Walking to Bethlehem with the Holy Family

As Christmas approaches, we might ponder the holy that the Holy Family were making a journey, not to some shopping mall, but South to Bethlehem. In the brief reflection that follows, I take liberties and combine imagination with known facts and the cultural context of the time. But in your mind’s eye see a couple setting forth from a tiny village called Nazareth, a town so small (barely 300 souls) that there was not even a road going to it, just a foot path. Perhaps they headed south for Hazor to connect with the Via Maris. We do not know for sure the route they took.

Yes, consider, that even now in this week before the birth, some 2000 years ago, they would be making this difficult journey well into Mother Mary’s ninth month of pregnancy. Mary with Jesus, resting in utero, just beneath her heart. She, with Joseph is walking some seventy miles south through very hilly terrain. These were not small hills. They were more on the scale of the Appalachian Mountains here in Eastern America. (see photo above right taking along the Via Maris near Megido)

The census has been called, and the timing could not be worse. It is certain that they will be away from home for this birth of enormous importance.

Many artists picture of her riding on a donkey. I have my doubts that this was the case. She and Joseph are among the working poor, and is doubtful they could have afforded such a costly beast of burden. I wonder too, if a woman so late in pregnancy, could really ride a donkey. It is possible that Joseph had some sort of wagon for her to ride in. But I suppose quite frankly, she probably walked.

These were hardy people, these ancient Israelites. They were used to make it to long journeys back-and-forth Along the Via Maris, or perhaps along the King’s Highway further West. Either way, lots of hills, lots of steep inclines.

Clearly, great anxiety and concerns accompany them as they headed south. There was nothing sentimental about the first Christmas, it was marked by great hardships, hardships that prefigured the cross.

Ancient travel was not just difficult, it was dangerous. Robbers and other criminals lurked along the traveled paths seeking vulnerable targets. Surely a man accompanying a pregnant woman to be a vulnerable target. And though Scripture mentions no such robbery or assault, neither Joseph or Mary knew this, setting out.

The Scriptures are silent, if any friends accompanied them. But given the dangers, it is unthinkable that people traveled these routes alone, or even in pairs. Rather, people traveled in groups for safety. Yet, it seems likely that Joseph and Mary would have struggled to keep up with the group, given Mary’s condition.

Yet another source of anxiety must have centered on lodging in Bethlehem just ahead. Those were not days of Orbitz, or easy reservations. One set out not knowing precisely the arrangements that would be had.

But onward they go. Perhaps stopping here and there to rest with the group. It was not easy. It was arid, and the terrain was rocky, and hilly. Carrying water along was critical but heavy, as were the other essentials of clothes, basic food and a cloak in which to sleep on the chilly evening. Even if the day is hot, the temperature drops rapidly in the arid climate of the Middle East. Joseph carries a walking stick, not to lean, but for defense.

Most of us moderns can barely walk a mile, even on flat terrain. But, as we have noted, these were hardy people, accustomed to hardship, and difficulty.

Spend some time praying and journeying with the Holy Family these next days. They journey for us. Walk with them, pray and ponder what lies ahead. Christ is near, even at the gates.

This video contains further reflections, some of them different from my own, but much of what we must do on these spiritual journeys is speculative.

Being a Christian Man

When  I was a growing up my father would often exhort me to “be a man.” He would summon me to courage and responsibility and to discover the heroic capacity that was in me. St. Paul summoned  forth a spiritual manhood with these words: We [must] all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ. (Eph 4:13ff)

But today, too many Christian men are passive fathers and husbands. They have not matured in their faith but remain in a kind of spiritual childhood. They are not the spiritual leaders of their home that scripture summons them to be (cf Eph 5). If they go to Church at all, their wife has to drag them there. They do not teach their children to pray, read them Scripture, or insist that they practice the faith. They too often leave this only for their wife to do.

Gratefully, many men do take their proper role. They have reached spiritual manhood and understand their responsibilities in the Lord. They live courageously and are leaders. They are the first up on Sunday morning leading their family to Church and they insist on religious practice in the home. They intitate prayer and Scripture reading with their wife and children and are vigorous moral leaders and teachers in their family, parish and community. They are willing to battle for the truth and speak up for what is right.

You see the Lord is looking for a few good men. Are you a Christian Man? Have you reached spiritual manhood? This is not the kind of manhood that comes merely with age. It comes when we pray, hear and heed scripture and the teachings of the Chruch. It comes when we couargeously live the faith and summon others to follow Jesus without compromise. When we speak the truth in love and live the truth. It is when we fear God and thus fear no man, for when we are able to kneel before God we can stand before any threat.

Here are two good websites for Catholic Men. Let me know if you know of others.



If you’re a Christian man or aspire to be one, I hope you’ll find this video as inspirational as I did.

Raising Boys

I recently read an article in First Things by Sally Thomas entitled: The Killer Instinct. The article ponders the modern aversion to the male psyche. Young boys are full of zealous energy, full of spit and vinegar, and have a a proclivity to rough and even violent play. Many modern parents and educators seem troubled by this and often attempt to soften boys, make them behave more like girls. Sadly there is even an attempt by some to diagnosis typically rough-house and energetic boys as having ADHD and they are put on medicines to suppress what is in the end a normal male energy. I do not deny that there can be a true ADHD diagnosis in some cases, but it may also be a symptom of an increasingly feminized culture that finds normal male behavior to be violent and a diagnosable “disorder.”  What I have said here may here may be “controversial” but in the finest male tradition, remember, we can always “spar” in the comments section!

I’d like to present excerpts of the article here and then add some of m own comments in red. You can read the whole article by clicking on the title above.

The default mode of many parents is to be as alarmed by [the] proclivity in their sons [to shoot and stab at things and be aggressive]…..An obvious fascination with shooting things might seem like one of those warning signals we all read about…It used to be that parents waited for Johnny to start torturing the cat before they worried. My generation of parents seems to worry that owning a rubber-band shooter will make Johnny want to torture the cat.  A friend of mine told me that he and his wife had decided not to give their boys guns for toys. What they discovered was that without the toy everything became a gun: sticks, brooms, scissors, their fingers. In the end, they “made peace” with the fact that boys love guns and swords and stopped worrying about latent tendencies to violence. Somehow it was in a boy’s nature and they couldn’t “nurture” it  away.

As a toddler, one of my sons liked to stand behind his baby sister’s chair and pull her head back as far as it would go, to watch it spring up again like a punching bag on its stem….and then she screamed….From my son’s point of view, it was altogether a gratifying exercise. My intervention was always swift and decisive…I implored my son, “Don’t be rough. Be gentle.” …I am struck, now, by the strangeness of what I said to him. We don’t tell someone struggling with lust simply not to want sex; we don’t tell a glutton that his problem will be solved if he stops being hungry. Yet, I might as well have said, “Stop being a boy.”…. What I think I have come to understand about boys is that a desire to commit violence is not the same thing as a desire to commit evil. It’s a mistake for parents to presume that a fascination with the idea of blowing something away is, in itself, a disgusting habit, like nose-picking, that can and should be eradicated. The problem is not that the boy’s hand itches for a sword. The problem lies in not telling him what [the sword and itch] are for, that they are for something. If I had told my aggressive little son not, “Be gentle,” but, rather, “Protect your sister,” I might, I think, have had the right end of the stick.(This is a very brilliant insight. It is essential that we not try to destroy the innate gifts that God gives us in order to “control” them. We must learn to harness them and sublimate them so that they achieve the end to which they are intended).

Anne Roche Muggeridge, who reared four boys in the 1970s and 1980s, observes that 

 prevailing society now thoroughly regards young men as social invalids. . . . The fashion in education for the past three decades has been to try to make boys more like girls: to forbid them their toy guns and rough play, to engage them in exercises of “cooperation and sharing,” …to denounce any boyish roughness as “aggressive” and “sexist.” 

Muggeridge writes of a visit to a doctor who urged on her a prescription for Ritalin, saying that a child as constantly active as her two-year-old son must be disturbed. “He’s not disturbed,” she responded. “He’s disturbing.” It is to realize, as Anne Roche Muggeridge did while watching her sons take turns throwing each other into a brick wall, that what you have in your house is not a human like you but a human unlike you. In short, as Muggeridge puts it, you are bringing up an “alien.”  Yes, it has been very frustrating to be a man in the modern age let alone have to grow up under the tutelage of social scientists and education bureaucrats who scorn and suspect your very nature. Boys are aggressive. That is natural and good. They must be taught to master it and focus the energy of their aggression on the right object, but they should not be scorned for who and what they are. Such scorning has become for too many a sense that they are socially “enlightened.” It is time to see this attitude as a the type of bigotry and sexism that it too often is. To many women (and some feminized men)  a boy in his raw state may in fact seem like an alien, but even aliens deserve respect  🙂

[There is an] initiation rite, devised and performed by our parish’s young priest twice a year in the church. This rite involves a series of solemn vows to be “a man of the Church,” “a man of prayer,” and so forth. It includes induction into the Order of the Brown Scapular, the bestowing of a decidedly manly red-and-black knot rosary, and the awarding of a red sash. What the boys look forward to, though, with much teasing of soon-to-be inductees about sharpened blades and close shaves…is the moment when a new boy kneels before Father and is whacked smartly on each shoulder with a large, impressive, and thoroughly real sword.  Great idea. I’m going to work in my parish about initiating something like this.

These Holy Crusaders are, after all, ordinary boys—sweaty and goofy and physical. For them to take the Cross seriously requires something like a sword. For them to take the sword, knowing what it’s for, requires the Cross. …A boy’s natural drive to stab and shoot and smash can be shaped, in his imagination, to the image of sacrifice, of laying down his life for his friends. In the meantime, this is the key to what brings these boys to church. It’s not their mothers’ church or their sisters’ church; it is theirs, to serve and defend. Yes, yes! Amen. Greater love hath no man that to lay down his life for his friends. Christian manhood needs to be rediscovered in some segments of the Church. Too many men stay away from Church because it seems feminine to them. Sermons about duty, courage and fighting the good fight have given way to a steady diet of compassion, kindness, being nice, getting along, self actualizing and,  did I mention being nice? These are not wrong virtues but they must be balanced by virtues that call us to stand up and speak out with courage, accepting our duties and fighting the good fight of faith, if necessary unto death. Men respond to the call when it is given in a way that respects their manhood. Balance is needed in the preaching and teaching of the Church and it seems that in recent decades we may have lost this in many settings, IMHO. If you think I’m crazy, remember this is a conversation. Hit the comment button and have it.

Sally Thomas, a contributing writer for FIRST THINGS, is a poet and homeschooling mother in North Carolina.

Here’s a video summoning boys unto manhood:


Marriage and Manhood

Among the measures of mature manhood that God Himself sets forth is faithful, stable, committed marriage. After observing, It is not good for the man  to be alone (Gen 2:18)  God says ….A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two of them shall become one flesh.  Thus God indicates an essential description of manhood. This is what a MAN does. Three things are taught here:

  1. A mature man recognizes that it is not good, not healthy, for him to remain alone and unattached. Thus he sets himself about looking for a wife in a suitable and serious manner. In ancient culture marriages were usually arranged, but in our culture that duty falls on the man himself. But a man, if he is a man, prepares himself for marriage, or perhaps for the priesthood or religious life. He is serious and steadfast about it. This may mean finishing college and embarking on the beginnings of a career but in the end he will accept the truth that it is not good for him to remain alone and unattached. In the recent past dating was usually understood as a time wherein one searched for a spouse. Today many see it “just for fun.” Marriage is postponed indefinitely. Many young men are not serious in searching for a spouse. Instead they “play the field” and use women sexually. They avoid commitment and drift from relationship to relationship. Some “father” children and still do not accept responsibility. They are not men, they are boys. For boys play. “Boys will be boys,”  after all.  Sadly many women allow and facilitate this immature and immoral behavior. But God is clear, a man (rather than a boy) accepts that it is not good for him to remain single and unattached and he respectfully seeks a wife.
  2. Having properly sought a wife he marries her and leaves his parents to establish a home. In other words he actually gets married. He does not just shack up (cohabitate), or form a so-called “committed relationship.” He does not endlessly postpone marriage. He is serious about the summons that God has given him to make a lasting commitment to a wife, or as a priest or religious brother.  He “settles down.” He actually commits his whole life to his wife promising to remain faithful to her unto death. This is what God says a man does.
  3. A man clings to his wife. That is to say, a man works hard to preserve unity with his wife. He manfully addresses any threats to that unity. “Cling” is actually a very strong word. It means to stick like glue. A man says to his wife, “Honey if you ever leave me I’m going with you.” Too many men are passive husbands. Too often it is really the wife who works hardest to preserve the marriage. Very often when there is trouble in a marriage it is the wife who initiates a call to the priest or marriage counsellor. And if the husband comes at all the wife has to drag him. But a real man does not passively sit by as his marriage  becomes strained. He addresses issues, cherishes his wife and works hard to preserve union with her. This is what God says a real man does. He has committed to his wife and to God and he is faithful to that commitment even when it is hard. He remembers that he committed for better or worse. And when worse comes he does not run, he stays and addresses the issues, seeks out necessary resources and takes leadership in restoring harmony to his marriage. God says a man clings to his wife. This is what a man does.

It is true that women have a role in all these matters. But this article is directed to men. A man doesn’t whine and say, “But what about the wife?!” He just does what he is supposed to do and does not point fingers. He accepts his own responsibility. Yes, there are men who have worked hard to preserve their marriage and the wife still walked away. Our culture has granted far greater possibilities to women. This is not bad in itself but it sometimes creates even greater strains on marriage. But in the end, I am convinced that if men are real men as God has tasked them, if they were more serious about seeking a wife, marrying her and clinging to her, we would have far fewer divorces.

Remember now, this is a blog. I could go on forever and make lots of other distinctions and explore all the “yes-buts!”  What I intend is to start a conversation not anticipate every possible objection, cautionary detail or requested distinction. You, my dear readers are invited to do that in the comments.

So here is what a God says a real man does. How say you?

I preached this topic among others recently at the Feast of the Holy Family. Here is an excerpt from that homily that covers some of the things I have written here. Enjoy also some Christmastime photos of my parish: