At Nazareth—Jesus Lost, And Found In The Temple (The Feast Of The Passover A.D. 8 ?)— The Hidden Life (Up To The Beginning Of The Year 26 ?) The Death Of Saint Joseph. Part. 1.

IN whose hands and under what conditions the holy family left their house at Nazareth is entirely unknown. However, we here represent them on their return from Egypt, entering into the same dwelling in which the mystery of the Incarnation took place, and in which Jesus lived up till His thirtieth year.

There, under the eyes of Mary, " the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him." 1 Mothers find their happiness in watching from day to day the development and progress of their children. Thus Mary found her happiness in seeing Jesus grow, in hearing Him speak His first words, in helping Him to take His first steps. He had truly taken our nature with its weaknesses, and,'like other children, He only began to exercise each of the human faculties as the members and organs gradually developed.

From His first hour, however, He possessed a perfect knowledge, not only as God—for in that sense He is essentially wisdom and infinite intelligence— but even as man, and in His created being. God had adorned His intellect with knowledge commensurate with His dignity and His destiny, and consequently incomparably superior to the intuitive knowledge of Mary. Moreover, in virtue of the hypostatic union itself, He possessed a source of knowledge exclusively His own—that of the ever-present divine vision. For alone among men He was at the same time "eternal" and "sojourner"; sojourner because, like us, He lived this mortal life, terrestrial and meritorious, which leads to heaven as to its end; eternal, because, being personally united to God, He already possessed it. His mind saw continually and face to face, the Word in which it subsisted; it saw Him as He is, in the unity of the Father and the Spirit; and, in God, it knew all truth. Consequently He herein differed from Mary, whose intellect acquired in course of time knowledge really new, which she did not previously possess; while the knowledge possessed by Jesus did not progress by extending itself to new objects. To the perception of His senses, answered, as with us, the play of intellectual faculties; acquired knowledge thus developed itself, following the ordinary laws of human thought; and in that way He knew in a new and experimental fashion, but in reality He learned nothing new. On this account and also by reason of His dignity as chief Master, 2 He could learn nothing from either Mary or Joseph. Nevertheless, their attentions and instructions, to which He filially submitted, could be for Him—as well as His progress in years—an occasion of manifesting and expressing by acts and words something of His knowledge and wisdom. And it was marvellous to see Him do with the most supreme facility all that a child of His age could do, allowing nothing to appear which could mar, in the eyes of the world, the utmost perfection possible in a child.

Notwithstanding that His public manifestation by preaching and miracles was to be deferred for some time longer, it was not fitting that He should remain even during the years of His childhood, without bearing witness to His Father and to Himself. In His earliest hours the Father had revealed Him to Elisabeth, to Simeon, to the shepherds, and to the wise men, by the fires of heaven, by the voices of angels, and by the grace of His Holy Spirit. And the Gospel records another incident, in which Jesus, at the age of twelve, began to reveal Himself.

For one instant He showed Himself to the doctors of Israel, and in that glimpse He revealed Himself as the supreme Master and Light of the world.

At the age of twelve, that is, the age at which an Israelite became a "son of the Law," and was initiated by his own act into the practice of the Mosaic religion, it pleased Him to declare the special religious bond which united Him to God; He was His Son, His messenger, and, as man, His servant, wholly devoted to the mission on which He had been sent.

He desired, in fact, to reveal Himself as dependent on His heavenly Father, while showing Himself independent of His earthly parents. This was in no way contradictory to the truth, which He Himself demonstrated on other occasions, of His intimate union with His mother in the accomplishment of the divine work. But on this occasion, He wished to manifest a truth different from that, without being contrary to it, and to give an example of it: for when His mission requires it, Christ and the Messenger of God is, and always must be, independent of all human power and all earthly ties.

With Jesus, the human nature received from Mary must always submit to the divine nature communicated by the Father; even as the natural inclinations of humanity must, in Him, remain subordinate, and sometimes be sacrificed to the divine will, so the maternal influence of Mary and the affection of Jesus for her must be subordinate and sometimes sacrificed to the commands and love of God; and just as, sacrificing all the inclinations of His own flesh, He would one day say, " Father, Thy will, not Mine, be done," so to-day He showed Himself ready to sacrifice the desires and the tenderness of His earthly mother, to the will of His heavenly Father.

The time would come when His disciples, also bearing within them a double life, would in their turn submit, and sacrifice even what was purest in the earthly life, to the life and grace received from heaven. His Gospel would separate the father from the son, and the daughter from the mother; to guard the faith, or to answer a divine call, it would be necessary to stifle the voice of flesh and blood, to renounce even the most sacred affections, and to live according to the Spirit, to give oneself up to a higher love, and by a hard and rugged road to climb up to God who calls. Jesus, at the same time Master as well as pattern, must Himself set the example of such sacrifices. Not content with giving this example among so many others during His Passion, He desired to give it by itself so that it might be better marked. He, the most loving of sons, would be the first to break the heart of the most loving of mothers, and that at the age when filial affection is most sweet and tender. Could He do it without breaking His own heart? But in what better way could He make us understand that such acts, when God demands them, come from neither hatred nor coldness, but are the sorrowful sacrifice of a deep affection to an affection yet more profound, because it is still more intimate and sacred.

"His parents," relates St Luke, "went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover." 3 Mary was not obliged by the Law to go; but it was a part of her piety and perfection to join in this great solemn feast of Israel, and she loved to revisit as often as possible the place hallowed by the prayers of her childhood, by God's predisposing grace, by the meeting with Simeon, and the offering of Jesus. They perhaps feared to take the divine child with them while Archelaus was governor of Jerusalem. But when Augustus deposed the young tetrarch and placed Judea under the direct rule of Rome, after the son of Herod had reigned ten years, Jesus was then about twelve years old, and it is possible that He then made His first pascal pilgrimage. However, there is nothing to prove with certainty that He did not, even before that time, accompany Joseph and Mary each year.

In any case, "when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days," whether it was the entire week of the Azyma, or at the least the three days required to satisfy the Law, " as they returned the child Jesus," without telling them, "tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and His mother knew not of it." For pilgrims from the same country travelled in large companies ; they all knew each other, and they could during the long journey join any group of friends at pleasure. Mary and Joseph, not seeing their child near them, supposed that He was in some other part of the long procession of travellers.

They " went a day's journey," as far as Beeroth, about nine miles to the north of Jerusalem. 4 When, in the evening, stopping at their first halting-place, they were surprised at not seeing Jesus return to their side, " they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance." As they fruitlessly questioned each group, their uneasiness increased, and soon they had searched for Him all through the encampment, but Jesus was not to be found.

What anguish a mother suffers when she has lost her child! And what must have been the anguish of this mother, who was, beyond comparison, of all mothers the most loving! The thought that her Son was God, did not lessen it in the least, for having up to that time seen Him accept all the weaknesses and sufferings of human nature, she could fear for Him the same accidents which befall ordinary children. And had she not before her the constant menace of the sufferings of the Christ, the time and the circumstances of which remained unknown to her? The sword, always near her heart, commenced on this evening to wound it, for though she had already been afflicted with more than one severe trial, she had never since becoming the mother of God experienced such sharp sufferings. It is only her sorrow during the Passion that we can compare with this grief for the loss of Jesus, a loss which was in fact a prelude to the supreme sacrifice.

That was a night of tears and prayers. Mary and Joseph besought the Father, who had confided His Son to them, to bring Him back again to their love, or to manifest His will, and to show them what they must do. When, at the break of day, the caravan resumed its journey towards Samaria and Galilee, they retraced their footsteps. They commenced afresh the search of the evening before, and, doubtless, looked anxiously at each turn of the road, hoping to see their Son running in haste to rejoin them. But Jesus did not yet return ; He was not to be found either in the place where they had lodged in the holy town during the days of the Passover, nor in those parts which they visited before sunset. The night at Jerusalem was as sad as the night at Beeroth, even sadder perhaps, for new hopes had been deceived.

On Sabbath days, and during the time of feasts, the most renowned scribes were accustomed to come to the Temple. They may have occupied a place in one of the outside porticos, or perhaps some room in the buildings which surrounded the interior courts; there they explained the difficulties concerning the Law, willingly allowing questions to be asked, and taking the opportunity of spreading their doctrine. Here it was, that "after three days," that is, the day after their return to Jerusalem, as Mary and Joseph walked through the Temple, the crowd gathered round the doctors of Israel appeared to them more than usually numerous and attentive, and, " sitting in the midst of the doctors," was a child: it was Jesus. The Master here showed Himself, even while taking the part and the attitude of a disciple. He was " both hearing them, and asking them questions." If He questioned the Scribes, " it was not to learn anything from them, but to teach them even while he questioned. . . . He incited them to inquire about those things, which, whether they were acquainted with or were ignorant of them, they had up to that time not been able to understand." 5 Stimulated by His questions, the doctors questioned Him in their turn, and He answered them with so much penetration and accuracy, that " all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers."

"And when they saw Him," Mary and Joseph "were amazed." Jesus, so far as we can guess, rapidly brought to an end the discussion that had been begun, and made a sign that His parents awaited Him among the circle of listeners; then with the smile and the simplicity of a child, He went and threw Himself into their arms.

Mary's soul was deeply stirred and troubled. Mingled with the great joy she felt at being united again to her Son, was still the impression of those three days of anguish. Exercising the liberty and authority of a mother, even while always deferential towards the wisdom of her God, she thus complained: " Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us ? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing. And He said unto them, How is it that ye sought Me ? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business? " In this answer Jesus said exactly that which He desired His future disciples to understand even in a greater degree than His parents: His absolute independence when the service of His true and only Father claimed Him. Mary and Joseph made no mistake as to the perfectly clear meaning of His words. But, at the same time, the answer was somewhat obscure, for Jesus left them in ignorance as to the manner in which the work of God must be accomplished. Would He continue to manifest Himself to the world, or if He returned to the hidden life, how would that first appearance be connected with that which He would do later, and when and how would He occupy Himself with His " Father's business " ? " They understood not the saying which He spake unto them," but prudently and humbly refrained from questioning Him further.

If Jesus is the pattern for children, obliged sometimes to sacrifice the most sacred affections to duty and to a higher love, Mary also is the pattern of those mothers on whom God imposes similar sacrifices. She feels all the bitterness, she even complains, the sorrow has been so keen. But both the sorrow and the complaint are calm and resigned. She humbly bows before Him to whom her child belongs infinitely more than to herself; lovingly acquiescing in the will of God, she accepts the present trial, and the trials and uncertainties of the future; she knows that even the intimacy between mother and son cannot penetrate so deep as that of the Son and the heavenly Father, and she respects the divine rights and secrets that are between them alone.

Jesus " went down with " His parents, " and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man."

Such was the life of the holy family after the return from Egypt, and so it continued up to the thirtieth year of Jesus. There was perfect peace in authority and submission. And one might have observed in this little circle at Nazareth that which often occurs in all human society and in the Church itself : the order of authority and dependence is not the same as that of perfection and holiness; God ordains that one shall command and that another shall obey, according to the calling and office of each, not according to the degree of merit and virtue; though the superior must at times respect in the inferior a perfection which surpasses his own, and the inferior must always respect in the superior a power derived from the power of God.


1 St Luke ii. 40.

2 St Thomas, p. 3, q. xii., art. 3.

3 St Luke ii. 41-52 ; passage commented on in the following pages.

4 To-day called El-Bireh. This is a local tradition borne out by a church and a hospital built in that place at the time of the crusades.

5 Origen, upon this passage (PG. xiii. 1851).