4-The basic attitude of Nazareth: being a brother and a sister

     It is this face of Jesus that has seduced us; it is in his steps that we want to walk, by choosing to live among the simple people, among the poor.  But people sometimes say to us, “You are deluding yourselves.  And anyway, whether you like it or not, you are not like the poor".  And that is true.  Even for those of us who come from modest families, the education we have received, the guarantees of security that the community gives us, the absence of worry about the future of our relatives, distances us from the situation of the real “little ones”.  What are we to do?
     Perhaps we should begin by saying that destitution and certain forms of deprivation and poverty (physical, cultural, educational) are evils that we need to combat.  It is not destitution that I choose, but I choose to live with people who suffer from destitution, to struggle with them in order to get out of it, seeking with them.  That means that I refuse to take myself out of it on my own and that I accept, out of friendship for them, the deprivations they suffer from.  Struggling against these deprivations, while bearing them with them, is not, perhaps, totally foreign to the attitude of offering our life from day to day.
     A second thing that it is necessary to say is that, in any case, it is not a matter of being like the poor, but of being with them as brothers and sisters.  And there, we are not the only agents: although there is an effort of adjustment on our side to make in order to be as close as possible, another part of the process does not depend on us.  We cannot be “like them”, in many ways we are not “in the same gang”, but if they feel in us the desire to join them, it is they who take us by the hand in order to bring us to their side and welcome us into their life; and they ‘forgive’ us all our riches and securities.  There are so many examples many of us could give of this true welcome that takes no account of differences!
     However, there are also a certain number of fundamental attitudes that allow us to enter into this dynamic of Nazareth.
1-     The first attitude is, perhaps, that we are among the ‘little ones’ in order to learn in their school.13.   I like to place in parallel an extract from our Constitutions “The brothers live among people, not to become shepherds or guides, but simply to be their brothers” and a passage from the Gospel: “You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called ‘Rabbi’ since you have only one Master and you are all brothers and sisters” (Matthew 23:8).   For me it is very significant that the word ‘brother’ is associated in this text from the Gospel not with the Father,14. but with the master, the teacher.  It is as if it puts a finger on one of our great temptations, that of always wanting to teach others without wanting to learn from them!...  Wanting to be among people “simply to be their brothers (and sisters)” invites us to enter into a different attitude: we are brothers and sisters of the ‘little ones’ if we journey together by sharing our lights.  This is both the hope for and the realisation of the promised new covenant: “In their minds I shall plant my laws, writing them in their hearts...  There will no be further need for each to teach his neighbour and each his brother or his sister, saying ‘Learn to know the Lord’. No, they will all know me from the least to the greatest” (Hebrews 8:10f, quoting Jeremiah 31:33f). In order to enter into a relationship of true fraternity, it is not enough, in fact, even though it is a primary precondition, to “become of the country” – as Charles de Foucauld wrote – by being “so approachable, so very small” that the other can dare to ask me for anything...  That the other can regard me as a brother or a sister is not enough if I do not change my view of him.  As a human person and child of God, she (he) is also worked by the Spirit and tries to respond to what appears to her (him) as the good, with the lights available to her (him), from day to day.  From her or his fidelity, groping like mine, I can also learn and, thanks to her or him, I will grow if I accept putting myself in her (his) school.  Only then will we truly journey together ... as brothers and sisters.

2-    A second attitude is vigilance of heart, remaining constantly alert to seek the face of the Lord.  It is closely linked to the first.  It requires, before all else, that we read and re-read the Gospel constantly.15.    Not primarily to seek a moral in it, to sound out what is good and what is evil, but in order to seek the face of Jesus constantly: to watch him act, to scrutinise his reactions, to see his behaviour.  Little by little, allowing ourselves to be inhabited by him and transformed by him.  He is a man of Nazareth, a “little one”: by looking at him we can discover, little by little, how we should behave in the world of simple people, which is our own, and learn to marvel, as he did, to allow ourselves to be touched by compassion, to struggle against evil, to find paths towards the Father etc.   Very simply – to love!
    This search for the face of Jesus is a “full-time commitment”.  Not just in times of prayer, but in the vigilance of a heart that is awakened.  We cannot confine it just to the times of prayer: each encounter, each event should find us attentive to seeking the imprint of the Lord who has promised to accompany us. We should learn to re-read our lives that way? “These encounters that I had today, these events, even the very small ones, have they slid over me without affecting me, or have they taught me something about the face of God?”  We often say that our contemplative life is nourished from sharing the life of ordinary people; I believe that this can enrich our prayer (personal or in community) if we dare to allow our hearts to speak from our discoveries or our sufferings on this path with the Lord through the days. Like the disciple Jesus loved, to recognise him in unlikely traits of daily life (cf. John 21:7 and 12).

3-    “Whoever gives you a glass of water to drink because you belong to Christ, I tell you truly, he will not lose his reward” (Mark 9:41; Matthew 10:42).
    In a context (Mark 9:33-34) in which the disciples are asking themselves the question, “Who is the greatest?” Jesus calls a child and replies, “The greatest is the one who is little like this child; for he allows those who welcome him to welcome me, and to welcome the One who sent me” (v.37).  The greatest is the one who is little enough to allow his certainties to be overturned and recognise the good wherever it comes from, even places where one does not expect it to be (v. 39ff).  The greatest is the one who is little enough to ask for a glass of water: it enables someone to give to him and to show himself or herself as a brother or a sister and gain his (her) place in the Kingdom of God (v. 41).”
    Perhaps we have assimilated too well the words that St Paul attributes to Jesus, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).  We like to give; we do not like to allow our needs to be seen, we do not find it easy to receive.  What we want to do to others (show ourselves to them as their brother or sister by coming to their aid, welcoming them, valuing them, making ourselves close to them) we do not permit them to do for us!  Journeying with them, in truth, without hiding our limitations and our needs, with our pettiness and our greatness, is perhaps giving them the possibility of considering us as their brother or their sister simply by giving us what we lack! ... That also is Nazareth, being little enough to allow the other to give the best of herself or himself.

13.“They first listen to what lies deep in the hearts of their friends, and to the richness of the people among whom they live, by placing themselves in the school of the poor who are the treasure of the Church.”  Constitutions of the LBJ C 95 II.  In a very significant way, this passage is found in the chapter about our mission in the Church.
14. This verse is often quoted as “You are all brothers and sisters because you have only one Father”; that is true, of course, but it is not what the Gospel says!  And it is important to stay close to the text...
15. “We should try to become impregnated with the spirit of Jesus by reading and re-reading, meditating and re-meditating constantly on his words and his example: so that they may act in our souls like a drop of water that falls and falls again on a slab, always on the same place...”  Charles de Foucauld, Letter to Louis Massignon, 22/07/1914.  “Let us return to the Gospel.  If we do not live the Gospel, Jesus does not live in us” Charles de Foucauld, Letter to Mgr Caron, 30/06/1909.