There is a mysterious lesson to be learned from the Gospel story of our Lord’s life on earth. He became man to save the human race, to instruct men, to preach His Gospel, to found a Church, to establish a doctrine and an organization that should last forever. His own life was planned in all its details by the divine wisdom for that very purpose.
Yet, how that plan contradicts our notions!
We find that, born in obscurity, He – as we might foolishly think – ‘wastes’ thirty years of His life in Egypt and Nazareth, first as the son of a workman and then as a workman himself when He grew old enough. After reaching thirty years of age, He spends three short years – He knew the duration of His life in advance – in the work of preaching His Gospel and instructing a handful of simple folk to form a nucleus of His Church. Then He allows the whole work to end in the apparent failure and shame of the Crucifixion, dying in degradation on the cross, deserted by all His followers, save only His Mother, a few women, St. John, and apparently a few friends in the crowd!
In fact the most surprising thing about His life is not what He did, but all that He left undone. And His whole anxiety seems to have been to complete His public ministry quickly in order to press on to His death. His whole reliance for the result of His life work seems to have been placed on the power and fruit of His death, rather than on the power and fruit of His life. If anything stands out from the Gospel story, it is our Lord’s zeal, rather to die for His Father’s glory than to live for it!
Let us not forget that He is our model. Very few of us, however, are called to imitate His public life. But we are called to reproduce His hidden life, according to our condition. All, too, have to learn the lesson of His preference for death rather than life, and all must be prepared to follow His example. For, if the truth can be told in a few words without exaggeration, it is not so much the extent to which we live for God that is important, as the extent and generosity with which we die for Him.
Most of us are called, like the Holy Innocents, to confess to God’s glory moriendo non loquendo – by dying rather than by living – by the interior life rather than by the active ministry. There are some souls – and their number seems to be increasing today – who are called to die the violent death of martyrdom for God. But there are a great number more who are called to die for God the slow death of humility and abandonment to His will. The trial of the first is short and sharp – that of the latter may last long years, for they shed their blood drop by drop.
We really never exactly know where God is leading us – and we must eventually give up all attempts to know. Very often our own ideas are quite wrong – we are thinking of great works for God, but God is thinking of great love from us. We do not realize the truth of the words of St. John of the Cross: ‘An instant of pure love is more precious in the sight of God, and of the soul, and more profitable to the Church than all other good works put together, though it may seem as if nothing were done’ (Spiritual canticle).
The most valuable part of our life is often that which we esteem least, and the good works in which we think to have done great things for God and His Church may have little real value in His eyes.