FIGURE OF THE BURNING BUSH
"The Lord appeared to him (Moses) in aflame of fire out of the midst of a bush." (Exod. 3:2)
The Church of the living God, enlightened by the wisdom of the Holy Ghost in the unerring interpretation of the written Word of God, discovers and points out to us in the Holy Scripture various figures of the Crown of Thorns. In the Office of our Saviour's Crown of Thorns this loving spouse of the Lamb directs our attention to the mysterious apparition on Mount Horeb, which in the Bible is called the Mountain of God. "Whilst Moses was feeding the sheep of Jethro, the priest of Madian, his father-in-law, he drove the flock to the inner part of the desert, and came to the Mountain of God, Horeb; and the Lord appeared to him in aflame of fire out of the midst of a bush, and he saw that the bush was on fire, and was not burnt: and Moses said, I will go and see the great sight, why the bush is not burnt." (Exod. 3:1) Let us follow the example of holy Moses, and contemplate with devout attention this great vision.
The learned Ventura says: "That the fathers of the Church and the interpreters of the Sacred Scripture unanimously agree in asserting that this thorny bush enveloped by the flames of that mysterious fire, without being burnt or destroyed, is a figure of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God." (La Madre di Dio. 2 part, ch. 5) Here is the explanation. The miraculous flames that surround the thorny bush are a figure of the divine Word, who assumed our human nature. The thorny bush represents our fallen humanity overgrown with the sharp and crooked thorns of malice and innumerable sins, creeping on the ground like a blackberry bush, puny, poor, and despicable among plants. Like our fallen humanity, it bears in its prickly thorns the marks of God's curse. God appeared to Moses in the thorny bush in the form of fire to signify that the eternal Word of God would assume our poor, fallen, degraded humanity, with all the thorns or painful consequences of sin, without the guilt of it. Hence the flames enveloped the thorny branches of the whole bush, without burning or consuming them; because, by consuming the fuel, fire transforms the nature thereof into its own substance.
But it was impossible for the Son of God, who is essential holiness, to assume, in the least degree, any guilt whatever of our sins. Our merciful Lord could, however, and did in fact, assume their temporal effects, namely, the misery, sufferings, and degradation of the sinner, so strikingly represented in the thorns and in the puny, weak and useless branches of the bush. Hence, Moses saw with wonder that the mysterious bush was enveloped with fire, yet it was not burnt. "Ignis in rubo est Deus in came, seu Verbum Caw Factum." (A Lapide comment, in Exod. 3:2) Lastly, the fire that leaps, is agitated and blazes up among the thorny branches of that mystical bush, represents in a sensible way the intense sufferings and agonizing spasms endured by our dear Lord under the horrible torture of the Crown of Thorns. May this magnificent vision excite in the mind and heart of every Christian the same ardent desire that it evoked in the breast of holy Moses, and induce him to draw respectfully near it, to contemplate the profound mystery which it represents in such an admirable manner.
The burning bush is a striking figure of the Incarnation of the divine Word; but, on account of its thorns, it calls more especially to our mind our Saviour crowned with thorns during his Passion. Such in fact is the interpretation and sentiment of the Church expressed in the Office and Mass of the Crown of Thorns. In confirmation of this, our Holy Mother represents to us the Sacred Heart of our Lord crowned with thorns, and emitting flames of fire, like the burning bush of Moses. The figure could not be more expressive of the reality. Devout reader, if you are harassed by scruples of conscience, by the thorns of misrepresentations and the calumnies of men, by crushing humiliations and insults, you will find much comfort in meditating on the mystery of the Crown of Thorns. When you are afflicted with irksome headaches, and a feverish fire burns, as it were, in your brain, remember the burning bush of Moses, and reflect that it was only a weak figure of the excruciating torture endured by the King of sorrows crowned with thorns and insulted by a brutal soldiery. In these painful circumstances offer to the Eternal Father your sufferings and humiliations in union with
those of His divine Son. This pious practice will bring comfort to your soul and body, and enrich you with merit for heaven.
In the life of the angelic youth, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, we read that he was often afflicted with painful headaches, and when exhorted by his compassionate fellow-religious to pray God to deliver him from his trouble, he mildly answered that he preferred to suffer and have a share in the Crown of Thorns of his divine Master. He who is crowned with thorns with Jesus upon earth will, with him, be crowned with glory in heaven.
St. Lydwina had during more than thirty years been afflicted with intense sufferings all over her body, but more especially in her head, when an angel appeared to her, announcing that her mystic Crown of Thorns was nearly completed, and she should be soon called to receive a brilliant crown of heavenly glory.