Living a Hidden Life

I recently came across an article by Fr. David May, a priest of Madonna House, the apostolate founded by Catherine Doherty.  I asked permission to share it here because I thought it would speak to many of you. 

As human beings, I think we have a natural desire for greatness.  Of course, greatness can be defined in many ways.  In this article, Fr. David May describes the greatness of an ordinary life, the kind of life Jesus lived during those hidden years in Nazareth, the kind of quiet, ordinary life that most of us lead every day. 

Fr. May describes six joys of Nazareth – six challenges of our ordinary lives – and encourages us to embrace this path of love and thereby embrace Christ himself.  As the Gospels tell us time and again, it is the small things that have the potential to be great.

Thank you to Fr. David May and Madonna House Publications for sharing this reflection with us.

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“The Joys of Nazareth”

By Fr. David May

Society offers us many “joys.” We are all too familiar with them, sometimes to our embarrassment as Christians. The media proposes to us the joys of material prosperity and the joy of being young, athletic, and popular. We are invited to reach for the joy of the ever better, the ever exciting, the ever new experience.

There is an unceasing search for the joy of the perfect relationship—the mirage of being perfectly understood. Others invest their energies in the joy of power over others or in enjoying various pleasures with reckless abandon. Many admire the one who rejoices in being “cool” and “always in control” of his destiny. We think, If only I could be so self-assured.

A Christian is called to live joyously, but he rejoices principally in the Lord who loves him and saves him. When we say to the Lord, You are my joymy happiness lies in you alone, he smiles upon us with great tenderness. And he offers us some treasures straight from his heart, treasures which I call “the joys of Nazareth.”

1. Going unnoticed

First, there is the joy of going unnoticed. You know, you pour yourself out preparing a lovely meal, weeding the garden, putting in extra time at work or at the parish—and no one notices. You hardly get a perfunctory “thanks.” You find yourself taken for granted like the proverbial old shoe.

Whoever notices an old shoe anyway? You put it on, it serves you quietly and without fanfare, and when you’re finished with it, you toss it under the bed or into the closet. You never give it a second thought, let alone a fresh coat of polish! And your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you (Mt 6:4).

2. Being noticed at the wrong time

And then there’s the joy of being noticed—at the wrong time! Just when you’re at your very worst—losing your temper, putting a dent in the car, burning the bacon, saying something foolish—then everybody notices!

Suddenly you become the center of conversation, or at least of sideways glances. The spotlight is now on you. And so you stand there, naked, your weaknesses exposed, not only to yourself (bad enough) but to others (humiliating). Family life in particular is chocked full of such fare.

Rejoice, blessed one, you have just received the second joy of Nazareth!

3. Boredom

Third, there is the joy of being bored. Nazareth is by nature a series of many monotonous moments: feeding the little ones, peeling the spuds, emptying the trash, swishing out the toilet bowl, fixing the car. All of these are daily fare, hardly scintillating in themselves. But monotony is also a treasure for those with eyes to see. Repetition offers our hearts and minds the freedom to pray. For example, the Jesus prayer: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer allows us to enter as little children into the heart of God. Repetition is an occasion to purify our hearts of useless noise and to enter into silence.

Few seem aware of this, but it is true. And boredom offers us yet another gospel gem: the chance to act out of love alone, with no other apparent compensation.

4. Your time is not your own

Another joy of Nazareth is that of not having time to do what we would like. Just when you have set aside those  precious few hours or minutes for yourself to read that book, enjoy your hobby, listen to music, pray, or just sit quietly, the roof, so to speak, caves in. There is a crisis, someone needs immediate attention, the plumbing bursts, the roast is sizzling into ashes, etc., etc.

The days go by and run into months and years of this. I have no time for myself any more. My own life is not even my own! But it is then that the Lord smiles upon us, and the words of St. Paul can rise up from our hearts: I live now not with my own life, but with the life of Christ who lives in me… I cannot bring myself to give up God’s gift (Gal 2:20-21).

5. Misunderstandings

The fifth joy of Nazareth is that of not being perfectly understood. Perhaps you have had the experience. Even those who love us most dearly and know us the best, often do not really grasp the deepest movements of our hearts. This can be a shock at first, a source of bitter disappointment as time goes on. But it can also be a joy if we use such painful moments to enter the bittersweet world of our solitude.

And what do we learn there in the heart of loneliness? We learn that we are made for God alone, and that he alone knows us as we long to be known. And he alone loves us as we long to be loved.

6. Interruptions

The sixth joy of Nazareth is that of being fragmented and dispersed by the demands of life. We are pushed and pulled this way and that, seldom getting anything done the way we had intended. In fact, life seems to be a great series of unfinished projects. For those who love order, this can be excruciating.

A greater pattern

But gradually we come to see that our life is part of a greater pattern whose magnificent dimensions are beyond our ability to grasp. It is our Father who is the Source of this plan. He asks us to be content to be nourished by him moment by moment. The Bread he offers us is Jesus himself, who will teach us to trust and to be a child. In him, after all, all things hold together (Col 1:17).

The ultimate joy of Nazareth is, of course, you and me—us—together, not in the greeting card sense of such terms, but in the bare-boned reality of our call to live together as families of love in all our poverty and in all our glory.

The great miracle

Union in love is, was, and always will be the great Christian miracle, the one for which Jesus prayed so earnestly: so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you (Jn 15:11-12).

Such love is the flowering of God’s life within us, rooted in the good soil of hearts made great through embracing the ordinary. For, wonder of wonders, when we embrace the everyday “joys” of Nazareth, it is the Lord himself whom we embrace.

Originally published in Madonna House's publication "Restoration," January 2005.  Shared here with permission.

To find out more about Madonna House, click here.  To visit Madonna House Publications, click here.

The Holy Family Sleeping, with Angels , Rembrandt van Rijn, pen and brown ink on paper, 1645.

The Holy Family Sleeping, with Angels, Rembrandt van Rijn, pen and brown ink on paper, 1645.

Guest Blog: "Slow Down, Mom"

My guest blogger today is my dear friend, college roommate and “soul-sister,” Jeanne Canavan.  Jeanne and her husband are the proud parents of Veronica, a delightful young lady adopted from Poland several years ago, and the soon-to-be parents of Victoria, another little girl from the same orphanage.  Jeanne is also the vice principal at a Catholic K-8 school in Virginia.

I asked Jeanne to write this blog post because she said something to me that I thought was worthy of every parent’s reflection.  Jeanne said she believes that the particular children we have – whether biological or adopted – are given to us to heal us.  We may find some aspect of our child especially difficult to deal with, especially challenging, especially annoying or especially impossible.  This is probably the “part” of our child that is meant to stretch us, change us, and ultimately, as Jeanne said, heal us.   

Jeanne, thank you for sharing your wisdom with us!

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June can be very challenging for families whose children begin to struggle as academic goals become more difficult and motivation to be in school decreases.  Thoughts of summer fill our heads, and yet we want to diligently finish the remaining work and prepare well for the next chapter in life or at school.  

At the age of seven Willard Wigan – now a world-famous artist – already hated school.  He was a complete misfit there – ill-behaved, not meeting benchmarks, at times seemingly dazed and confused, at others angry and withdrawn.  He just didn't fit in.  

I work in a school and sometimes meet with parents whose kids don't like school, and more importantly, aren't successful there, either academically, socially or behaviorally.  There is nothing like the look on the faces of a mom and dad who realize they have a long, dark road ahead: Johnny or Sue, Blaze or Tucker . . . simply do not fit the mold.  

One reason it's easier for me to connect with these moms and dads is that my little girl was in that exact situation starting toward the end of kindergarten.  I remember the frustration of realizing that her special needs meant that traditional settings would be very challenging for her and for us.  I also remember the morning I woke up and realized that performance at school was not the “end all be all.”

I distinctly remember God's inspiration: "Think of her special need as something designed to change you and what you view as important. Your life's work, your vocation is to love her exactly as she is."  That thought floored me.  About me.  My life's work.  I couldn't imagine a more difficult task than loving my child exactly as she is.  

And yet...I know and believe that God does that for me and each one of us with ease and simplicity.  His love is uncomplicated, pure, discreet . . . not like mine on occasion with my daughter . . . explosive, demanding, impatient, and hurried.

"Slow down, slow down, Mom; I can't walk that fast. Slow down, slow down, Mom.  I see something in the grass here.  Slow down, slow down, Mom.  I have a question."  It seems "slow down" is God's way of taking my goals and pride out of the equation and infusing my life with His priorities.  

Willard Wigan's mom was patient with him, however.  It didn't bother her too much that he didn't fit in; she just wanted him to find a place where he did.  When he was seven years old, Willard presented her with a tiny little town for a colony of ants to use.  He had made it from matches and matchboxes.

And no, she didn't yell at him. She didn't tell him that he had made a mess. She didn't throw it away or become angry that he brought ants into the house.  She simply said, "Son, you're good at this.  Do this!"  

And he did.  

Willard is now a world-renowned miniature artist who makes art so minuscule that most of it cannot be seen with the naked eye. Some of his pieces are small enough to fit in the eye of a needle.   He works in the middle of the night so that cars passing on the road do not disrupt the tiny motions of his specially designed tools.  

Perhaps if his mother had not loved Willard exactly as he was in that exact moment, the world never would have seen just what wonders a small boy grown could produce.  

So this summer, between helping her learn to type, or working on his gait, or driving her to algebra camp, make time in your schedule to let your kids just be.  Cherish them as they are.  If you feel yourself wanting them to change, instead, let them change you.

Williard Wigan created this micro-sculpture of Christ the Redeemer inside the eye of a needle.  He used a fly hair (yes, a hair from a fly’s head) as a paintbrush.   Click here for a short video.

Williard Wigan created this micro-sculpture of Christ the Redeemer inside the eye of a needle.  He used a fly hair (yes, a hair from a fly’s head) as a paintbrush.  Click here for a short video.

This picture of Jeanne and Veronica was taken at an “emergency” trip to the hairdresser after Veronica decided to cut her own hair in order to surprise her mother. 

This picture of Jeanne and Veronica was taken at an “emergency” trip to the hairdresser after Veronica decided to cut her own hair in order to surprise her mother. 


“What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth.  They share it.”

 -- C.S. Lewis (The Four Loves)

C.S. Lewis and his wife and friend Joy.

C.S. Lewis and his wife and friend Joy.

Our Forest Is Burning

This week I would like to publish another poem by Scott Eagan, farmer and poet in residence at Madonna House, Combermere, Ontario, the community of prayer and service established by Servant of God Catherine Doherty.  His poem “Dry Lightning” was inspired by the recent Canadian wildfires, but as I’m sure you will see, the poem resonates with the fires that rage within.


The air is charged
overfull with heat and smoke and ash
our forest is burning
beast of a wildfire bearing down
torching the houses, the place where we live
we can only pray for rain.

Try as we may, no tears
it is all consuming, nothing left unscorched
flashes from heaven to earth
and from earth to heaven explode as they meet
thunder rolls round the heart
we watch, we wait, we run
while the flames rage in their course
and inside us, the rains pour.

©2016 Scott Eagan
Storm on Fire  by Allen n Lehman

Storm on Fire by Allen n Lehman

Guest Blogger: My Daughter's Stations of the Cross

I am so happy to share with you something that my 12-year-old daughter Siobhan wrote and shared with me.  It is hard to describe how I felt when I read these Stations of the Cross.  

Siobhan, I’m so proud to be your mom.

Stand before the crowd for me
What have you to say for thee?
No sound, no word to save his name
To end his pain, to stop his fate
Although his heart is pure and clean
He is condemned to endless sleep

I watch them weave a crown of thorns
Hustle, heckle taunt and scorn
I watch them load your back with weight
Bitterness crossed with twisted hate
I want to end their cruel advance
But I do not move when I have the chance

You stumble yet we push you down
You cry but we ignore the sound
No one helps you when you fall
No one makes a move at all
I cannot help but feel for you
But when you’re down I do not move

So alone you stumble forth
They do not know what you are worth
So now, now when you say to me
“Courage, woman, for this must be”
I truly know that I must believe
For by your cross we are redeemed

They push and pull me toward the tree
The heavy burden meant for thee
They grow impatient tired of
Your slow progress or lack thereof
They snatch me off the streets of ill
So I help you against my will

Alone again he struggles on
They will nail him to the tree anon
I don’t have anything to give
But I cannot yet leave him
My hands I have and my veil in place
So at least I can wash your face

I see you fall this time on rock
I cannot bare to see them mock
I have denied you thrice today
But still I love you, still I pray
That you’ll forgive me for I was weak
As you set on humble and meek

As he stumbles toward us still
He is not drained of his good will
Though it’s I who should help thee
You reach out and comfort me
You’ve been abandoned by your friends
But still you love until the end

This time he falls and does not rise
He is so close to his demise
That I can see the wasted land
Where they will nail his feet and hands
In spite of cards that fate has dealt
Why do you not save yourself?

They take your clothes and leave you bare
Crown of thorns still in your hair
You wear those twigs like the king you are
And despite these horrid scars
I know you’ll come again someday
So that we can then be saved

This is my job and I’ve no choice
But I have yet to hear your voice
You do not protest when we stab
Your hands and then your side they jab
I cannot help but think and pray
Are you the king as they all say?

Father father why have you
Abandoned me as I go through
I trust you, I do not doubt
The things you ask to carry out
With my last breath, I want all to hear it:
Into your hands I commend my spirit
A self-portrait by Siobhan.

A self-portrait by Siobhan.