The life of Nazareth
The knee-jerk reaction of journalists who retire after spending a lifetime chasing the next headline is to cast about for the next one.
Take it from us who have spent over half a century in this quest, and forget it.
The best thing is to take instead a good hard look—and consider copying—the silence that Jesus spent in an unnoticed life in the hick town of Nazareth.
Anonymity and a dull routine constituted most of His 33 years of life. His public life spanned only three years. And most of that was compressed to His teaching years and the week leading to His crucifixion as a common criminal.
Many scholars, like Charles de Foucauld, have been captivated by those almost 18 years of silence. He was captivated, like many others, by Christ growing up and working as an obscure carpenter.
The silent preaching that Jesus did in His ordinary, day-to-day activities became something that De Foucauld wanted to emulate. It grew to be the context of his discipleship.
How many of us feel the similar tug to live a life of simplicity, being little and joyful, doing ordinary things, out of love for God?
Jesus came to Nazareth, the place of the hidden life, of ordinary life, of family life, of prayer, work, obscurity, of silent virtues. Nazareth is the place where most people like us lead our lives.
It’s not just the next headline, or officials dodging Senate committee sanctions, that really matter in the long run.
The life of Nazareth can be followed anywhere, in places where it is most helpful to your neighbors. Nazareth is anywhere we work in humility, poverty and silence.
After the Christmas Nativity and the flight into Egypt, Christ and His family withdrew to Nazareth. There, He spent the years of childhood and youth, till he was 30 years of age and appeared in the Jordan.
Again, what was the meaning of that part of His life? It meant continuous instruction, not in words, but by silence and example, De Foucauld suggests.
He was teaching all of us that it is possible to do good to men—great good—without using words, without preaching, without fuss, but by silence, goodness toward those about one, and domestic duties fulfilled without griping. The example of poverty, lowliness, and recollection: The obscurity of a life hidden in God, a life of prayer, penance and withdrawal, completely lost in God, buried deep in Him.
“I was teaching you to live by the labor of your own hands, so as to be a burden on no one and to have something to give to the poor. And I was giving this way of life an incomparable beauty—the beauty of being a copy of mine,” De Foucauld writes.
“And He went down with them,” the evangelist Luke writes, “and came to Nazareth and was subject to them.”
“He went down.” His whole life was spent in “going down.” He went down in the Incarnation, going down to be a small child, going down in obedience, in becoming poor, abandoned, exiled, persecuted, tortured, in always putting Himself in the lowest place.
“When thou art invited, go, sit down in the lowest place.” It is what He did Himself from the time of His coming into the feast of life till the time of His death. He came to Nazareth, the place of the hidden life, of ordinary family life: a life of prayer, work and obscurity, the silent virtues, practiced with God, His close relations, and His neighbors as the only witnesses. It was a humble, holy, obscure life of well-doing—the life of most human beings. For 30 years, He was our example of it.
“He was subject to them.” He, God, was subject to them, human beings, so becoming our example of obedience, humility and, in the real sense of the word, renunciation as infinite as His divinity.
The Feast of the Visitation, which commemorates the time Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56), was very meaningful to Charles de Foucauld.
“Even before I was born, I was working on this mission, the sanctification of man … and I urged my mother to work at it with Me.
“Here and now I am saying to others: I tell them to sanctify souls by silently carrying Me among them.
“To souls in silence, leading the work at it as my mother does; silently, without words.”
Being a “universal brother” to everyone was essential to De Foucauld’s understanding of the life of Nazareth.
From his writings:
There is always work to be done by example, goodness and prayer. We can enter into closer relationships with souls that are lukewarm or estranged so as to lead them gradually, by the power of our patience, gentleness, and goodness, by the influence of virtue rather than advice, back to a more Christian life or to the faith itself.
I believe that there is no other Gospel teaching that had a more profound effect upon me and transformed my life more than the following: “All that you do to the least of these, you do to Me.” What strength we are driven to seek and love Jesus through these lesser ones, these sinners, these poor, by employing every material way as a means to soothe their temporal miseries.
Cherish them and regard their entry as the discovery of a great treasure. They are in fact the greatest treasure of all, Jesus Himself: Insofar as you do this to one of the least of these brothers, you do it to Me.
We are all children of God: We must therefore see the beloved children of God in all people, and not just in the good, not just in the Christians, not just in the saints, but in all people. They are all children of God and consequently we must show for all of them, in our thoughts, words, and actions, the tender, affectionate, loving behavior that a brother shows for his brother.
Such genuine fraternity among all people, all children of God, leads to tenderness in feelings, sweetness in words, and charity in actions that explain all the precepts of the Gospel concerning charity, peace and sweetness. Nothing is more natural than these precepts if all people are considered brothers and sisters, the children of the same Father.
We must make people say this when they see me: “This man is so good that his religion must be good.” If someone asks me why I am gentle and good, I must reply, “Because I serve One who is so much better than I am. If only you knew how good my Master, Jesus, is.” I want to be so good that people will say, “If that is the servant, how, then, is the Master?”
For Charles de Foucauld, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist helped to reveal the mystery of Nazareth.
Lord Jesus, You are in the Holy Eucharist. You are there, a yard away in the tabernacle. Your Body, Your Soul, Your human Nature, Your Divinity, Your whole Being is there, in its twofold nature.
You were not nearer to the Blessed Virgin during the nine months she carried You in her womb than You are to me when You come in communion.
Juan L. Mercado was a communication officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Bangkok. Thereafter, he was posted in FAO headquarters in Rome as attaché de cabinet. He wrote for the Inquirer as a regular columnist from February 2004 until December 2014.
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