Lasting Testimony of His ‘Hidden Life’

THE JUBILEE OF ST. JOSEPH: Venerable Tomás Morales’ Meditation Provides Much Insight

GEORGES DE LA TOUR, ‘ST. JOSEPH THE CARPENTER,’ C. 1640 (photo: Public domain)

"A life hidden with Mary in Christ for the Father”: Venerable Tomás Morales Pérez repeats that phrase over and over again in his meditation on St. Joseph. 

The root of the idea comes from St. Paul. Speaking of what it means to follow Christ, St. Paul writes, “for you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). 

Baptism is a share in the death of Christ in the hope of his resurrection (Romans 6:3). That’s why Lent, leading up to Easter, is the time par excellence to prepare people for baptism. 

Venerable Tomás Morales (1908-1994), a Spanish Jesuit priest, in his 1993 book, Semblanzas de Testigos de Cristo Para Los Nuevos Tiempos (Profiles of Witnesses of Christ for the New Times), from which this reflection is heavily drawn, calls St. Joseph “the champion and protector of the baptized, [who] traces with his silent life an example for all.” We’re used to thinking of Joseph as the champion and protector of Jesus and Mary, which is true. But the Church has also seen him as the champion and protector of Jesus’ adopted brothers and sisters, which is what the Church is (Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:4-7). And if Jesus explicitly gave us his mother (John 19:26-27), is it so out of the range of possibility, as Venerable Tomás suggests, that he also gave us his earthly dad? 

“A life hidden with Mary in Christ for the Father.” 

Isn’t that exactly what Joseph did?

Once upon a time, the epitome of manhood was the “strong and silent type,” the man of action, if few words.

The Gospels mention Joseph’s name but record not a word of his. They record what he did. The Gospel once tells us what kind of man Joseph was — “just” — but mostly lets us deduce that from his action. 

He “took Mary into his home.” 

He did what he could when she gave birth. He performed his civic duty and took his family for census registration. 

He took seriously his religious duty and took his wife to be purified and his Son to be presented in the Temple. 

He led them off safely to Egypt. He brought them back to Israel and settled safely in out-of-the-spotlight Nazareth. And there he lived, disappearing into God’s eternity. 

“A life hidden with Mary in Christ for the Father.” Theologians refer to the first 30 years of Jesus’ life as “the hidden life.” Not being biographies, the Gospels focus on what is essential to our salvation, i.e., what Jesus did and said during the three years of his public ministry, leading up to his passion, death and resurrection. 

Traditionally said to have died at age 33, Jesus lived 90% of his life in a way that was “hidden.”

That’s an important insight for us because so much of the average person’s life is “hidden”; so much of it is “ordinary time.” Time to get up, go to work, make meals, do the wash, be together as a family, pray and go to church, be happy and be sad, be born and grow up, and live and die. 

Jesus’ hidden life was just like that.

Other than a few insights — the situation in the days and weeks following his conception and birth, the fact of a childhood partially spent abroad, the circumstances of being in Nazareth, and an adolescent lost in Jerusalem — the Gospels are opaque about Jesus’ hidden life. 

One thing is clear: Mary and Joseph are part of them.

Catholic Tradition imagines Jesus growing up in a blue-collar worker’s house, probably learning his father’s carpentry trade. The typical Catholic image of the hidden life is a quiet domestic scene. The only other Catholic image usually associated with the hidden life is the death of Joseph, something unmentioned in the Bible but which we can deduce from his foster father’s absence in his adult life and his concern about leaving his mother in another’s care.

The hidden life is an enormous testimony to the humble manhood of Joseph: He did what he was supposed to do. It’s also an example to us, which is why Venerable Tomás calls his “silent life an example for all.”

As the Spanish priest notes, that’s exactly what the Christian life is: The Christian life is the seed that’s ready to fall to the ground and die in order to reach its potential (John 12:24). It’s the readiness to “take up one’s cross daily” (Luke 9:23), to “die with Christ” (Romans 6:3), so that one’s life can be hidden with him in the Father (Colossians 3:3). 

There’s no better model than St. Joseph. Our age is stirred about ensuring everyone’s “voice,” but St. Joseph gave up his voice. In lieu of his own words, his life spoke through the Word (John 1:1). In terms of his visibility, Joseph was pretty “dead.” In terms of his activity, he was quite alive — and, thanks to him, so are Mary and Jesus.

Joseph dies with Mary and Christ for the Father. Out of love of God, he loves what perhaps he does not fully understand. 

Out of love of God, he steps into the background. 

Out of love of God, he does his best to make a pretty ordinary and normal life for his wife and foster son in what are truly extraordinary circumstances. 

And he does it without human words, resounding gongs or clanging cymbals, but with the silent language of love (1 Corinthians 13:1).

Modern Mariology tends to speak of the Blessed Virgin as the “first and most perfect disciple.” 

Though not quite as perfect — Joseph was, after all, an ordinary man and, therefore, also a sinner — St. Joseph is still an extraordinary example of the disciple whose life is “hidden with Mary and Christ in the Father.”

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