Time marches on, and the joyous time of Christmas is past, now to soon give way to the penitential season. This Sunday is Septuagesima Sunday, and Lent is just around the corner. In his sermon last Sunday, Canon Wiener touched upon the hidden life of Christ by analogy when, in discussing the parable of the mustard seed, he referred to the time God took to prepare the ground of our souls so that the seed could germinate.
The Gospel tells us that after having been found in the Temple, Jesus went down to Nazareth with His Mother and St. Joseph and that He there remained until the age of thirty years. And the sacred scribe sums up all this long period in these simple words: Et erat subditus illis (Lk 2:51). “and He… was subject to them.”
Thus out of a life of thirty-three years, He Who is Eternal Wisdom chose to pass thirty of these years in silence and obscurity, submission and labour.
Herein lies a mystery and teaching of which many souls, even pious souls, do not grasp all the meaning.
He Who is infinite and eternal, one day after centuries of waiting, humbles Himself to take a human form: Semetipsum exinanivit, formam servi accipiens… et habitu inventus ut homo (Phil 2:7). Although He is born of a spotless Virgin, the Incarnation constitutes an incommensurable abasement for Him: Non horruisti virginis uterum (Hymne, Te Deum). And why does He descend into these abysses ? To save the world, in bringing to it the Divine Light.
Now,—excepting those rays granted to a few privileged souls: the shepherds, the Magi, Simeon and Anna,—this Light is hidden; it remains voluntarily, during thirty years, “under a bushel,” sub modio, to be at last manifested only for the duration of scarcely three years.
Is not this mysterious; is it not even disconcerting for our reason ? If we had known the mission of Jesus, should we not have asked Him, as many of His kinsfolk did later, to manifest Himself to the world: Manifesta teipsum mundo (Jn 7:4).
But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are higher than our ways. He Who comes to redeem the world wills to save it first of all by a life hidden from the eyes of the world.
Truly, my Saviour, You are a hidden God: Deus absconditus, Israel Salvator. Doubtless, O Jesus, You grow “in wisdom age, and grace with God and men” (Lk 2:52). Your soul possesses the fulness of grace from the first moment of Your entrance into this world, and all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom, but this wisdom and this grace are only manifested little by little. You remain a hidden God in the eyes of men. Your Divinity is veiled beneath the outward appearance of a workman. O Eternal Wisdom Who, to draw us out of the abyss into which Adam’s proud disobedience had plunged us, chose to live in a humble workshop and therein to obey creatures, I adore and bless You !
In the sight of His contemporaries, the life of Jesus Christ at Nazareth then appeared like the ordinary existence of a simple artisan. We see how true this is. Later, when Christ reveals Himself in His public life, the Jews of His country are so astonished at His wisdom and His words, at the sublimity of His doctrine and the greatness of His works, that they ask each other: ” How came this man by this wisdom and miracles ? Is not this the carpenter’s son ? Is not His Mother called Mary ?… Whence therefore hath He all these things ? ” Unde huic sapientia haec et virtutes Nonne hic est fabri filius? Nonne mater ejus dicitur Maria? Unde ergo huic omnia ista (Mt 13:54-56. Cf. Mk 6:2-3)? Christ was a stumbling block for them.
This mystery of the hidden life contains teachings which our faith ought eagerly to gather up.
First of all there is nothing great in the sight of God except that which is done for His glory, through the grace of Christ.
We are only acceptable to God according to the measure in which we are like unto His Son Jesus.
Christ’s Divine Sonship gives infinite value to His least actions; Christ Jesus is not less adorable nor less pleasing to His Father when He wields the chisel or plane than when He dies upon the Cross to save humanity. In us, sanctifying grace, which makes us God’s adoptive children, deifies all our activity in its root and renders us worthy, like Jesus, although by a different title, of His Father’s complacency.
The most precious talents, the most sublime thoughts, the most generous and splendid actions are without merit for eternal life if not vivified by sanctifying grace. The passing world may admire and applaud them; eternal life neither accepts them nor holds them of account. ” What cloth it profit a man, ” said Jesus, the infallible Truth, ” if He gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Mt 16:26).
What does it serve a man to conquer the world by the force of arms, by the charm of eloquence or the authority of knowledge, if, not having God’s grace, he be shut out from the kingdom that has no end ?
See, on the other hand, that poor workman who painfully gains his livelihood, this humble servant ignored by the world, this beggar disdained by all: no one heeds them. If Christ’s grace animates them, these souls delight the Angels, they are continual objects of love for the Infinite Being; they bear within them, by grace, the very features of Christ.
Sanctifying grace is the first source of our true greatness. It confers upon our life, however commonplace it may seem, its true nobility and imperishable splendour.
Oh ! if you knew the gift of God !…
But this gift is hidden.
The Kingdom of God is built up in silence; it is, before all things, interior, and hidden in the depths of the soul: Vita vestra est abscondita cum Christo in Deo (Col 3). Undoubtedly grace possesses a virtue which nearly always overflows in works of charity, but the principle of its power is entirely within. It is in the depths of the heart that the true intensity of the Christian life lies, it is there that God dwells, adored and served by faith, recollection, humility, obedience, simplicity, labour and love.
Our outward activity has no stability nor supernatural fruitfulness save in so far as it is linked to this interior life. We shall truly only bear fruit outwardly according to the measure of the supernatural intensity of our inner life (This truth has been remarkably demonstrated and set forth in a recent work which we strongly recommend to our readers: The True Apostolate by Dom J. B. Chautard, Abbot of Sept-Fons, translated from the French by Rev. F. Girardey, C. SS. R. The work is especially addressed to priests and religious, but it is not less useful to all lay-people who are occupied in works of zeal.).
What can we do greater here below than promote Christ’s reign within souls. What work is worth so much as that ? It is the whole work of Jesus and of the Church.
We shall, however, succeed in it by no other means than those employed by our Divine Head. Let us be thoroughly convinced that we shall do more work for the good of the Church, the salvation of souls, the glory of our Heavenly Father, in seeking first of all to remain united to God by a life of love and faith of which He is alone the object, than by a devouring and feverish activity which leaves us no leisure to find God again in solitude, recollection, prayer and self-detachment.
Nothing favours this intense union of the soul with God like the hidden life. And this is why souls living the inner life, and enlightened from on high, love to contemplate the life of Jesus at Nazareth. They find in it a special charm and, moreover, abundant graces of holiness.