Article 48 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Father John G. Hillier
A recent Hollywood film called “The Young Messiah tells the story of Jesus at age seven as he and his family depart Egypt to return home to Nazareth. Told from his childhood perspective, it follows young Jesus as he grows and matures into self-understanding and self-identity as the Son of God.
Although a respectful and entertaining film, it uses early “apocrypha” sources that were not considered to be “inspired” by the Holy Spirit and therefore not included by the Church in books of the New Testament. As well, there is lots of Hollywood license employed to fill in gaps in the unknown years of Jesus’ early life.
I first became acquainted with early “apocrypha” sources that dealt with the hidden years of Jesus when I was in high school. Later, in college, I wrote a term paper on passages from these sources pertaining to incidents in Jesus’ childhood that are not found in the New Testament. Whether or not some or all of these passages were based on real events in our Savior’s life remains unknown.
What remains known is that the gospel passages I heard when attending the daily 8 am Mass as a lay person before racing off to my classes when I was in college spoke loudly to my heart. It was during one of those quite daily Masses that it dawned on me how truly powerful the silent or hidden years Our Lord’s life can be. Not only did the words of Christ from the gospels speak to me but I came to understand that “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption” and “this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life” (ccc 517). As such, Christ spoke to me through his silent or hidden life as well as the New Testament texts describing his public life.
This section of the Catechism highlights the mysteries of Christ’s life including the mysteries of the Incarnation (conception and birth) and Paschal mystery – passion, crucifixion, death, burial, descent into hell, resurrection and ascension (ccc 512). As such, the Catechism tells us: “all that Jesus did and taught, from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, is to be seen in the light of the mysteries of Christmas and Easter (ccc 512).
“All that Jesus did” (ccc 512) obviously include the events in the hidden or silent years of his early life and the many things we are not told about his adult public life. Even these unknown events are contemplated in light of the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery or “Christmas and Easter” (ccc 512).
No doubt these two mysteries were crucial for the evangelists since “the Gospels were written by (these) men who were among the first to have the faith and wanted to share it with others” (ccc 515). They believed the reason was so that “what we had lost in Adam … we might recover in Christ Jesus” (ccc 518).
Are there things about the life of Jesus that we are curious about? Absolutely! We can speculate, for example, that as a child Jesus experienced all the things of a child. He was helpless in Mary’s arms. He depended upon Joseph and Mary for a home, for food, for care. He was tiny, and humble like every child. As a member of the holy family he helped his father and mother around the house. He tolerated the imperfections of his parents, grandparents, relatives and neighbors.
As an adult, he knew sweat, fatigue, failure, monotony, and a poor return for his labor. He met the public in social life and in his capacity as a teacher. Regarding the crowds that imposed themselves upon him, he always sought to lift their burdens even when they disappointed him. He suffered the inconveniences common to all human beings. He underwent intense mental agony, loneliness, and physical suffering and death. Christ experienced things like all human beings, except sin. No one can say that he lacked the experience to reconcile humanity to God. He was a man. He is God!
Aside from speculation, we are assured by the Evangelist Saint John that “what is written in the Gospels was set down so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we may have life in his name” (cf. John 20:31).
The Catechism goes on to say that Christ did not live his life for himself but for us. As such, all Christ’s riches “are for every individual and are everybody’s property” (ccc 519). Therefore we can say that “Jesus presents himself as our model” and he “invites us to become his disciples and follow him” (ccc 520). It is the plan of the Son of God “to make us and the whole Church partake in his mysteries and to extend them to and continue them in us” (ccc 521).
It is most fitting that in concluding this section of the Catechism the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World is invoked. Capturing the intimacy of Christ’s presence in the ordinary aspects of our lives, the passage states: Christ “united Himself in some fashion with every person. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart” (Gautium et Spes 22:2).