In a reflection entitled “Honor the Hidden Life”, Fr. Tom McKenna of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission reminds us that “The Kingdom advances both in the limelight and off in the shadows.” [The reflection first appeared on FamVin.]

“Honor” The Hidden Life (Luke 2: 50-52)

Among the early church writings that didn’t make it onto the official list (canon) was The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. It relates the boyhood of Jesus and casts him as a kind of First Century Superchild. Precociously aware of his unique relationship with God, he sets out to demonstrate this status by any number of spectacular deeds which foreshadow his adult miracles. Conscious of his oneness with The Father, this young Jesus uses it to highlight his identity.

The contrast between this boyhood scenario and the one St. Luke gives at the end of his second chapter is striking and instructive. Luke records that day in the Temple day when the twelve-year-old comes to realize his unique calling from God. But rather than following up with a show of marvels, Jesus simply goes along with his parents’ wishes to return home. And in those years between adolescence and public ministry there’s only silence, only the anonymity of what writers have termed The Hidden Life.

Over the decades Vincent de Paul’s attention turned again and again to these obscure years. He thought them a paradigm for steady service given over the long haul, service unrecognized and even taken for granted. Hearing the discouragement of a Daughter of Charity, he counseled her to “honor the Hidden Life in Nazareth, “honor” here meaning to take this Lukan incident to heart and mull over its lessons both in prayer and in ministry. More than once in responding to complaints from his priests that they weren’t getting enough credit, Vincent would prescribe meditation on these verses as a salve for their bruised feelings.

That preference to remain unnoticed Vincent injected into the genes of his followers – and for a very practical reason. Helping those living beyond society’s purview can often hide those who help them. Much ministry carried out by Vincent’s disciples today is “off to the side,” beyond the public view. If recognition were a condition for service, many of The Family’s projects and concerns would go untended. Vincent’s advice to meditate on Jesus’ Temple incident is as current as ever. The Lord’s waking to his life’s call didn’t bring with it the need to stand out in his world. He followed his Father’s will not only on the stage of history but also in the very ordinary life of a backwater country village. The Kingdom advances both in the limelight and off in the shadows.

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