Living the Hidden Life
I think it is safe to say that most people value privacy. Right now, however, it is a rather elusive ‘commodity.’ Everything we do involves some sort of electronic connection to our personal information and to just about every aspect of our lives whether we choose it or not. The result is that our privacy is diminishing. Ironically, ‘social distancing’ offers privacy, but of an undesired kind; yet with the physical isolation, we are actually more connected than ever through technology, something not always optimal. In short, we are ‘connected at a distance!’ A few years ago that sentence would have made absolutely no sense, but now it is all too real. As social beings we long for connection and yet simultaneously we want a little privacy, too. Therefore, we are in a constant push/pull between the two… and our heads are spinning. Jesus and His family also faced this issue. Until the time was right for Jesus to begin His ministry, the Holy Family was obscure to the extent that we know almost nothing of what transpired during much of their time together. We know Joseph died during those years referred to as ‘hidden’ in the life of Jesus, but we have no information to shed light on any of it. This is because the Gospels are not biographies nor are they histories of Jesus, (or of His family for that matter.) Rather, they are meant to reveal Jesus, Son of God and promised Messiah, through the details of His mission and His teaching. In doing so, they describe our call to discipleship. Disciples are called to carry on His work, but for most of us it will be done in hiddenness. That is, we go about our lives as appropriate to our call choosing daily to humbly spread the Good News in word and deed.
To this end we can look to the ‘hidden’ years of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus realizing that they certainly must have affected the lives of those they met. Mary was the one who rushed to serve her cousin Elizabeth when both women were pregnant; therefore, we can be sure she brought flour, eggs or small loaves she baked to people in the community who were ill, widowed, or poor. Joseph the Just (and the Worker), must have offered acts of generosity by doing things like freely fixing a neighbor’s wheel when it broke, or perhaps rebuilding a fence or a part of someone’s house that was in disrepair. While young and living with His family, in an outwardly ordinary way Jesus would have helped a neighbor in need. Thus, being hidden does not mean being inactive. Nor does one have to be a miracle worker to be kind or selfless. It simply means keeping our eyes open so as not to miss an opportunity to use the power of God we have been given, namely grace. Through grace, ordinary kindness can, however, work miracles in the lives of the ones who receive what we offer, especially when our acts are done spontaneously and unbidden. We can change the lives of others with one simple act.
The Gospels reveal that after Jesus inaugurated His public ministry He had little privacy for the remainder of His life. He knew this was to be and embraced His mission fully; but to sustain Himself, He often slipped away for prayer, choosing to be hidden from the public for a short while. Jesus knew the value of time spent in conversation with His Father, for reflection and discernment, and also for rest. Therefore, we need to learn this as part of His gospel message: we all need rest and time for reflection and prayer. We need a bit of intentional hiddenness in order to restore balance and centeredness to our busy lives. It is essential for us to develop our relationship with God and it is of the utmost importance in order to discern our call and also the decisions and choices that are good for us to make. To do so we must look for the Fruits of the Spirit, and to that which leads us and those we effect closer to God.*
I suggest that we spend some time in prayer contemplating what isn’t said in the Gospels using the way taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola. That is, using your imagination set a scene of an aspect of the hidden years in the lives of the Holy Family. Choose whatever seems to draw you; it might be Mary making a visit to an elderly neighbor, Joseph helping someone who unexpectedly needed assistance, Jesus tending the garden and then bringing vegetables to a poor townsperson. Imagine, (or reflect intuitively upon),** what their lives might have been like and let God lead you. Afterwards, pray about what you can do (and what you already do) in imitation of what Jesus learned as a young man and then taught in His public ministry, (the Corporal Works of Mercy found in Matthew 25, for example). Perhaps you can ask yourself: “How am I called to spread the Gospel in word and deed in the midst of my own hiddenness?” Then ask the Holy Spirit to give you the eyes to see as Jesus sees and the heart to love as Jesus loves in order to be moved more often to generosity and kindness. If we do this from time to time, there is no doubt that we will grow in holiness as we touch hearts and lives in ways that are indeed beautiful miracles.
May we spend time praying with the hidden lives of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus which bore great fruit! May we spend time in meditation that we might gain insights into the gift of our own hiddenness! May we ask the Holy Spirit for the graces we need to discern and then to act! And may we see and love more and more as Jesus does! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* Discernment is about prayerfully choosing between two options, responses, or ways to proceed that both seem to be good. It is not about choosing between good and evil. St. Ignatius says in that case it is an obvious choice: we avoid evil and always choose the good. When choosing between two good things, one prays, tests the ways that we feel moved in both possible choices, and then proceeds with the one that is most likely to lead us closer to God.
** I say this because not everyone is able to imagine visually. Many people use their intuitive sense to let God lead, so do not try to force yourself to ‘visualize’ the scene if you cannot do so.
1. My photo, taken in the Highlands of Scotland near Glencoe.
2. Icon, The Holy Family Working. (Russian icon)
3. Image, Jesus Listen and Pray, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. You can find this image if you are interested at fineartamerica.com/featured/jesus-listen-and-pray-251-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. Painting, The Sower by Vincent van Gogh. (1888)
5. My photo, taken in a vineyard in Vaduz, Liechtenstein.
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
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