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Jesus Found in the Temple
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The subtitle of our present meditation could be "Virgin Most Faithful". The narrative of the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple, and the Blessed Virgin's response, is given by Saint Luke in his Gospel (Luke 2:41-50).
And his parents were wont to go every year to Jerusalem at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. And after they had fulfilled the days, when they were returning, the boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know it. But thinking that he was in the caravan, they had come a day's journey before it occurred to them to look for him among their relatives and acquaintances. And not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem in search of him.
And it came to pass after three days, that they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who were listening to him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, "Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold, in sorrow thy father and I have been seeking thee."
And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?" And they did not understand the word that he spoke to them.There are two dramatic occasions in the Gospels when we are told, both times by Saint Luke, that Mary did not say anything, but simply reflected on the mysterious designs of God and pondered on His Providence in her heart. The first occasion was when the shepherds visited the Christ child in Bethlehem and told Mary and Joseph all they had seen and heard. Mary is then said to have "kept in mind all these things, pondering them in her heart".
Our reflection is on this second occasion, the last time that the veil of mystery is raised on the life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph for eighteen years, only to be lifted when Christ began His public ministry. This is also the fifth of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, that by now has been recited and dwelt upon by untold millions a countless number of times in the Christian world. It deserves prayerful consideration.
It is the only episode recorded by the Evangelists after the infancy narratives and before the account of Christ's public life-the only event, just a few verses long, in almost thirty years. It gives us an insight into how God's Providence deals with persons that He loves. And it finally tells us how, like Mary, we should dispose ourselves to respond to God's mysterious ways in our lives and in the life of the whole people of God.
First, it tells us that God tries those He loves. Whatever else we should know about God's dealing with souls, we must make sure that we know this. You might say that He loves every human being. So He does, and so He tries everybody. But the degree of His trying depends on two other things. It depends on the level of sanctity to which He wants to raise a soul and on the work He wants that soul to do in the extension of His Kingdom. This is so invariably true, that the higher our call to holiness and the greater the work in the apostolate to which God calls us, the greater will be His trying us and, humanly speaking, the more unsolicited will be the trials and difficulties and obstacles God is sure to send us.
Think for a moment about such persons as Saint Paul. Fortunately, he has left us something of a record of what he underwent in his not very long apostolic enterprise. Many of his letters were written in prison, and at least on one dramatic occasion, they were written while he was in chains. Scourged, stoned, left for dead, betrayed, abandoned by friends, hated; and added to all of this, he experienced deep interior sufferings. All were trials God sent to Paul.
Think of Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Clare of Assisi. Or think of the great founders of religious institutes: Francis, Dominic, Ignatius, Vincent de Paul. In fact, in the process of canonization, one of the indispensable conditions the Church looks for in people that she is even beginning to consider as possibly having practiced heroic virtue is whether that person has undergone severe trials. He or she may have been very holy. That's for God to judge. But as far as the Church is concerned, unless that person had endured extraordinary trials and difficulties and obstacles, the process of canonization is closed; the Church will not even bother with them. Interesting, but revealing. And all of this is under the inspiration of God, to make sure that when we wish to identify with those whom the Church raises to the honors of the Altar, there will be no mistake. We will be sure to say, "Oh, they understood. They were tried too".
We return to the event of the Finding in the Temple, which we might just as well call the "Losing in the Temple". Christ did not have to do what He did. He needn't have stayed on in the Temple in the first place. And, if He had decided to do so, He could have stayed on but simply told Mary and Joseph, "I have work to do". But that is exactly the point. God does not generally tell us what He is going to do, He just does it. Then He lets us try to figure it out for ourselves.
He will put illness into our lives, or He will take congenial persons out of our lives. God puts wonderful people into our lives: kind people, understanding people, or maybe just the perfect complement to our personality. (He likes to talk and she likes to listen. Perfect!) But as sure as there is a God in Heaven, He never puts wonderful things into our lives-be they people or situations-without in His own way taking them away. Leave it to God. Job is the model of mankind. No matter; this is the way God acts. And the first lesson that the mystery of the Finding in the Temple should teach us is that God's ways are not our ways.
Secondly, God has a purpose in everything He does. We might ask, "Why did God act in this way? Why exactly did Christ do what He did, as described by the Evangelist, who we are sure was told this by Mary herself?" No one except God knows the full answer. But one thing we do know, the purpose that God has in thus trying His loved ones is not to see them suffer. His purpose is always good, and His designs are always just; even more, they are supremely loving and kind.
There are only two mysteries in the universe. One is in Heaven, the Trinity; one is on earth, and that is pain. And all the literature of all nations has been struggling unsuccessfully to explain God and human suffering.
What might be some of those designs of God in allowing us to suffer? In this way, God evokes from us the deepest resources of our faith. Suffering and trial, especially interior trial, call upon our faith in God's goodness as nothing else in life. It is so easy to recite the Apostles' or Nicene Creed and when we are in the mood and the congregation has the spirit, we thrill to sing our "Credo in unum Deum!" Ah, but there is no melody and no great pleasure in saying "I believe" when God is bidding us to accept what we do not understand. The emphasis should be placed on us: "I" do not understand. But what is the essence of faith? It is trusting in God that He understands.
In this way God evokes from us the highest reaches of our love. When do we love God the most? Is it not when we love Him for His own sake and not for ours? But these are cheap words. It is bringing these words into action, it is making them live, that matters. This is what trial and testing and temptation are sure to produce in a humble soul bent only on doing the Will of God. Then we tell Him and mean it, "Lord, the only satisfaction I receive, the only joy in my heart, is the realization that I am doing what you want, because quite frankly, Lord, I don't want it. But I do it." That is the definition of perfect love of God.
In this way God teaches us that He is master of the universe, that He alone is Lord. How we need this reminder, we who are so prone with our pride to want God to conform to our plans. And people write books on "proving" that what they want is what God wants, instead of our always adjusting our hearts to the heart of God, our minds to His, our will to His mysterious, but all-wise, holy Will.
Moreover, and with emphasis, the deepest understanding of our faith will not come from books. It will come from experience and prayer. The Kingdom of Christ is most effectively promoted, and the grace of God is most abundantly poured out on the souls of men by those who have learned the meaning of the apostolate of suffering.
Back in the early third century, when persecutions besieged the Church of God, the Church coined the expression that we should memorize. Let us cherish it: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians". This means that the Church most thrives on the blood of her martyrs. It is not easy to accept this principle of propagation, that the Church prospers on the sufferings of her faithful. Too many people are writhing, struggling with this mystery of God. There is only one answer, only one-complete, total abandonment, and telling the good God, "I don't have to understand. In fact, precisely because I don't I know that however your loving hand tries me, what I endure will be that much more effective in winning souls back to the God from whom they have strayed".
Our final reflection is on Mary's lesson to all of us. One of the striking features of Mary's life, as told especially by the Evangelist Saint Luke, is the frequent entrance of God into her life to make demands of her and on her for which she was, humanly speaking, unprepared.
This was true at the Annunciation. To say the least, she was surprised. And, being told about Elizabeth, her response was the Visitation. But the last thing she had expected was to trek across the hill country of Judea to visit her aged kinswoman who was with child. During Joseph's no doubt long quandary, she was never told to tell him, so she didn't. And did she ever suffer! One of the most painful experiences in life is to think that someone we love thinks ill about us.
The sudden move from Nazareth to Bethlehem was unexpected as well as the reception, or lack of it, in Bethlehem and the necessary birth of Christ in a stable. The last thing a mother wants when she brings a child into the world is to have that child born, as Christ was, in a barn. The prophecy of Simeon and the flight into Egypt were unexpected, and now the loss in the Temple; but most of all, Christ's strange words to her when He was found, "Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?"
No, she did not know, in the sense of fully understanding why. And this is where Mary, the Virgin Most Faithful, is such a pattern for all of us to follow. She was "most faithful" twice over: most faithful because, unlike her Son who had the constant vision of God, she had to live by faith; she did not see, and her faith was deep, it was strong; then she is called Virgin Most Faithful (and how we need to hear this!) because her faith was tried! Believing, she did not comprehend. None of us comprehends the designs of God in our lives. Long vigils in prayer, asceticism, mortification-you name the accouterments of sanctity and I will tell you, "Well, that is very interesting. Keep doing that. But in God's name, be interiorly resigned to God's visitations in your life! Then no matter what you think of yourself, you are close to God."
We don't understand fully and neither did Mary. But that did not mean that she adjusted her actions to her lack of comprehension. So we also are to accept God's plans, and this is every day and for some of us, a large part of the day. We are to accept God's visitations, to do what He evidently wants of us, or to surrender what He evidently wants us to give up-and not for a moment or to the least degree hesitate or hold back because we don't comprehend.
I close this meditation with a prayer addressed to the Providence of God by Blessed Claude de la Colombiere, the Confessor and spiritual director of Saint Margaret Mary.
Loving and tender Providence of my God, into your hands I commend my spirit. To you I abandon my hopes and fears, my desires and repugnances, my temporal and eternal prospects. To you I commit the wants of my perishable body. To you I commit the more precious interests of my immortal soul, for whose lot I have nothing to fear as long as I do not leave your care.
Though my faults are many, my misery great, my spiritual poverty extreme, my hope in you surpasses everything. It is superior to my weakness, greater than my difficulties, stronger than death. Though temptations should assail me, I will hope in you. Though I break my resolutions, I will look to you confidently for grace to keep them at last. Though you should kill me, even then I will trust in you, for you are my Father, my God, the support of my salvation. You are my kind, compassionate, and indulgent parent, and I am your devoted child who cast myself into your arms and beg your blessing. I put my trust in you; and so trusting, shall not be confounded. Amen.
Conference transcription from a retreat that Father Hardon gave to the Handmaids of the Precious Blood
Mother of Sorrows Recordings, Inc.
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