THE latter portion of the Hidden Life, which begins after the mystery of which we have last spoken, may be considered as in some respects different in character from that which preceded it. It seems that the age of twelve, which our Lord had now reached, was the time at which the young Jews, if they did not exactly enter life for themselves as in ripe manhood, were considered in many respects no longer children, and as able to choose for them selves, in some measure, the path of life along which they were to walk. They were no longer so de pendent on their parents as before. If our Lord had been intended, like St. Paul, to follow a course of study in Jerusalem with a view to his future career as a teacher, He might now have left His home for the Holy City. In many respects He would now be considered adolescent, and thus any choice He might now make with regard to the arrangement of His life, would not have been thought an extraordinary assumption of independence on His part.
It is perhaps with some reference to this that the Evangelist has told us, of this last period of the Hidden Life in particular, that He went down with His parents to Nazareth and was subject unto them. This implies naturally that He did not continue that course which He had adopted on the occasion of this visit to the Temple, but that He returned to His former way of living, and this although He had just shown that He might freely leave them at any moment, in obedience to some call from His Father, He did not actually do this. We must therefore infer that as it had been the call of His Father which had made Him leave them, so now 7 it was the call of His Father that made Him remain with them. For it is impossible to suppose that He would, as it were, have asserted a kind of independence of them, and then return with them, for any other reason than that which had prompted His departure from them for a time. But the Evangelist adds to the statement about His. going down with them to Nazareth the other statement that He was subject unto them, as if this required mention, as being the description of the kind of life, which He now adopted after the attainment of the age at which He might have adopted any other. It seems to mean that, instead of following this or that line of conduct, as might have been the case at the age which He had now attained, He chose as His vocation, if we may so speak, as the kind of service to His Father which was the normal and regular conduct for Him during the remainder of the Hidden Life, the line of perfect and continual submission and obedience to His parents. So that while it might have been said of Peter, for instance, that he became a fisherman, or of Nathanael that he became a Scribe, or that Matthew entered the career which led on to his being a publican, it would be said of our Lord that the line of life which He now adopted was to live in subjection to His parents. He served them with as perfect a submission as if He had taken in their household the place of a hired servant.
This is the marvellous choice of God for His Incarnate Son, not simply when He was a little Child, but when He was in the eyes of the world becoming a fullgrown youth, and drawing on to wards manhood. This is the deliberate choice of the Sacred Heart, guided in all things by the Holy Ghost, and it certainly adds an emphasis to this instruction that it should follow so immediately on the narrative of the remaining of our Lord in Jerusalem. There are no details at all given us as to the service and submission which were now exercised, for in such exercises it is not the kind of work that is performed that is important, but only the principle and motive on which the service is rendered. These were as perfect as they could be, whatever it might have been that our Lord was occupied upon out of His submission and obedience. It is this that characterizes the work, and gives it its merit, not the substance of the work itself. Year after year was to roll on, a longer period was to pass than had already elapsed since He became Man in the womb of Mary, and still the same was the answer to the question, what is the Incarnate God occupied upon? The answer was always the same, He is being subject.
In the service of God which is rendered to Him by His saints on earth, it is often said that it is obedience that is the great virtue of all, planting all other virtues in the soul and preserving them when they are already planted, the great method and most certain security of rapid progress and high perfection. Thus our Lord adopted the most safe and most powerful method of perfection, practising this method as if He had ever fresh heights of perfection to which He aspired to attain, though indeed He could not rise in perfection, having been from the moment of the Hypostatic Union full of all grace and all virtue. But, as we have seen else where, He could grow in the experimental practice of the virtues, and He could manifest more and more the perfection of virtue which was in Him from the beginning. We cannot be wrong in thinking that this choice which He made was made with a view to us, and to instruct us, as nothing else could instruct us, in the value which He attaches to imitation of Himself in this chief and paramount matter.
With regard to our Blessed Lady, who is our more direct subject of consideration here, we may see, in the first place, how wonderfully she must have profited by this most stupendous example of our Lord as to His favourite virtue, the virtue in which she also was so conspicuous a follower of Him. The depths of the humility and subjection which she saw in Him must have revealed to her ever new and new beauties in this great virtue. It may also be remembered that there is no school of humility, after the constant practice of subjection, which admits of greater advance in this virtue than the practice of having to act as Superior over others better than ourselves. Those who are the confessors of saints must learn immensely from their penitents, and those who are the Superiors of saints are in the same position of great spiritual advantage if they can use their privileges rightly and humbly. Thus we may consider this time as one at which our Blessed Lady would probably have made enormous strides in the knowledge and practice of every virtue, if it were only that during this time she had to act as the Superior of her Son. She would have constantly before her eyes the profound example of humility of which the Apostle speaks when he describes the mind and character of our Lord, the self-annihilation before the Majesty of God, the perpetual humiliation in word and deed and thought, the intense penetration of the truth of the utter worthlessness and nothingness of the creature, who has received every gift from God, and has of his own nothing at all. To this perfect pattern of humility Mary had day after day to be acting as ruler and guide in the place of God. No wonder if there should have been no limit to her self-abasement and humiliation, and to her charity also, for every stage of humility should be a fresh stage of charity, and of closer union with God and of growth in every virtue.
We have supposed that during these long years of the Hidden Life our Blessed Lady, in some way or other, whether entirely preternaturally or by conversation with her Blessed Son, was made acquainted with the principal and characteristic features of the New Law which He was to introduce and the Kingdom which He was about to found. If the main outlines and principles of the Christian society as such were laid before her, in any way or measure, it is not probable that she would be left in ignorance of the beautiful creations of the religious spirit, which were all to be founded, with whatever variety of individual design, on the virtue of humility, especially on obedience, and on the poverty and chastity of which the Holy House of .Nazareth was the home. Such a contemplation would have set before our Blessed Lady the fairest and most fruitful portion of the future Kingdom, rich in treasures of sanctity in itself, and in blessings of example and beneficence for the whole world around it. At all events it must always be a legitimate consolation to the religious soul, to consider how exactly the great principles of the life which it aims at leading for the glory of God are to be found exemplified in the life of the Holy Family at Nazareth. And when our Lady afterwards saw the first shootings of this goodly plant in the garden of the young Church, she might well recognize in this the springing up of a seed that had been first committed to the soil in these years of which we speak.
In this respect we may consider that the years which followed on the mystery of the remaining in the Temple, were more directly significant than the years which preceded them. For it was at this time that our Lord had proclaimed most fully, that every step of His conduct was taken as a distinct fulfilment of some behest of His Father, and in the interest of His Father, and was thus raised above the level of natural duty to that of supernatural duty. And it was now that the principle and supreme motive of all He did is described as being subjection. These features are not excluded from ordinary Christian lives, but it is in the religious life that they find their most formal and enduring .and unvarying expression. Thus when the blessed dwellers in Heaven look down upon the Christian world, and discern there the repetition of what was first practised in Nazareth, they see this if many a Christian home at least partially and intermittently, but they see it embodied and consecrated by an irrevocable dedication to God in the holy homes of the religious life.
There is yet another feature which is to be found in the later years of the Hidden Life, which is constantly repeated in Christian society, and forms an occasion of numberless beautiful charities and self-sacrifices, while it derives its blessing and its charm from its consecration by the Holy Family. For we are told that some years before the close of this blessed time it pleased God to permit His favoured servant St. Joseph to be tried by a succession of serious and painful illnesses, which reduced him to a state of chronic suffering, and made him unable any longer to labour as he had laboured hitherto for the sustenance of the holy home. This dispensation of Providence gave that great saint the opportunity of accumulating new merits daily, by his patience and conformity to the Divine will, while at the same time it enabled our Lady and our Lord to show towards him all the most delicate and tender refinements of the most exquisite charity in their ministrations to him. Thus .was suffering of this kind consecrated in the life of our Lord, and by the active exercise of the most careful devotion by Himself and by His Blessed Mother. If this had not been so, then human life would have lacked this blessing which is involved in the fact that every common office of duty and charity has been hallowed by Him in the course of His sojourn amongst us. Pain, indeed, and hunger and weariness, He has consecrated sufficiently by having undergone them in His own Person, but He could not, or it was not convenient that He should, endure sickness. He has hallowed this too, and also set us the most perfect example of the charity which it ought to call forth in us, both by this feature in the holy years of His home life, and by the tenderness with which He relieved every kind of disease and infirmity when the time came for His mixing among men as the Teacher of truth.
The long illness of St. Joseph ended, as it seems, some few years before the termination of the Hidden Life, and thus it was arranged that our Lord should live for some space of time alone with His Blessed Mother after her bereavement. Christian contemplation has often dwelt with wondering love over the parting moments of the blessed Spouse of Mary, and endeavoured to enter into her sorrow, and to imagine the details of the first and most perfect Christian death-bed. It was then that she became for the first time the Mother of the dying, the special patroness and protector of the children of the Church in the last and most momentous passage of their existence. St. Joseph shows us all the resignation, and patience, and faith, and confidence in God, which are the virtues which adorn the last time of our trial, when the soul has the opportunity of turning what under our present condition is the necessity of nature, into an occasion of almost priceless merit and homage to the majesty and the justice of God. Our Lord is there, the fountain of all graces whether for life or for death, and our Lady is by His side, with all the boundless efficacy of her intercession for the parting soul. And thus too all our ordinary and natural sorrows are assuaged by finding their echo in the hearts of our Lord and His Mother, whose love for the dying soul was boundless, and whose natural sorrows were in proportion to their love and the closeness of the ties which bound them to the husband and foster-father, by whose side they watched as the moment of death drew nigh.
Such are some of the features which belong more especially to this, the longest and most hidden stage of the existence of our Blessed Lady in the holy home. All that she had learnt and gained in the years which had preceded these formed a part of her life in this period, and the new features of which we have been speaking were added to others which have come more particularly before our sight in the earlier stages of her ministrations to our Lord as His Mother. The Hidden Life was the time which our Lord devoted, under the Providence of His Father, to the preparation for His great work among souls in the way of preaching, instructing, converting, as well as for that which was to come immediately on the close of the Public Life, the work of the Passion for the satisfaction for sin to the justice of God. This time was also the preparation of our Blessed Lady for the part she was to have in both of these great works, a part not the same as that which He alone could undertake and perform, but nevertheless a part of utmost importance in the designs of God and of utmost fruitfulness to men. Not one of the days of all that long time but had done its part in the increase of her immense sanctification, her intelligence of our Lord and His work, her imitation of Him, and her cooperation with Him. It was to be the same, as we shall see, with the years of His active Life, which was now on the eve of its commencement, and that again was to prepare her for the still more wonderful work which was to be committed to her when the time came for the Passion itself.