The journey that began in Jerusalem continues for Catholics today

 By Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell

Bishop of Springfield


It was the second time in less than a year that Mary had made the long journey up to Jerusalem.

The first time she had gone to see her cousin, Elizabeth, following that strange day when Gabriel, the angelic messenger, had asked her to be the mother of the Messiah. He had told her about Elizabeth and she knew her older cousin would need her help; so, she joined the caravan to make the long trip to Ain Karim, the little village a few miles southwest of Jerusalem where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. 

So much had happened since then. Elizabeth’s baby boy, John, was a thriving infant. Mary had returned to Nazareth. There, now as Joseph’s wife, she had moved away from the only home she had ever known, left behind her parents, Joachim and Anne, moved out of the familiar setting where she had grown up, put her childhood behind her, and moved into Joseph’s house. It was there she had expected she would give birth to her child.

Circumstances from the outside world intervened. Joseph was to be among those enumerated in the Roman census, and Mary, as his wife, would have to travel with him. Off to Bethlehem, the City of David, south of Jerusalem, Joseph’s ancestral home must they go, there to be enrolled in the census. 

This second caravan was different because strong, protective Joseph was there with her on the journey. Still, heavy with child, she wondered if she would be able to return home to give birth or if the jogging of the journey might bring her to labor.

So much to reflect upon; so much to think about; so much to be concerned about. She knew from her earlier journey to Elizabeth that the average caravan from Nazareth to Jerusalem took approximately five days. Then, they would have to travel on the road south from Jerusalem another few miles to Bethlehem. 

They would not be alone.  Many whose ancestral home was Bethlehem were going there as well. In the last few miles, Mary began to realize the time for the birth of her child was approaching.  Faced with the impending birth, Joseph sought shelter, but the town was crowded, filled to overflowing because of the census. 

There was no place to stay, until some kind soul pointed out the stable where at least there would be some protection from the elements. There Mary gave birth to her child. There the Word Incarnate, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, was born.

In many ways this past year has been for a number of Catholics in western Massachusetts what it was for Mary. Familiar surroundings have been left behind; new challenges have arisen; new places come to the fore. Yet, as with Mary, their focus has remained on her Son. 

No matter where we are, no matter what changes come into our lives, Christ remains the focus, Christ is at the heart of who we are as Catholics, Christ made present for us at Mass on the altar wherever we may be as truly as he was made present that first Christmas.

Christmas serves as a reminder that we have not here a lasting city; what lasts is Christ who leads us into eternity. We are called to be the pilgrim people who follow him. We are called from the caravan of life to answer with Mary, “Be it done to me according to your Word.”

Whether young like Mary at the time of the Incarnation, or old as they say Elizabeth was at the time of John the Baptist’s birth, God calls us to follow the child who was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, preached in Galilee, died in Jerusalem, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father where he promises that, as he came at Bethlehem, so will he return at the end of time to make all things right. 

May we who are privileged to experience his presence in Mass and the sacraments celebrate the fact that we have been blessed with the gift of faith in him who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen. 

Wherever you are, have a Blessed Christmas!