What Can We Learn From The Hidden Years of Our Lord?

Tomorrow, on the Feast of the Holy Family, Christians reflect on the years Our Blessed Lord spent in the company of His Most Holy parents, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Blessed Saint Joseph, for the first thirty years of His life on Earth. From His Birth in a lowly stable of Bethlehem, to the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt where He spent His first two years, to their return home to Nazareth where “He grew in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men”, till the time ordained by God to commence His public life, Our Lord’s daily life during these years is a mystery that has warmed the imagination of Christians since the first centuries of Christendom.

holy-family18

Nothing in the life of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, can be called thoughtless or unimportant. Every spoken word, every gesture and action of His Incarnate Life on Earth was ‘approved’ by God from all Eternity and given to us, His followers, to learn from, in order to imitate and thus grow more Christlike and in holiness. So why then did Our Saviour choose to remain hidden incognito in the small town of Nazareth for so many years of His life? What can we learn from this? And what do we know about those mysterious hidden years?

We have private revelations of course, like those given to Venerable Maria Agreda, St. Gertrude the Great, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of God as well as St. Bridget among many saints, which may, if we choose to find out about them, give us just a hint of Our Lord’s life during this time of His early life. Although we are not obliged to read these revelations, and the real answer is really much simpler. It comes precisely from the very fact that these years were indeed hidden, and therefore unrecorded by the Evangelists. 

The last we are told by St Luke about Our Lord’s early life is when, at twelve years of age, He was found in the Temple discoursing with the learned high priests (and amazing them by His knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures) after His parents had been searching for Him for three days. Jesus responded to His Blessed Mother questioning why He had done this to them with: “How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business?” (Luke 2:48-49). His “Father’s business”? This was His Father in Heaven He was talking about, and the main business, or mission, of the Son was to obey the Will of the Father in every aspect of His life.

And this is exactly what Our Lord Jesus Christ did for 18 subsequent years after this event. He, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God Incarnate, remained in humble and hidden obedience to His Blessed Mother and Holy Saint Joseph in the little town of Nazareth. It was to demonstrate to us, through His own witness, the importance of family life and the faithful observance of fulfilling our daily duties unseen by the rest of the world. Our Lord did this day after day, year after year, without fail, unselfishly putting the needs of those He loved before His own. What a marvellous lesson we may discern here from Our Blessed Saviour’s witness!

Therefore part of the answer must surely be that God wanted this time of His Beloved Son’s life to be a testimony that the family came first and the importance of living the Fourth Commandment. Quite a change from today’s topsy-turvy priorities that have so distorted the family unit, dedication to the Divine will, virtue and morality! 

Christ in the House of His Parents ('The Carpenter's Shop') 1849-50 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896 Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and various subscribers 1921 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03584

Christ in the House of His Parents (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’) 1849-50 Sir John Everett Millais

Only when Jesus had reached the age of 30 did He commence His intense public life to announce that the Kingdom of God was now among us – teaching the multitudes, forgiving sins, curing diseases, and performing miracles – to finally bear full testimony to His Divinity by His Glorious Passion Death and Resurrection that brought about our redemption.

If it is true that actions speak louder than words, then the ‘action’ of remaining ‘hidden’ for the largest part of His life – the ‘silence’ of Our Lord that He chose to spend quietly with Mary and Joseph in Nazareth, hidden from the public eye – becomes a remarkably strong message that ‘speaks loudly’ to all members of His Holy Church.

Fr Henri Nouwen gives us this response to the above questions:

“The largest part of Jesus’ life was hidden. Jesus lived
with his parents in Nazareth, “under their authority” (Luke
2:51), and there “increased in wisdom, in stature, and in
favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:52). When we think
about Jesus we mostly think about his words and miracles,
his passion, death, and resurrection, but we should never
forget that before all of that Jesus lived a simple, hidden
life in a small town, far away from all the great people,
great cities, and great events. Jesus’ hidden life is very
important for our own spiritual journeys. If we want to
follow Jesus by words and deeds in the service of his
Kingdom, we must first of all strive to follow Jesus in his
simple, unspectacular, and very ordinary hidden life.”

Our Lord’s “hidden life” can be likened to our own small lives, where we try to grow in holiness through the fulfillment of our daily mundane duties to the best of our possibilities, with perseverance, patience and with prayer – converting each little act done well into a gift as valuable as pure ‘gold’ when carried out with love in our intention to give further glory to God. This is the holy “Little Way” of St Thérèse of Lisieux which we should all aim to follow.

If we are parents, we should be imparting the Faith to our offspring by good example and teaching, transforming our homes into little domestic ‘churches’; if we are priests (or religious) we should be living vessels of alter Christus, leading souls to God as we instruct, preach, pray and impart the Sacraments. Those who are single and/or young, should become beacons of light for their neighbours and friends, faithful witnesses of a Christian life of morality, virtue and convictions. Those who are old, sick, housebound or bedridden – and often, sadly, mostly forgotten by the outside world – can grow to great heights of sanctity by generously and patiently offering up their pain and loneliness to God in their own little ‘nazareths’ under their personal hidden suffering.

Let us never forget that our own concealed lives on Earth, every ‘step’ of the way, can be transformed into lives of great value when we endeavour to imitate Our Lord and Saviour. He identified Himself with us by His own earthly life, concealed for so many years in the little insignificant town of Nazareth, obedient to his humble parents, and close to His Heavenly Father in prayer. This is His lesson for us.

Henri Nouwen explains how within “hiddenness”, which is “an essential quality of the spiritual life”, many other qualities flow:

“Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life.
Solitude, silence, quiet, ordinary tasks, being with people
without great agendas, sleeping, eating, working, playing —
all of that without being different from others, that is the
life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us to live. It
is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase “in
wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people”
(Luke 2:51). It is in hiddenness that we can find a true
intimacy with God and a true love for people.

Even during his active ministry, Jesus continued to return
to hidden places to be with God alone. If we don’t have a
hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear
fruit.”

One more final thought: could this also be why Our Blessed Lord chose to remain with us in the Blessed Sacrament, small and ‘hidden’ within all the tabernacles of the world? Could this be His way of returning to this great mystery of his early life, whilst beckoning to us to accompany Him a while? When we kneel before Him there in silent contemplation, often in empty or near-empty churches, lit only by the glowing red light that signals to us of His Sacred Presence (whilst the world roars on spinning outside on its never-ending wheel), we are surely returning once more to sharing with Our Greatest Love something of the secret hidden life of the Holy Family in Nazareth. 

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17 Responses to What Can We Learn From The Hidden Years of Our Lord?

  1. Michael says:

    A beautiful explanation Kathleen, thank you. It brings to mind so many things for me – firstly the verse from Philippians that says Our Lord ‘did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant’ (2:6-7), and also the poem The Elixir by George Herbert, particularly these verses:

    Teach me, my God and King,
    In all things Thee to see,
    And what I do in anything
    To do it as for Thee…

    All may of Thee partake:
    Nothing can be so mean,
    Which with his tincture—”for Thy sake”—
    Will not grow bright and clean.

    A servant with this clause
    Makes drudgery divine:
    Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
    Makes that and th’ action fine.

    Your reflection here really shows just how God Himself teaches us to see Him in every thing, in that He sanctified, hidden away and without fanfare, all those everyday tasks that make up the bulk of our lives. Moreover though, you made me think of Our Lord’s guardian, Saint Joseph, and Our Lady, who guided the young Jesus and taught Him in all the ways of work, human affection and family devotion, and the details of whose lives are also hidden from us in greater part (particularly Saint Joseph). What a beautiful symmetry in the Holy Family, and what a beautiful reflection on Our Lord’s hidden years!

  2. Robert says:

    Ah Yes Kathleen you have latched onto to a very very important lesson for Us that links directly to Pope Leo XIII. St Therese! For precisely for the reasons you have given! Think Martha and Mary and whom had the greater part!
    Notice the idolisation of this Age and 20 Century over Men/Man sadly this includes Popes! Popes as world leaders etc. etc. But what about as shepherds of the flock! More the profound image of the DEEP DARK Night and those shepherds tending their flocks in Bethlehem. The Deep Dark Night of ORIGINAL SIN! The Great Light now in the world BUT not yet to be publically visible.
    The Great Saint placed by God before us (and it was Leo XIII whom she visited when she was 15! )
    Thank you!

  3. ginnyfree says:

    Merry Christmas Kathleen. Nice essay. Some pretty pictures, but then again you always use good art here. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  4. toadspittle says:

    “So why then did Our Saviour choose to remain hidden incognito in the small town of Nazareth for so many years of His life?”
    Thanks for the comprehensive answer, Kathleen. Though I must point out again that the is no shred of evidence that says Christ did stay home for 18 years.
    Of course, He might well have. But then, He might have gone all manner of odd places. We just don’t know, do we?

  5. Robert says:

    Our Lord is True God and True Man. God is omnipresent and omnipotent which means not making the ,mistake of thinking in worldly terms but rather freeing the mind and looking through Heavenly eyes. Toad Heaven is Gods Home Earth is an exile. The word was made flesh and dwelt amongst Us. That isn’t a historical exactitude its for Eternity.
    Toad is asking good questions but actually misunderstanding the Scriptures. The Scriptures repeat themselves they exist for Eternity and will always be current. Thus Our Lords Passion and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass its isn’t just at Easter! Same with the great depths of truth of Christmas Apostacy and Sin are Darkness. The Light shines in that Darkness but it doesn’t comprehend it. Christmas today and the worship of Mammon (the Sales!! Profits etc.. ) Today they have locked out the Holy Family and reduced Our Lord once again to the Manger! The manger and the lowly beasts.
    The Life of Our Lord was as he said at the Age of 12 doing My Fathers work!
    18 years of doing His Heavenly Fathers work Toad!!! Ask Him Toad.
    Here is something for you to meditate on. State and Church. Well Christ has the Kingship Of David (that’s the State) as well as the Eternal High priest , the mystical Body (the Church). In the Kingdom of Heaven there is No separation between State and Church. Its the little anti christs that plot and plan and like Herod seek to kill the Christian Babies.

  6. piliersdelaterre says:

    I think one must not be sentimental about the life of Jesus…some of his behaviour was inexplicable, moody, unexpected, and he was very very individual and a loner. His perspective was even harsh at times. He spoke in metaphors or very terse and plain – not common bonhomie. The poet Shelley thought he was bloodless and passive- well, maybe sentimental Christians made him seem that way?
    He used a language which accords with the shamanistic dream language.
    For example, the image of the “tending the kine” is an ancient cross cultural sign for losing one’s reason…e.g. the mad outsider paradoxically revered by the Russian Orthodox Church?
    In his language Christ delved into a deeper reality, whose authority was real but strange.
    The metaphor and quality of truth in time/place suggests that he was an Ur-poet.
    I really don’t see why he would be a biddable, sweet little fellow- remember how offhand he was when found preaching in the Temple aged twelve.
    He certainly didn’t give sermons in the way people do now, all chummy and drawing parallels about current problems as though Christ was just the original Agony Aunt….
    Instead he JOLTED language into a new realm, stressed it and worked it like all poets do more or less.

  7. Robert says:

    If the Scriptures seem strange and they are not understood that is because of spiritual blindness. Blindness sadly through Sin.
    I say this because as True God and True Man His Words resonate with every man! In the depths of Our souls we recognise Him. We have Free Will either to choose an Eternity of Heaven or negation of God Hell.
    The scriptures are Eternal which means you cannot fix them in some historical framework, this is rationalism and naturalism, human thinking. They are eternal verities existing outside of time.
    Our Lord constantly denigrated Himself and instead elevated The Eternal Father. The Trinity is bound by Love and Love is the Communion of Saints (no place for a loner in Heaven nor in the Church which is what Communion means!)
    Not understood? On the contrary He is very well understood and very clear as to how we should understand Sin. We must see Sin through the eyes of Our Common Father/Creator certainly not as some negotiated democratic vote of free thinkers atheists, lukewarm and agnostics.

  8. toadspittle says:

    “The scriptures are Eternal which means you cannot fix them in some historical framework, “
    Yes you can. They are books, written by people, at a certain time(or times).
    “..this is rationalism and naturalism, human thinking.
    Of course it is. Sane humans think rationally – well, quite often anyway. Or at least we try.
    It’s all we can do.
    They are eternal verities existing outside of time.
    That is entirely a matter of opinion. You cannot possibly know it to be true, Robert, because you, like all of us, are “trapped” in time. No harm in believing that if you want; though.

  9. Robert says:

    I think its important to understand that Our Lord fulfilled the Old Covenant that of Moses which was revoked and replaced by the New Covenant. Jeremiah 31:31 Behold the days shall come, saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Juda: St Paul Hebrews 9: [15] And therefore he is the mediator of the new testament: that by means of his death, for the redemption of those transgressions, which were under the former testament, they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
    In other words Our Lord and indeed Our Lady fulfilled the Mosaic law (sic Presentation ) until the New Testament. This provides information for the so called hidden years.
    The modern error which is against Gods Revealed Doctrine and which defines the Faith (what we MUST believe in) is that the Old Covenant of the Jews has been revoked and replaced by a New Covenant.
    Unfortunately this has been forgotten by the Vatican with false impression that the Jewish covenant is still in force! It isn’t its has been revoked by God and replaced by the new.
    Understand that it is an article of the Faith that we obey the Commandments (Dogmas etc..) revealed to Us. None of this false personal conscience nonsense (which is the premises of the Masonic religion).
    The point is to understand that Our Lord during His supposed hidden years fulfilled the Mosaic covenant during his Life until this was replaced with the new!

  10. Michael says:

    piliersdelaterre @ 13:35, December 28th:

    He used a language which accords with the shamanistic dream language.
    For example, the image of the “tending the kine” is an ancient cross cultural sign for losing one’s reason…e.g. the mad outsider paradoxically revered by the Russian Orthodox Church?

    Could you elaborate on this a little please? I’ve heard Our Lord and His words interpreted as being a good many things before, but I’ve never come across this comparison with ‘shamanistic dream language’, nor do I know what such language is like. I presume the reference to mad outsiders being revered in Russian Orthodoxy is a reference to the tradition of the Holy Fool, but other than that I can’t see where you’re coming from.

    The metaphor and quality of truth in time/place suggests that he was an Ur-poet.

    Ditto. On this one though, I’m not sure how we could even make a comparison at all, as I was under the impression that an ‘Ur-‘ anything is almost by definition something we, with next to no real knowledge of the very earliest civilisations, would know anything about, and thus could not compare anything against.

    I think one must not be sentimental about the life of Jesus…some of his behaviour was inexplicable, moody, unexpected, and he was very very individual and a loner…I really don’t see why he would be a biddable, sweet little fellow- remember how offhand he was when found preaching in the Temple aged twelve.

    Are you suggesting that the above article is doing such a thing? The focus of the post is, as far as I can see, the humble obedience of Our Lord to Mary and Joseph, and His immersion in everyday tasks so as to completely identify with humanity in every respect, particularly in the ‘daily grind’ which constitutes the majority of our lives. What is sentimental about it?

  11. kathleen says:

    Please forgive my long delay in responding to the above comments on this post. (A house full of offspring to look after over Christmas… and the sudden death of a good friend on 28th with the accompaniment of his grieving family, has kept me away from the internet these last days.)

    Many thanks to Michael for his wonderful contributions. Any praise from you, excellent writer that you are (J2E being living proof of this), is flattery indeed. Thank you for challenging piliersdelaterre’s comment too, that I found most baffling.
    A big “Hi” and a Christmas hug to you, Ginny, Robert and everyone else.

    Toad, I found five comments of yours sitting in pre-moderation. I’m sorry you had to wait so long, but everyone on the CP&S team seems to have disappeared over the Christmas season! As you well know, your comments were all, bar one, quite unprintable! What is your purpose in writing such heretical, and personally offensive diatribes to us, when you know full well they won’t see the light of day here?

    “I must point out again that the is no shred of evidence that says Christ did stay home for 18 years.”

    Toad, read again the passage from Luke and THINK! How could the Evangelist have said Our Blessed Lord was “under their authority” if He had left Nazareth and gone elsewhere. Really, you complicate things and look for problems where there are none. We may have no “evidence” of the day to day activities of the Holy Family during that time – that can be left to the imagination – but we do know through our faith in the reliability of Sacred Scripture (and all that the Church confirms here, as was mentioned on another thread) that this is where Our Lord spent His hidden years: in humble obedience to His parents in the town of Nazareth. For this reason when He commenced His public life, His origins were questioned (Matthew 13:55). The people were so amazed that a Man from such ordinary beginnings (they thought) could speak with such authority and work such wonderful miracles.

  12. ginnyfree says:

    Wow Toad! I’m impressed. Who would’ve thunk the likes of your would be defending the Church’s position in regard to the Scriptures containing historical facts? We may make a Catholic outta you yet. Merry Christmas. Hope Santa left something for you under you little lily pad. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  13. toadspittle says:

    “Who would’ve thunk the likes of (Toad) would be defending the Church’s position in regard to the Scriptures containing historical facts? “
    1: I’m not defending (or attacking) the Church here, Gin-Girl. I don’t care what its position is. It’s quite capable of defending itself from twits like Toad.
    2: I’m absolutely prepared to believe there are probably quite a few “historical facts” stuck in Scripture, like currants in a bun. Caesar Augustus is mentioned, for example along with Pilate, whom we all accept as “real.” Whether he was as nice as he’s made out to be (and whether the Jews were as nasty as they were made out to be) – is debatable.
    I’m also prepared to believe Christ was a “real” person, despite a distressing lack of convincing evidence. No smoke without fire, and all that.
    There probably are “facts” in the stories of Robin Hood, and King Arthur, too. Richard the Lionheart in The Tale of Mr. Hood, for example. But who knows?

  14. Michael says:

    Thank you Kathleen, and I am very sorry to hear about your friend – I shall keep all concerned in my prayers.

  15. ginnyfree says:

    Currants in a bun? Have a Happy New Year Toad and don’t drink too much. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  16. Robert says:

    Peace and Goodness Kathleen.
    Your house full of offspring is enlightening and a pleasure. Your sad loss and his family are in my prayers.

  17. toadspittle says:

    “Have a Happy New Year Toad and don’t drink too much.”
    A stricture that I hope will not escape you either, Gin-Girl.
    Stay away from your namesake, is Toad’s diffident advice.

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