On the Road to Bethlehem

Author: Maria Killoran

Meditations for the 5 Days before Christmas

Without Mary, the Mother of Jesus, we would not be celebrating Christmas. Not only did She say "Yes", to reverse the "No' of Adam and Eve to God, and thus gave birth to Him who is our Saviour and Redeemer, but She was and is still, a perfect example of what it means to follow, worship and belong to God.

There are two feastdays in December that help us to understand and emulate Our Lady a little more. The first one is the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. On this day, we celebrate the fact that "in view of Mary's role of bearing and raising the Son of God, God prepared Her for this by freeing Her from original sin from the moment of Her conception in the womb of Her mother , Anne. God prepared Mary to be a vessel without trace of sin, not because of Her own virtue or merit but because of Her unique role in His plan of salvation."*

Because God gave her the grace, Mary was free of every personal sin Her whole life long. Because She wished to do the Divine will in all ways, She gave Herself entirely to the person and work of Her Son, to aid Him in His work of Redemption. Just as Eve's unbelief and rebellion brought sin into the world, Mary's faith and perfect obedience to God and His will brought salvation.

On December 12th, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. In 1531, Mary appeared to a poor Mexican peasant Juan Diego. Through Her apparitions there, an estimated eight million native people were converted in the next seven years.

She continues to bring us messages of hope and direction on our present day journeys. She has appeared many times, in many different places, to warn, console, encourage, instruct and guide us back to the loving arms of the Father. Mary's appearances in all these places remind us that the things we do now and our prayers and faith have consequences for not only our own salvation but also for the whole world.

Shall we ask Her to let us accompany Her and Joseph as they make their way to Bethlehem?

Let us accompany Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem.

Every year, our family tries to look at the whole story of Christmas from a different perspective. One tradition that we have established is the five-day walk to Bethlehem. We read somewhere that Nazareth was approximately 70 miles from Bethlehem. This would give them an average of 14 miles to walk every day. At night, they probably had to find an out-of the- way corner or a shelter of some kind. Some of our children spend these four nights sleeping on the floor, as a penance, uniting their discomfort with that of Our Lady who suffered much more because of the imminent birth. Sometimes, they even talk us into letting them sleep in the barn for a night, and they come in with a much greater appreciation of the warmth and comforts of today.

Another custom that has been adopted in Madonna House from Russian tradition is the wearing of bells throughout Advent. These symbolize the bells that the donkey wore who carried Our Lady, and therefore the Christ Child, Himself, on this journey. Every week, more bells are added to the belt, or wristband, or band around the knee, to remind us that we are coming ever closer to Christ's birth. They are a delightful reminder of the first Church, Our Lady Herself.

These five days are also a special preparation time for the great feast of Christmas. Our Lady has requested through continuing apparitions to use five ways of preparing to meet Jesus, not only at Christmas but for eternal life. Prayer from the heart and the Rosary; the Eucharist; reading Scripture; Fasting and Penance; and Monthly Confession.

When we pray from the heart, it is like a hotline to God. If we pray with a sincere desire to come before Him with all our faults and weaknesses, praising Him, thanking Him and asking for His forgiveness, He will be a loving Father, drawing us closer to Him. The Rosary is an old but very powerful prayer that unites us with the prayers of Our Lady. The Mysteries of the Rosary take us through the lives of Jesus and Mary. Try praying the Rosary from different perspectives: those of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Wise Men, even the donkey!

Second Day of the Journey to Bethlehem

As we travel the road to Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph, we begin to see that it isn't a comfortable journey, inwardly or outwardly. Are we satisfied with our lot, or do we complain about the boss, our parents, our teachers, our family or about everyone else? Can we face the truth about ourselves, our family and friends or the world? If Jesus came today, would we be His most ardent followers or His enemies? Do we do good works because they make us feel good, or we get praised, or are we doing them because we want to further God's kingdom on earth? Are we preparing for heaven someday or compromising with the world to get ahead?

We can't fool God. He knows all, and sees all. He also knows why we have done or said things. Sometimes, because of our characters, personalities, lack of education, or circumstances, we tend to commit sins. God knows that too. God is truth, holiness and perfection. Sin simply cannot stand in His presence. But that doesn't mean God is standing there ready to throw us into hell unless He is appeased. Because He knows we are sinful, He is giving us every possible means to turn back to Him. That is why He sent Jesus to die for us. That is why He gave us the Sacraments as vessels of grace to help us. That is why He has sent messenger or prophet after prophet to tell us to turn to Him and change our ways.

We cannot do it on our own. Because of original sin leaving the weakness that is in every soul, we cannot attain heaven merely by good works. It is like we have a ladder that only reaches halfway up the wall. But when we realize that we can't do it on our own, we turn to Him and not only ask forgiveness, but ask Him to help us and turn our lives over to Him. That is what He is waiting for! He can hardly wait until we turn to Him. Then just like the father of the Prodigal Son, He will come leaping for joy and embrace us. Let us meet Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (also known as Penance or Confession).

Third Day of the Journey to Bethlehem

Young Peter had a terrible habit of swearing. One day he asked his mother what he could do to stop. She suggested painting a big black circle on the side of the chicken coop. Whenever he swore, he would have to hammer a nail into the black circle. Peter ended up using two boxes of nails before he conquered the habit. Then his mother suggested that for every day he didn't swear he could take out one nail. Months later, the circle was empty of nails. Now Peter wondered, how can I get rid of the holes?

Penance, the next step of the journey, does not aim at outward works, but conversion of the heart. Peter was truly sorry for his bad habit, and wanted to make up for the obvious effects. Often we think that our sins don't affect anyone but us, but that is not true. Not only do we hurt ourselves, but we also hurt God who is all-perfect. Every sin leaves a hole of some kind, either in our relationship with ourselves, with God or with our neighbour. Forgiveness and absolution cleans our souls from the sin, but the holes are still left.

When we truly repent of the sin, we truly wish to change our whole lives to one that is pleasing to the Father. We will feel repugnance toward evil actions, and hoping in God's mercy, we will trust in His grace to help us change.
When we discover how much God loves us, our heart starts to comprehend how horrible and weighty our sin is, and we start to fear being separated from Him.

The signs of true conversion are "gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, exercise and defense of justice and right by the admission of faults to others, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, and endurance of persecution. Taking up one's cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of Penance. " Catechism of Catholic Church # 1435

Fourth Day of the Journey to Bethlehem

The bells are getting louder, and the donkey is getting weary. Our Lady is becoming more and more aware that the birth of Her Son is coming very soon. Joseph begins to go over in his mind the list of relatives in Bethlehem where they might find lodging during their stay.

The edict of Caesar Augustus specified that all people must register in the their own town. Bethlehem was known to be the town of David, and since Joseph and Mary were both of David's line, they probably still had relatives in the area. Little did the relatives know that Mary was bringing them the Eucharist Himself, riding on a donkey!

The Eucharist, means many things, besides being the Body of Christ. Did you know that the Eucharist is: the anticipation of heavenly glory, the manifest sign of hope, Jesus' interpretation at the Last Supper, the Church's continuation of this interpretation, the `summing up of faith, the enabling of participation in the divine life, the enabling of the unity of the People of God, the foretaste of the Resurrection, the memorial of the mystery of salvation, the source and summit of Christian life, the source of strength for the priestly ministry, union with Christ, union with God, and in the Church's ministry of sanctification?

It was instituted by Jesus Christ for: the forgiveness and deliverance from sins, the increase of the grace of Baptism, increasing union with Christ, making the Church, preserving us from future mortal sins, and strengthening our spiritual life.

The sacrificial character of the Eucharist can be seen as: a sacrifice of praise by the full participation of the faithful, representing the sacrifice of the Cross, a sacrifice offered for the faithful departed, union of the entire Church, as well as union with the heavenly liturgy. Subject index in Catechism of the Catholic Church Page 850.

Wow! What a gift He gives to us!

Fifth Day of the Journey to Bethlehem

The town is now within sight. Both Mary and Joseph rejoice at the sight. They are so close now, and Mary knows that Her time is near.

"Hurry, Joseph, " She urges. Joseph smiles at Her, and quickly decides where to stop first.

Many of his kinsmen are glad to see him and his bride, but they shake their heads sadly when asked for room. "There have been so many coming through here, we just haven't any more room. Hope you find a place!" Joseph walks away, with panic rising inside. Surely there must be room for the Son of God to be born! Surely humanity is not that cold!

There is a Mexican tradition called the Posada, where children representing the Holy Family knock on the doors of their neighbours, looking for a room. They are continually refused for several nights until on Christmas Eve, they are invited in and feasting follows.

Do we let Jesus into our hearts, homes, and lives? One way is the regular reading of the Scriptures or Bible. These are God's Word to us. Indeed, they are the words of God spoken to us in human language, just as Jesus, the Word of the Eternal Father, took flesh to become man so He could talk to us in a way that we would understand.

"The Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body." #101, 103 Catechism of the Catholic Church.

May your journey bring you to the Christ Child and may you enjoy His peace, light and love in your hearts and in your family.

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