As I write this, I am at the old Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, LI on retreat. It is very quiet and peaceful here. The Virus has kept many away. But as I look at the green fields and the surrounding woods, I begin to feel that things will get better for the world after this pandemic.
My reflections have been guided by God onto the very fascinating but seldom talked about part of Jesus’ life on earth: His growing up, His youth, His teenage years, His young adulthood, His working, His ordinary life that was not filled with miracles. This is why it is called His ‘hidden life’, which was most of it!
Was He ever sick? What did He do around the house? What was Mary like? And Joseph? How did Joseph die? What was Jesus presence like in the little synagogue in Nazareth? What did He most enjoy doing? Who were His friends? Why did He not get married?
So many questions, yet nothing and nowhere to check.
This mystery extends to His Mom and Dad. They lived and worked and loved together. They were family. And we are talking about 30 years! Obviously, these were some of the most formative and important years of Christ’s life. Mary and Joseph were not just part of His life: for those 30 years they were His life.
Don’t you think it odd that so little has been written about those years that produced the most famous person in world history? True, there is nothing written about it. Where would someone do research?
My point in bringing this up is to see Our Blessed Lady in a new and deeper way. Here is a woman of faith who did no miracles while she lived. Except for one very important one: she enabled the greatest miracle to happen in the history of the Universe: God became flesh within her! Her ‘Fiat’ (Let it be!) enabled the hidden secret process to begin. Jesus Christ, truly human and truly divine, took flesh in her womb.
But after that, she was just like us. No miracles, no special privileges, only being a woman of faith and enduring the death of her spouse Joseph, and then witnessing the horrific death of her Son, God’s Son. She was also present when the Church began on Pentecost and she remained to the early Christian community the clearest link to the Lord of heaven and earth.
But during those 30 years in Nazareth, she did many ordinary things that all mothers do. She cooked and made sure things were prepared for Joseph and Jesus who probably journeyed to nearby Sepphoris (which is where the rich Romans and Greeks built elegant villas that needed skilled workmen from places like Nazareth). I can see Mary waving goodbye to Jesus and Joseph after giving them their lunch in a satchel! She probably had wash and cleaning to do, maybe babysitting for nieces and nephews from her family and Joseph’s. She kept busy as she cherished and pondered in her heart what would become of Jesus. How would He make Himself known? As any mother would, she assessed the dangers He would face. Did she have any premonition of the terror of His final days and the glory of His risen Presence? Both before the event of the Crucifixion and during it, she must have felt: That is my Baby, my Child, my Son!
But it was those thirty years of formation in what St. Paul VI called the ‘School of Nazareth’ that the human foundations were laid for who Jesus became. Truly the miraculous from the ordinary, the supernatural from the natural.
This is why I see her as such a real woman, not a myth, not an angel, not a supernatural being. But a mother who did all the ordinary things that a mother has to do, for thirty years. As a Marian altar proclaims in the National Shrine: “More Mother than Queen”.
She, more than anyone else, made Jesus the man who He became. Even biologically, one must assume that the DNA of Jesus was Mary’s DNA. Which explains the moment when Dante meets Jesus and Mary in the Paradiso of his Divine Comedy. He asks Beatrice, his guide, “Who is the man that almost looks exactly like Mary?” She replies, “That it is Jesus the Savior, Mary’s son.”
While I love the many and glorious representations of Mary as Queen that many nationalities consider emblematic of their country’s devotion to Our Lady, I guess I prefer to see her in her humanity and her personal maternal care she has for all of us.
She was a real woman and mother who said yes to the redemption of the world not having a single notion of what the plan would be. This is what I think about when I turn my attention in prayer to the Mother of God, both on retreat and in the parish.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Gal 4:4-5).