One of the periods of Jesus’ life that is often bypassed is paradoxically the longest part of His life. This segment of His life is often referred to as the “Hidden Life”. This is the time between His birth and the beginning of His public ministry, universally considered to be when He was thirty. His public ministry lasted three years and ended with His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. These three years are what the Gospels are all about, and they enshrine His many miracles and deeds of wonder as well as His teaching. It ended with our Redemption during that week we call Holy.
But think of it! We have almost nothing about Him for 30 years, the vast majority of His life! Why?
The very notion of an Incarnation is extremely radical. For both Jews and Muslims, God becoming human is a contradiction and is an impossibility: God is Creator and we are creatures. Period.
Why would God choose to become human? This can be batted around, but I like the answer that the great Franciscan philosopher-theologian Duns Scotus gave: God became human because of His great love for us. This profound sharing in our littleness is amazing! It is part of the radical nature of the Christian faith. God goes all out to show us His solidarity with us. What a passionate love God has for us!
If God became human as a superhero, that would mean a lot. If God became human as a wealthy philosopher, that would be amazing. But God became human as a poor man, the son of hardworking people. He was incarnated as a simple carpenter who spent the first 30 years of His life in an obscure, out-of-the-way village in a country way off the beaten track.
This is why the hidden years of Jesus, doing the ordinary things of daily life, is so very important. It clearly shows His embrace of our littleness and paradoxically makes the ordinary events of life so filled with the power of the Divine.
Many people still have the false idea that God resides only in the spectacular things of life. He also, we mistakenly surmise, is to be found in only some special places: Jerusalem, Rome, the Temple, the Basilica. While these places can instill a deeper appreciation of the presence of God, they unfairly limit God to just those ‘Spielberg moments’ in which special celestial effects are ‘de rigueur’!
But by Jesus embracing the ordinary for 30 years, He shows us the way of hallowing all of our daily lives by what Fr. De Caussade says so eloquently as the ‘Sacrament of the Present Moment’. We need not go anywhere, nor have any special experience, to be in the presence of God communing with His very presence. He is with us in the ordinary events of our daily lives. But we must have the eyes to see this and the faith to make it real in our own daily lives.
Sure, the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist is the most powerful intensification of His presence, but the reverberations of His Presence have infinite effects. Even the choice of simple bread and wine proclaims the day-by-day ordinary ways He is present to us.
These are all graces flowing from His hidden life in Nazareth, where He spent the vast majority of His incarnate life on earth.
If we look at our own ‘hidden lives’, when we spent so much time just hanging around the block; when we played baseball; when we went to school; and when we got our first job, these events seem so inconsequential; but we all know how important they were in forming us in what we are today. I myself learned so much about who I am and the world around me during those formative years. This apprenticeship lasted many years encompassing our lives from our first steps to whom we have become before God and men.
All of those years of Jesus’ formation in human life are lost to us. We don’t know the names of His boyhood friends, the kinds of food He ate, the sicknesses that Joseph and Mary got Him through. But we do know that they were very important memories of the adult Jesus, memories that still influence our lives, being His disciples and His friends.