich, made Himself poor by becoming Man, that He might thereby make us poor sinners rich: Being rich, he became poor for your sakes; that through his poverty you might be rich (2 Cor. viii. 9).
What! a God become poor? And why? Let us understand the reason. The riches of this world can be nothing but dust and mire; but it is mire that so completely blinds men that they can no longer see which are the true riches. Before the coming of Jesus Christ, the world was full of darkness because it was full of sin: All flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth (Gen. vi. 12). Mankind had corrupted the law and reason, so that, living like brutes, intent only on acquiring the riches and pleasures of this world, men cared no more for the riches of eternity. But the divine mercy ordained that the very Son of God Himself should come down to enlighten these blind creatures: To them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death light is risen (Is. ix. 2).
Jesus was called the Light of the Gentiles: A light for the revelation of the Gentiles (Luke ii. 32); The light shineth in darkness (Jo. i. 5). Thus did the Lord from the first promise to be Himself our Master, and a Master Who should be seen by us; Who should teach us the way of salvation, which consists in the practice of all the virtues, and especially that of holy poverty: And thy eyes shall see thy Teacher. Moreover, this Master was not only to teach us by His words; but still more by the example of His life.
St. Bernard says that poverty was not to be found in Heaven, it existed only on earth; but that man, not knowing its value, did not seek after it. Therefore the Son of God came down from Heaven to this earth, and chose it for His companion throughout His whole life, that by His example He might also render it precious and desirable to us: “Poverty was not found in Heaven, but she was well known on earth, and men knew not her excellence. So the Son of God loved her and came down from Heaven to take her to Himself, that we might learn to value her when we see how He regards her.” And behold our Redeemer as an Infant, Who at the very beginning of His life made Himself a Teacher of poverty in the Cave of Bethlehem; which is expressly called by the same St. Bernard the School of Christ, and by St. Augustine the Grotto of Doctrine.
For this end was it decreed by God that the Edict of Caesar should come forth; namely, that His Son should not only be born poor, but the poorest of men, causing Him to be born away from His own house, in a cave which was inhabited by animals. Other poor people, who are born in their own houses, have certainly more comforts in the way of clothes, of fire, and the assistance of persons who lend their aid, even if it is out of compassion. What son of a poor mother was ever born in a stable? In a stable beasts only are born. St. Luke relates how it happened. The time being come that Mary was to be delivered, Joseph goes to seek some lodging for her in Bethlehem. He goes about and enquires at every house, and he finds none. He tries to find one in an inn, but neither there does he find any: There was no room for them in the inn (Luke ii. 7). So that Mary is obliged to take shelter and bring forth her Son in that cave.
When the sons of princes are born, they have warm rooms prepared for them, adorned with hangings, silver cradles, the finest clothes, and they are waited on by the highest nobles and ladies in the kingdom. The King of Heaven, instead of a warm and beautiful room, has nothing but a cold grotto, whose only ornament is the grass that grows there; instead of a bed of feathers, He has nothing but a little hard, sharp straw; instead of fine garments He has but a few poor, rough, cold and damp rags: “The Creator of Angels,” writes St. Peter Damien, “is not said to have been clad in purple, but to have been wrapped in rags. Let worldly pride blush at the resplendent humility of the Saviour.” Instead of a fire, and of the attendance of great people, He has but the warm breath and the company of two animals; finally, in place of the silver cradle, He must lie in a vile manger. “What is this,” said St. Gregory of Nyssa, “the King of kings, Who fills Heaven and earth with His presence finds no better place in which to be born than a stable for beasts! He Who encompasses all things in His embrace is laid in the manger of brute cattle.” Yes, this King of kings for our sake wished to be poor and the poorest of all. Even the children of the poor have milk enough provided for them, but Jesus Christ wished to be poor even in this; for the milk of Mary was miraculous, and she received it not naturally, but from Heaven, as the Holy Church teaches us: “The Virgin gave Him milk from a breast filled from Heaven.” And God, in order to comply with the desire of His Son, Who wished to be poor in everything, did not provide Mary with milk in abundance, but only with as much as would barely suffice to sustain the life of her Son; whence the same Holy Church says: “He was fed on a little milk.”
And Jesus Christ, as He was born poor, continued in poverty all His life long.