Groping Towards the Light

Last Updated on May 17, 2023 by GMC

Duccio, Disputation with the Doctors (1308-1311)

Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Luke 2:41-51

The hidden years at Nazareth are shrouded in mystery. To what extent did Mary and Joseph realize that their son was divine? Luke’s Gospel tells us that when the boy was found in the temple after being missing for three days, “they did not understand what he said to them.”

At the Annunciation, a startled Mary had accepted the angel Gabriel’s message from the Father to be the mother of the “Son of God,” who will rule from the throne of David. To her question, “How can this be?” she was told that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her and conceive the child. Filled with grace and joy, she marveled at the incomprehensible gift.  

Joseph did not learn of the matter from Mary, who wisely kept silence. A just man, Joseph “resolved to send her away quietly,” but an angel of the Lord enlightened him in a dream that the child conceived in his betrothed was by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:18-25).

The leaping of the unborn John in the womb of Elizabeth, the adoration of the Magi and the shepherds at the manger, the prophecy of Simeon at the temple in Jerusalem, and the faith-filled testimony of the prophetess Anna were all signs of Jesus’ divine origin at the beginning of his life.

Day to day life at home, however, was very serene, quiet and routine. Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph, received his daily education, participated in prayers and religious observances, and learned the carpenter’s trade. No evidence suggests, as some apocryphal stories do, that the child Jesus exercised miraculous powers or drew attention to himself as someone special. The miracle at the wedding feast of Cana was recorded as his “first” sign. His neighbors also had no inkling of Jesus’ real identity. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” they later asked, dismissing his teaching authority (Matthew 13:55). 

At the age of twelve when a Jewish boy was considered a man, Jesus surprised his parents by staying behind at the Jerusalem Temple during the feast of Passover. He also surprised the teachers of the law by his unusual wisdom at this age, demonstrated by his astute questions and answers. 

When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.

At home Jesus obeyed Joseph as a loving son. He lived the life of a growing child, developing his powers of body and mind in stages. His hidden life in God the Father and the Holy Spirit was not revealed overtly, but was always present like the air the family breathed. At home, Joseph was Jesus’ father and authority. From Mary’s words, it seems that this was the first time Jesus spoke of his heavenly “Father’s house.” 

Consciousness of a new truth develops slowly and gradually. As a mother cradling her baby in her arms, it was not likely that Mary cogitated theological conundrums such as the hypostatic union, which exercised theologians in later centuries. Mary and Joseph nurtured and taught their son with loving simplicity. Consciousness of Jesus as their own Lord and Savior came progressively.

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

Mary’s silent contemplation of her son’s hidden mystery grew like the dawn’s light—brightening day by day. As she expressed in her Magnificat, her soul and spirit rejoiced in a boundless mystery—an awe that cannot be satisfied except by complete union of the human and the divine in mystic communion, when the distinction will no longer be expressible by thought. 

Joy and sorrow preceded Mary’s final Assumption into glory. Simeon’s prophecy that “a sword will pierce through your own soul also,” was a future unknown that unfolded in the fullness of time. 

If we often do not understand what Jesus is saying to us, like Mary and Joseph we will understand more tomorrow, when more light is given to us in faith.

One Reply to “Groping Towards the Light”

  1. “At a snail’s pace.” This “American” expression has always brought for me feelings of frustration in a society where speed and fast progress are signs of “success.” When Jesus first manifested Himself to me I felt I could fly like a swift eagle. Now, twelve years later, I find that the lovely snails that you photograph are better representations of my “spiritual progress.” It is comforting to realize the blessed company I’m in when you write of the long journey of discovery that Joseph and Mary also had to undergo.
    Those slow-moving snails also shine with a lovely light that bring me such a feeling of joy, the joy of knowing that I have met my Beloved and He promised me that He will never let me go.

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