Madonna House

Nazareth: The School of Love

by Catherine Doherty

Somewhere in my childhood I was already attracted to Nazareth. I wanted to become a member of the Holy Family, to be a servant girl, someone who would go for the water—for the well was probably far away from where Mary and Joseph lived.

Whatever the reasons, somewhere in my heart, Nazareth was a place I could call home. It was a place where I rested from war, revolutions, the deaths of my people, the exile from my country. Yes, Nazareth was always home to me.

Nazareth, My Vocation

I picture Nazareth as the house of a working man—a carpenter, his wife, and son. I marvel at the abasement of Christ the King, Lord of all creation—not only in becoming man, but in choosing the state of a worker-peasant who just about keeps his head above financial waters.

I come from a part of the world where class distinctions were very clearly defined. This probably influenced my thinking even more than if I were born in a so-called democratic society.

For in beholding Christ in Nazareth, in that lowly human and social state, my Russian heart and mind were filled with joy. By taking that lowly state of a peasant-worker, he made himself equal to the lowest of mankind. He only could do that because of his immense love for me, for us, even in the poor.

I needed Nazareth to learn poverty. I felt that I had to learn poverty of body, of mind, and of soul, which would enable me to endure physical needs, and to shape my will to embrace that poverty which is the footstool of obedience that leads to charity—love—the ultimate virtue.

I could not think of any better school of love or charity, than to dwell in Nazareth.

Little Things

If we lived in Nazareth with the Holy Family, we could become whole again, and there we could learn about the little things to be done perfectly, with great love, for love of God.

It seems to me that each one of us who is serious about living the Gospel is going to stay right in Nazareth until we can do that. Nazareth is a true novitiate, where the incarnation of Christ comes to greet us. For isn’t that what he did—little things exceedingly well for love of us?

Can you visualize a table or a chair that was not perfect when it left the hands of Christ? He did everything well for the love of his Father, for the love of us. He gave us the example, and now we follow him.

In Nazareth Christ reduced love to our size. We are little people, and as we read in Scripture about his immense love, it can overpower us.

But if we listen deeply and hear his voice come gently and simply, do little things exceedingly well for love of me, the routine chores of the workplace and the daily tasks of housework begin to be a way of loving him.

This way of loving him is so very simple: the diapers, the baking, the laundry; sitting quietly, telling stories to the children, holding the hand of one’s spouse. All are little acts of love, directed not only to one’s family but to God.

The farmer plowing his field, the plumber doing repairs, the husband spending time with his wife and children—this is what God asks. The secretary who is in love with God knows that documents done perfectly are acts of love. It is so simple. It is a song of love. This is what he wants.


We cannot understand the mystery of God’s simplicity, but a thousand wounds of ours would be healed if we would approach him humbly and ask him to teach us to become as simple in our daily nitty-gritty uneventful existence as he was.

What is simpler than the life of a carpenter in a small village where everybody knows everybody?

How many years did Jesus Christ show forth the simplicity of his artisan vocation? Yet even to this day, this style of life irks so many people.

Why a carpenter? Why not a learned rabbi? Why not a doctor? Why not an intellectual? His occupation must have been very monotonous, very hard on his muscles, perhaps even tedious.

Simplicity accepts the nitty-gritty of life—the sameness of it, the monotony of it. But once it is understood, simplicity holds within itself a fantastic joy. The everyday sameness of our lives becomes shot through with songs of joy, because it is very much the life of the Holy Family in Nazareth.

The more we grow in simplicity the more joyous we become. The more joyous we become, the more easily we will sing and dance before the Lord, if not constantly with our feet and voice, at least constantly with our hearts.

The key is the acceptance of the ordinary, of the commonplace, of the obvious, which since the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, is radiant with the glory of God.

The Song of Nazareth

Nazareth was but a passageway for God. It was in Nazareth that he learned the ways of a man.

It was from Nazareth that he went forth across Israel for three years—on that incredible pilgrimage in which he proclaimed the Good News. And in a manner of speaking, it was from Nazareth that he made his pilgrimage to Golgotha.

In his earthly life, especially in those hidden years in Nazareth, Christ gave us a pattern to follow, a school to learn in. Take up the key and journey into those years, walking slowly, reverently, silently, listening to their important lessons. They teach much to those who take time to learn.

They teach poverty. The true, infinitely deep, holy poverty, whose final symbol isthe naked Christ on the naked cross. True poverty considers giving up material possessions as but the beginning, knowing well that the real poverty is dying to self.


Above all true poverty surrenders its will completely to his. It walks hand in hand with humility and abandonment. Its final goal is to follow the naked Christ unto a naked Cross.

The hidden years of the Lord teach patience. Those who have walked the long road of those years, in true poverty, have ceased to walk in time—they have begun to live in eternity.

Eternity is patient, as patient as God is with us, that divine patience which gives us a constant example of how much we need to be patient with others.

Poverty, humility, and patience open the gates of minds, souls, and hearts to mercy and kindness. Mercy—that forgives all things seventy times seven, infinitely. Mercy that is always ready to do good to those who hate, to practice the works of mercy toward those who revile.

Mercy that walks with kindness, that smoothes the paths of men, that treats them reverently as images of God, that is never too weary to listen or to help.

Poverty, humility, patience, mercy, kindness, fill the hidden years. But the final lesson they teach is that of charity whose other name is love.

The hidden years held Love Itself in their folds. In them one can live for a day, a year, a lifetime in the house of Nazareth that was the house of Love. Love dwelt there, and the one who learns to truly love, will be poor, humble, patient, kind and merciful.

Then, having learned to love from Love itself, he will hasten, nay run, joyously to lay himself down on the naked Cross to die with the naked Christ, and to rise with him into the kingdom of Eternal Love which he has prepared for us.

They did not know him for what he was in Nazareth.

They will not know you for what you are. It was hard for God, while he was man, to be misunderstood; it will be hard for you. But you will rejoice with a great joy that will sing and sing within you, songs that will need no ears or pitch to be sung truly. For all this will make you more like your Beloved.

Excerpted and adapted from The People of the Towel and the Water, (2010), pp. 17-22, available from MH Publications