Humiliation may not appear at first sight to form so striking a feature in the Hidden Life of our Lord as it does in the Passion, on account of the exterior peace and tranquility which that life presents, of the absence of those exterior outrages which were afterwards to be committed against Him, and from the fact that the life at Nazareth was passed in the intimate companionship of the two most holy beings upon earth, who not only loved Him with all the ardour of their souls, but moreover reverenced Him and adored Him as their God.
Nevertheless, when we remember on the one hand who He was, and on the other the condition to which He had reduced Himself, the nature of His occupations, and various other circumstances incidental to it, and add to all these its long continuance, we shall surely feel ourselves penetrated with the thought of the profound depths of humiliation to which the Heart of Jesus was subjected, during that phase of His mortal life.
"He was subject." Behold in these words the entire revelation of His self-abasement. He came to repair the outrage which our pride had offered to His Father, to merit our pardon, and to mark out for us the way by which alone we can enter into eternal life. Therefore He began, whilst yet at Nazareth, "to do and to teach" by His wonderful example. If we will but contemplate at leisure the mystery of that Hidden Life, we may perhaps learn to appreciate more clearly the wound which pride had inflicted on humanity, and to conceive a higher esteem for, and more sincere desire of imitating, the Word Incarnate in our practice of that humility which He has shown us to be our only remedy.
We behold Him - the Wisdom of the Father - submitting to instruction as though He had need of teaching, even in the simplest things: for example, the work of forming rough household furniture or implements of agriculture. It was the external occupation of Him, whose mind had conceived from eternity the design of the universe, and whose hand had created all things; of Him concerning whom it is asked in Scripture, "Who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counsellor? He that sends forth light and it goes, and hath called it and it obeys Him with trembling, before whom the nations are as nothing, and the islands as a little dust."
We see Him again as He meekly received the small, and perhaps grudgingly bestowed, remuneration for His and His foster-father's painful toil, accompanied often, no doubt, by the bluntly expressed complaints of those for whom He worked. This formed a true foreshadowing of the treatment He should receive until the end of time from His creatures, who would act with niggardliness towards Him, though He laboured so much and painfully for them, and who, esteeming their own puny understanding above His Eternal Wisdom, would complain of and resist His will whenever it crossed their own.
Let us, as we fix our attention on this picture in the House of Nazareth, compare our own conduct with that of the humble Jesus, and examine to what extent we imitate Him in the great example of self-humiliation which He affords us. Has not the spirit of the world more influence upon us than that of our Blessed Lord, and does it not prompt us to be ever striving to appear something more, something greater, more important, than we really are? Is it not our insatiable ambition to seem to be possessed of more knowledge, more learning, higher birth, in a word, more advantages every way than we have, and is not the least slight, the least unfavourable opinion or preference of another sufficient to fill our hearts with jealousy, and with all the most ignoble feelings of corrupt nature? Is not the love of notice a passion within us, almost unconsciously to ourselves insinuating itself into all we do or say? There are men to whom a painful notoriety would be preferable to obscurity, oblivion, or apparent insignificance; and there are many pious persons who pretend to much devotion for the humiliations of the Passion, but who find but little wherewith to occupy themselves in the more interior humiliations of the Hidden Life, and who can scarcely even appreciate them.
Humility is the hardest lesson which the Christian has to learn, and humiliation and subjection, from which alone it can be learnt, are the most painful trials for human nature to support. It was in consequence of this that Jesus chose to submit for such long years to the subjection incidental to a common life. Had He gone away into the desert, and practised there the most frightful austerities. it could not have been said of Him that "He was subject," in the strict and literal sense that it can be said of Him now. Isolated acts of self-humiliation, even though constantly repeated, would not have afforded us the same example of habitual subjection. It is, above all, His state of humiliation in His Hidden Life, and its long continuance, which should form the subject of our special meditation. It is this which affords us so perfect a model of reparation to the Divine Majesty for our pride, and so striking a lesson as to the most efficacious manner of counteracting that mortal enemy of our souls.
The same species of sin which cast down the rebel angels from Heaven, which lost to our first parents their earthly Paradise, is now hurrying countless souls into the abyss; hence more than ever, the importance of studying profoundly the Hidden Life of Him who, being God, made Himself subject to His creatures in order to atone for our rebellious pride. He knew that His Father's glory would be better promoted by a life of subjection and self-abasement than by the most brilliant works He could perform; wherefore, resolving in His Heart, what afterwards He would pronounce openly, "I seek not My own glory," He was content to remain in that humble state through the long years we see Him dwelling at Nazareth, until the time had arrived which was decreed for His entering on His public ministry.
If the hearts of men were penetrated with the spirit of the Heart of Jesus, how different would be the lives of the greater number, and how changed the conduct even of those who are striving after virtue. Looking on the self-humiliation of the Incarnate God, we should become ashamed of our pride, we should conceive a contempt for our own littleness, from whence spring up our petty ambitions, our self-complacency in either real or imaginary advantages, our secret craving for notice, esteem, honour of any kind. Then would those whom reverse of fortune has removed from the sphere they formerly occupied, and placed in new and humiliating circumstances, find their consolation in the thought that Jesus, the Son of the living God, was known in the village of Nazareth but as the "Son of the Carpenter." Then would the Religious of high birth, or who had held a good social position, or had been heretofore esteemed for his intellectual endowments, rejoice if he were destined to pass his entire religious life in insignificant employments, unnoticed, passed by, depreciated, in a word, the lowest in the house of God. He would rejoice, moreover, in being: subject to those to whom, if he had followed the suggestions of the spirit of pride - of the world - and of nature, it would have been impossible for him to submit. From what would come this transformation? It would come from the fact that he had learnt to see in the humiliations presented to him a means of growing more like to Jesus of Nazareth, whose Hidden Life had been made familiar to him through prayer, and also a means of subduing the greatest enemy of mankind, the most formidable obstacle to the world's salvation, namely, pride.
Let us then ask the Heart of Jesus to grant us a great esteem for the virtue of humility, and great generosity in carrying out every practice necessary for its acquisition. Above all, let us co-operate with His grace, in order to obtain submission of heart and mind, that we may live in a constant spirit of subjection, uniting our intention with that of Jesus in His Hidden Life.
- text taken from the 1906 edition of ; it has the Imprimatur if Bishop John Baptist Butt, Diocese of Southwark, England, 5 February 1890