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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

On the Road to Bethlehem!

Mary & Joseph find a stopping point near a fallen down shed not far from
the chicken coop. Eggs for breakfast.

I recently received a meme suggesting replacing the "Elf on a Shelf" with Mary and Joseph making the trip to Bethlehem. What a wonderful idea! Since I have a statue of the expectant mother riding a donkey being led by dear St. Joseph, I decided to spend Advent journeying with them along the Advent road at Camp Kreitzer. They began the journey today outside under the pine trees not far from the chicken coop. 

The actual distance from Nazareth to Jerusalem is about ninety miles. The trip would have taken about a week. No doubt there was a caravan of folks traveling together going to register for the census. How many miles could Mary and Joseph go each day considering Mary's advanced pregnancy? How often did St. Joseph insist that they stop and rest in his consideration for Mary and the baby? How comfortable is it to ride on a donkey trying to keep your balance? 

Remember in the story of Fatima that when the mayor demanded an interview with the little shepherd children, poor Lucia fell off the donkey several times as she made the journey with her father. Jacinta and Francisco's father refused to take them. 

Let us make the journey with Mary and Joseph along the road to Bethlehem. The gospel doesn't tell us which road they took toward their goal, and there were two likely routes. Study the map and notice all the many places mentioned in the gospels and Acts of the Apostles. How many times did Jesus travel along the road between Nazareth and Jerusalem preaching the gospel? What a precious gift we have in this Advent season to walk with the Holy Family, beginning the journey at the Annunciation, traveling with Mary to the high country to visit her cousin Elizabeth, returning home, and traveling once again to Bethlehem to fulfill the scriptures and give birth in Bethlehem, the "house of bread."

May none of us allow this season to pass without immersing ourselves in its joys. "The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen." Isaiah 9:2





17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine being in the late stages of pregnancy and even mounting a donkey, much less riding it! Then arriving and finding no lodging available, except a stable? I love this idea, thank you.

Thomas said...

I have never believed that Joseph made Mary ride a donkey to Bethlehem, nor her and the infant Jesus to Egypt. He was a carpenter. He would need to bring along his tools wherever he went for his livelihood to provide for himself and his family. That would require a cart or wagon. Being a carpenter he could build one if necessary. He is the sainted model of being a husband and father yet we are expected to believe he made his wife bounce along for days uncomfortably perched on the back of a donkey? I cannot accept that.

A Different Thomas said...

If it makes you feel any better, Thomas, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich said that Mary walked a good bit of the way. Joseph insisted that she wear sandals, though, if I recall correctly. Mary preferred to go barefoot in order to suffer a little more for the Lord. I should read Emmerich's visions again this Advent.

Thomas said...

At the risk of sounding overly negative, no, it does not make me feel any better. Even the Church is highly skeptical of Emmerich's alleged visions, as am I. I've read the books and there are too many issues with them to take them as anything more than the overly-embellished writings of her "biographer". Once again, to believe that the man God chose to assist and protect Mary and Jesus, the man all husbands and fathers should emulate, would abandon his tools and force his late-term pregnant wife to walk for days on unpaved roads, and then do it again on the flight to Egypt is ludicrous. Riding on the donkey looks nice on Christmas cards but not in real life.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thomas, I love your defense of St. Joseph. You bring up something I've never considered. However, none of us knows what the situation really was. There's a very interesting scene in the Zeffirelli movie, Jesus of Nazareth, when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. She rides a donkey, but there's a kind of basket attached to the animal that provides both shade and a more comfortable place for the rider. St. Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises emphasizes the freedom of the exercitant to set the scene in the meditation. Each of us can imagine Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem in whatever way he or she finds most fruitful. I wonder if the roads were conducive to a wagon or cart or were they sometimes so steep and narrow it wouldn't have been practical. Wouldn't it be a wonderful pilgrimage to be able to walk that journey. I imagine many have.

Carmen L said...

I imagine that donkey as the one with Balaam, if God made a donkey talk, and considering Blessed Virgin Mary, carrying God Himself, probable the donkey was as comfortable as it can be. Consider waters moving for the new Ark of Covenant

Thomas said...

Mary Anne, you are absolutely correct, of course, and apologies for coming across more forcefully than I intended. It's just a bit of a sore spot because of the way that fathers and husbands are portrayed and regarded in today's culture. St. Joseph deserves better. But enough of that matter. The article was excellent writing, as usual. Thanks for it.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thanks for your kind words, Thomas. May we all have a blessed Advent. Now I have to go find the next spot for Mary and Joseph to rest for the night.

A Different Thomas said...

I beg your pardon, I must have been thinking of another journey of the Blessed Mother. In the journey to Bethlehem, she rode the donkey the whole way, as the Holy Scripture and all of tradition says. In no way does this reflect poorly on Good St. Joseph. If you read Anne Catherine Emmerich and Mary of Agreda you can have nothing but reverence and awe for how tenderly he cared for the Blessed Virgin. These visions very much enhance what is recorded in the Bible, and in no way contradict it. I digress.
The donkey was the very best St. Joseph had to offer for transportation. The roads were uneven and bumpy at best. Imagine the bumps and jolts anyone riding in a cart would have had to endure without pneumatic tires and shock absorbers (or even with such modern luxuries). Everything Mary endured was according to the plan of God. He could have provided a royal palace for the birth of the Savior, but chose a humble cave instead. He could have made St. Joseph a rich merchant, or a prince, but chose him to be a poor carpenter instead. Thus, having his Mother ride upon an ass to Bethlehem was the Providence of God. We know that Mary considered it so, for she could have asked that angels carry her, and God would not have refused her. I thank you, Thomas, for providing me an opportunity for me to meditate upon the beautiful history of the journey to Bethlehem that Tradition has passed down to us.

Dymphna said...

Although donkeys were cheap compared to a horse they weren't free. St. Joseph provided the best he could afford. Plus they were probably traveling in a caravan. At some point Our Lady may have been able to rest in the wagon of fellow travelers.

Thomas said...

I was hoping this discussion was finished but it calls for one more response. Nowhere in the Gospels does it state that Mary rode a donkey. Nor do the Gospels say that Joseph and Mary traveled with others as, for example, it does when they unknowingly left Jesus behind in Jerusalem. And they are silent about whether Mary hitched a ride in a fellow traveler's wagon. Likewise, the Gospels do not state that she walked the journey. Those are all just suppositions that may or may not be accurate. All we know for certain is that they went from Nazareth to Bethlehem, but not how they did it. As such, these speculations carry no more weight than my belief that Joseph would have provided some means of transport for his pregnant wife and the tools of his trade. We are all just guessing and playing "what if" mind games. Let's leave it at that, OK?

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Think I'll go back and read the infancy narratives tonight. It's kind of fun to imagine how Mary and Joseph traveled and whether they had any companions. Did a female relative come along to act as midwife? We don't know, but there is no harm and much pleasure in imagining how things were. I know nothing about building a wagon, but I bet you could detail a delightful scene for us, Thomas, of Joseph getting some kind of conveyance ready for the trip. Perhaps a two-wheeled cart filled with straw and blankets to keep Mary as comfortable as possible -- pulled by that silly donkey. There's nothing about animals in the stable in Scripture either, but how many of us leave the animals out? St. Francis certainly didn't when he created the first live nativity scene. Each of us is free to create the most delightful scened we can imagine. That's what artists who depict the nativity do. One of my favorites is the three kings where the oldest is kneeling and kissing Baby Jesus on the foot. What an invitation that artist gave me to be humble before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Thomas said...

Mary Ann, Yes, it is fun to imagine various scenarios. For example, my mind pictures Joseph as a sort of Biblical Tevye ("Fiddler on the Roof", one of my absolute favorite movies), pulling his two-wheeled cart when his horse is tired or lame. What bothers me is that too many Protestants and poorly-catechized Catholics take these pleasant speculations as, pun intended, Gospel fact. But yes, imagining anything about the Gospels, whether right or wrong, is still good for the soul.

Dymphna said...

Mary and Joseph were not day tripping they were paying taxes like everyone else. Thousands of people were moving around and the caravan was the safe way to travel. St. Joseph didn't have a chariot and they weren't carried by angels. He also had relatives. Everyone in Nazareth who was descended from David was also headed to Bethlehem.

Susan Matthiesen said...

My old parish has a beautiful old stained glass picture of the Flight into Egypt with Mary holding Baby Jesus riding a donkey. She is sitting sideways (sidesaddle) on the donkey with one of her feet down in a sling/stirrup made of cloth.

Donkey panniers (baskets on both sides of the animal) can be large, wide and flat with a high back for comfort. The baskets can hold blankets, several garments as well as - as Thomas says - Joseph's tools. They can be fairly soft and comfortable. Of course, as with a sidesaddle, if there are 2 leg pommels to hold the legs in place with one foot in the stirrup for balance then riding a donkey isn't as terrible as people think.

I'm sure Saint Joseph made the pannier/saddle himself with the greatest comfort he could for Mary who was 9 months pregnant. (And just think of the beautiful cradle he must have made for Jesus which had to be left behind in Nazareth.)

A donkey was the natural way for poor people to travel 2000 years ago. A donkey is a pack animal and much more surefooted than a horse. Its feet are cupped in the sole while a horse has more flat feet. The cupped feet of a donkey make it more surefooted on narrow rocky steep passages.

Thomas said...

Thank you, Susan, I'm convinced now about the donkey. To be honest, it's comforting to accept that the centuries-old assumptions are probably correct, after all.

Susan Matthiesen said...

Since many people were going to Bethlehem at the same time to pay taxes they probably traveled together for safety reasons especially since they had their tax money with them - the purpose of the trip - and robbers were about.

In no way did Saint Joseph hitch a ride in someone else's wagon or cart. That would be giving over his responsibility for Mary to another person, i.e., the person in charge of the wagon or cart who would be driving it. If the cart wheel broke going over a rocky path and Mary fell out or was injured it would ultimately have been St Joseph's fault for entrusting Mary to another.

So NO. He would never have done that. He might have been a poor carpenter but people bought things from him so he DID have money to 1) pay taxes and 2) provide for his family and 3) own a donkey.

They more than likely traveled with others for safety's sake because, again, Joseph would have had the tax money with them and he would never have risked traveling alone for fear of Mary being hurt.