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.
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!
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
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.