Friday, December 23, 2011

On the Journey to Bethlehem

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), an Augustinian nun and mystic who carried the stigmata, the Wounds of Christ, spent her entire life in a small area in Germany. She was privileged to behold innumerable events of biblical times; going back all the way to the creation of the world. She witnessed the fall of the Angels; the sin of Adam; Noe and the Flood; the lives of St. John the Baptist; St. Anne; St. Joseph; the Blessed Virgin Mary; and St. Mary Magdalen. Also includes the birth; life; public ministry; Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ; as well as the founding of His Church. Besides describing persons; places; events and traditions in intimate detail; Anne Catherine Emmerich also sets forth the mystical significance of these visible realities. Pope John Paul II declared her Blessed in October 2004.

Here is an excerpt from her vision of Mary and Joseph's long journey to Bethlehem.:


This excerpt is from this wonderful
book which I am currently reading.
TAN Books is the publisher.
This evening I saw Joseph and the Blessed Virgin, accompanied by Anna, Mary Cleophas, and some menservants, starting off from Anna's house. Mary sat on the comfortable side-saddle of a donkey, which also carried her baggage. Joseph led the donkey. A second donkey was taken for Anna to ride back on. Her husband was away in the fields when they started on their journey.

5.1 This morning I saw the holy travelers arrive at an open field six hours' journey from Nazareth, where the angel had appeared to Joseph two days before. Anna had a pasture here and the menservants were told to fetch the young she-ass which Joseph was to take with him. She sometimes ran in front of them and sometimes beside them. Anna and Mary Cleophas here took a tender farewell of the travellers and returned home with the menservants. … I saw the Holy Family going on their way and climbing Mount Gilboa. They did not pass through any town; they followed the young she-ass, which always took lonely by-ways.

I saw them stopping at a house in the hills belonging to Lazarus, not far from the town of Ginim and in the direction of Samaria. The steward, who knew them from other journeys, gave them a friendly welcome. Their family was on intimate terms with Lazarus. There are beautiful orchards and avenues here. The house stands high, so that one has a very wide view from the roof. Lazarus inherited it from his father; our Lord Jesus often stayed here during His ministry and taught in the surrounding country. The steward and his wife conversed in a very friendly way with the Blessed Virgin. They were surprised that she should have been willing to undertake such a long journey in her condition, when she might have had every comfort at home with her mother Anna.

5.2 I saw the Holy Family some hours' journey beyond this last place, going at night towards a mountain through a very cold valley. It looked as if there was hoar-frost on the ground. The Blessed Virgin was suffering from the cold and Joseph said: ‘We must rest.’ Hardly had he spoken when the she-ass that was running with them stood still under a terebinth tree, very big and old, near which was a spring of water. They stopped under this tree; Joseph spread coverings for the Blessed Virgin to sit on, after helping her to alight from the donkey, and she sat down under the tree. Joseph hung a lighted lantern, which he carried with him, on the lower branches of the tree. (I often saw travellers in that country do this at night.) … They refreshed themselves here with fruit and little loaves of bread which they had with them, and drank water from the spring near by, mixing it with balsam which Joseph had brought with him in a little jug. Joseph spoke very comfortingly to the Blessed Virgin: he is so good, and so sorry that the journey is so difficult. …He spoke to her about the good lodging which he hoped to find for her in Bethlehem. He said he knew of a house with very good people where they would find a comfortable lodging at very little cost. It was, he said, better to pay something than to be taken in for nothing. He spoke highly of Bethlehem in general, and comforted the Blessed Virgin in every possible way. (.. but I knew well that things would turn out quite differently.)

So far they have crossed two little streams in the course of their journey: one of these they crossed on a high foot-way, while the two donkeys waded through the water. It was strange to see how the young she-ass, who was free to go where she would, kept running round the travelers. Where the path narrowed, as for instance between hills, and so could not be mistaken, she ran sometimes before and sometimes behind them, but where there was a parting of the ways she always appeared again and took the right path. Where they were to rest, she stood still, as here by the terebinth tree. I do not remember whether they spent the night under the tree, or whether they went on to another shelter. This terebinth was a very old and sacred tree, of the grove of Moreh near Shechem. When Abraham was journeying into the land of Canaan, he had here a vision of God, who promised him this land for his descendants. ( Gen. 15.) He then built an altar under the terebinth. Before Jacob went to Bethel, to sacrifice to the Lord, he buried under this terebinth all the strange gods of Laban and the jewels which his family carried with him. ( Gen. 35.4.) Under this tree Joshua built the tabernacle for the Ark of the Covenant and made the people assembled there renounce their idols. ( Joshua 24.26.) It was here that Abimelech, the son of Gideon, was hailed as king of the Shechemites. ( Judges 9.6.)

How often do we think of the journey to Bethlehem as being just a trivial prelude to the Nativity? But it was hard and cold and difficult, exhausting and fraught with dangers. As we make our own Christmas preparations, we would do well to remember the harsh reality, and thank God for the wonder of the Incarnation.

You can read more of Anna Catherine's writings.  OR if you would like to purchase it for your home, you can visit TAN Books' Website.

St. Andrew Christmas Novena:
"Hail, and blessed be the hour and moment
At which the Son of God was born
Of a most pure Virgin
At a stable at midnight in Bethlehem
In the piercing cold."

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