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The Message
Evansville, Indiana
December 11, 1987     The Message
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December 11, 1987

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Faith Today Supplement, The Message, Catholic Diocese of Evansville; December 11, 1987 ]i i The road to Bethany By Father Eugene LaVerdlere, SSS NC News Service t was 2 p.m., Dec. 24, 1967. I was a young priest studying Scripture in Jer- L  usalem. A good friend and l had met to talk about doing something special for Christmas. This was to be a difficult Christ- mas for a lot of people we knew. It was only a few months since the Six Day War and the Israeli occupa- tion of Jerusalem's Old City, Bethle- hem and the whole West Bank. The government feared violence. No one wanted the Midnight Mass at Bethlehem to be disrupted. Peo- ple were coming from all over the world. Security was extremely tight. My friend was a Benedictine priest named Andy Miles. He and I realized that for Arab Christians, many of whom were Catholic, the situation could be frightening. We speculated that this year, unlike previous years, many would not go to Bethlehem for Christmas. We remembered a Christian fami- ly in Bethany who had once of- fered us water, shade and rest as we came out of the Judean desert. Bethany is a 45-minute walk from Jerusalem over the Mount of Olives. We thought of them now on Dec. 24 and we knew we had .found our special Christmas celebration. We decided to go to the bazaar in the Old City and buy chocolate, nuts, raisins and dried figs for the family that had welcomed us a few months earlier. Then, loaded down with more than enough for all their children, we set out for Bethany. Did you ever notice how impor- tant journeys are in the stories of Jesus' birth? *There is the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem where Jesus was born; *There is the journey of shep- herds from the fields and of the Magi who came from the East; *There is the journey of Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus, who went to Egypt seeking refuge from Herod. We know little about these jour- neys. The Gospels tell us about their point of origin and destination and why the journey was made. The journeys were important, but what happened along the journey was not. Christmas is a good time to think of these journeys and what they mean for our celebrations. We all have our favorite stories of Christmas journeys. The one in my life that stands out above all the rest is the one Father Miles and I took to Bethany that day in 1967. The road took us through Jerusalem's Old City, down into the Kidron Valley, past the Garden of Gethsemane. Along the way we met a number of people traveling in the opposite direction, some on foot, some on muleback. Who wouldn't have thought of Joseph and Mary? Finally we arrived. The whole family was there. We had been right. This year, they were not go- ing to Bethlehem. Many in the Middle East may be poor, but they are always rich in hospitality. We immediately found ourselves seated and drinking mint tea, a specialty of the region. I shall never forget the big dark eyes of the children as we presented the gifts we had brought. Nor will I forget what the mother said: "When Jesus was born the three kings brought gifts to him. Today you have brought gifts to our children." There was a long silence, smiles, some conversation, a blessing, a promise of prayers. Then we left. Ever since, wherever I am at Christmas, I make it a point, like the Magi, to visit someone. I look for people who may have trouble celebrating this holiday, those who are shut-in or helpless, those who have no one to visit them. For me, the holiday will never be the same because of a Christmas journey in the Middle East. (Father LaVerdiere is editor of Emmanuel.) Mary's 'social manifesto" By Father John Castelot NC News Service uke left us a charm- ing and challenging portrait of Mary in his Gospel. It is a portrait of the model disciple, one who hears the word of God and keeps it. Her attitude is summed up briefly in her initial response to the angel: "Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me accor- ding to your word" (1:38). Her acceptance of God's will for her was her personal contribution to the work of humanity's salva- tion. In Luke's view, this was her singular claim to fame. Everything else was sheer gift of God; the only thing over which she had control was her consent. As Luke portrays her, Mary is the model of what is possible for anyone who accepts God's offer of love and lives accordingly -- even if it means walking at times in what St. John of the Cross called the dark night of faith. A more eloquent expression of Mary's response to God's Word is the prayer known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56). It is a joyful acknowledgment of God looking "upon his handmaid's lowliness." It states the fundamental truth that God alone is responsible for human salvation. Left to ourselves we are helpless and hopeless: "The Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name." The rest of the prayer adds strong and perhaps surprising color to the portrait of this courageous young girl. It puts into words the sentiments of God's anawim, his poor -- the neglected, oppressed, exploited, alienated members of society. In no uncertain terms the Magnificat looks forward to a reversal of society's value system, a toppling of unjust power structures. Mary comes through as an ad- mirably strong woman. Identifying with the disadvantag- ed, she delights in the anticipated prospect that God has "dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. Ie has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the low- ly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty." All of that is seen by Mary's prayer as a working out of God's plan of salvation, of "the promise to our fathers." The Magnificat is a social manifesto worthy of an advocate of liberation theology. It also is a forecast of Jesus' ministry. Like mother, like son. He too stood with the poor and I I