Seal of Approval

The following books have been awarded the Seal of Approval for the 4th quarter of 2022:

  • Bella’s Beautiful Miracle, Kimberly Novak
  • I Will Always Be Me, Kristina Schoettle
  • The Wistful and the Good, Mark Baker
  • Please Don’t Feed the Dinosaurs, Corinna Turner

From Our Blog

  • Journey to Bethlehem

    Margaret Zacharias
    17 hours 45 min ago

    Scripture and our imaginations give us an image of Joseph and a pregnant Mary setting out on foot from Nazareth to travel to Bethlehem. Perhaps they brought a donkey along for Mary to ride as the road became more treacherous.

    In fact, that road winds for considerable distance around dusty mountains as it ascends into the Judean highlands, where the town of Bethlehem stands perched on a cliffside. (I sure hope Mary did have that donkey.)

    Today pilgrims ride the bus. In 1997, when I made my first visit to the Church of the Nativity, we traveled urban highways without obstacle, straight to an underground parking garage in Bethlehem.

    In 2012, when I made my last visit, we were stopped at a passport checkpoint for almost an hour, while armed soldiers determined whether we should be permitted to pass into Palestine. This ritual was repeated as we returned to Jerusalem in Israel.

    The journey to Bethlehem has never been easy.

    Consider the Three Kings who traveled for months to pay their homage to the Christ Child. They did have animal transport, of course—camels, creatures that are reputed to be even more stubborn than donkeys.

    Perhaps the most important journey to Bethlehem involves a sometimes-frightening walk down a church aisle with “everybody watching.” This trip is performed annually by small children dressed in outlandish costumes. A few of them might manage to enjoy the experience, but I suspect those are probably the exceptions. No, it’s us, their parents and grandparents who relish—in fact, insist upon—this yearly spectacle.

    For more than a decade my fellow catechists and I joined forces to organize a typical extravaganza specifically for our public-school religious education children. Our students were not going to suffer because, for a variety of reasons, they did not attend Catholic schools! We would present our own Christmas pageant for the parish, no matter what it required.

    In Matthew’s Nativity story, there is little mention of Mary; his focus is on Joseph. Aside from speaking to Joseph in his dreams, angels don’t appear, either (certainly not to shepherds in the fields). Joseph’s vital decisions, and important conversations the Three Kings hold with King Herod, drive the action in Matthew’s gospel.

    We know the angelic chorus and the shepherds from Luke’s gospel, written much later in historical time. The Annunciation, the Visitation, a heavenly host of angels, and shepherds who keep watch over their flocks appear only in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke’s narrative, the Three Kings are notably absent. Neither Mark nor John offers a comparable birth narrative.

    But the tradition endures.

    At the Church of the Nativity, they tell pilgrims that there were once pictures of the Three Kings painted on its exterior walls. When Ottoman Turks swept through the Holy Land destroying Christian holy sites, this birthplace of Jesus was not razed. The invaders recognized their own faces in those mural portraits and spared the shrine.

    For that reason, the precise site of Jesus’ birth is relatively more certain than many other Christian monuments in the Holy Land.

    We often were told, “This may not be the exact spot where it happened. But it was somewhere very close by. These stories have been handed down, generation after generation, by families who still live right here today.” That’s the reason we love our Christmas pageants, too. They’ve been passed down in our families as part of our religious heritage. They may mingle different gospel stories; they may create a lot of extra work; they may drive sensitive elderly pastors crazy with their noise and chaos; but they are metaphors for something sacred that we all cherish.

    One Advent, several years ago, I stood in a crowded church with a long line of people. We were all waiting to see a popular confessor when, ahead of me, I noticed three energetic teenage boys. They bounced on their feet as they waited and traded playful punches in the shoulder. Behind them, right in front of me, stood a teenage girl who had brought the boys with her into the church. I had watched her organize them into their current semblance of order with a charming personality that matched her physical beauty.

    I kept thinking, “She looks so familiar.”

    Finally, I touched her arm. “Forgive me. I think I might know you, but I don’t remember your name.”

    She gave me a sweet smile and said, “I remember you. I’ll never forget the person who gave me my first Rosary. You cast me as Mary for the Christmas pageant in second grade.”

    It matters how we travel.

    May your journey to Bethlehem this Advent be blessed.

The CWG Prayer

Holy Family, guide our minds, our hearts, our hands, as we write, speak, illustrate – help our words to live in union with the Word.

Teach us discipline and skill to use the talents God gives us.

Give us also insight and courage to convey God's love through our craft, and humility to be open to His divine will, shaping our lives, in loving loyalty to His Church.

In Christ's name,

Amen.

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